On June 15, 2021, the CRMKonvos crew had the chance to chat with Andreas Schuster, Customer Success Director for SugarCRM in Europe, about the company’s evolving vision and goals. He did not disappoint.
Schuster has filled a variety of roles over the years, both in the software industry and outside of it, and has developed an appreciation of what well-administered CRM can do for a business and its customers. “I have been able to get to know CRM in the industry and in sales, and I keep getting to know it again and again,” Schuster said. “I never get bored watching companies actually supporting their sales management with software, but also just the way they work together with the customer and with the customer. And it is always exciting.”
One important thing that Schuster believes, though, is that CRM is more than technology; it is behavior and culture which technology can enable to be better. “CRM is not so much a technical tool; it really is an approach,” Schuster said. “It’s a strategic sales approach, and there’s a lot that goes into it now, but it’s still the same.” The technology is an important starting point though, especially with larger and more complex businesses. Schuster added: “I keep coming back to this: the software that’s used has to work great, it has to be intuitive, it has to look good. But taking this CRM approach is first of all a strategic thing in a company. You have to want it. You have to prepare for it. And you also have to set an example for your company from the point of view of the executives. Those who do this are very successful.”
It sounds like Mr. Schuster is speaking CRMKonvos’ favorite language—the language of customer and employee experience alongside raw quarterly numbers. The conversation moved on to other topics, such as the oft-mentioned 360 degree view of the customer. Does it exist? Can it exist? “It’s always situational,” Schuster said, noting that a great number of companies mention the 360 degree view in their product claims or mission statements. “It is of course an approximation of such an ideal case, but 180 degrees would already be a super advance for companies that have no CRM approach at all.”
If one is to talk about a view, one must also talk about visibility, and that’s something that rarely remains consistent, especially in companies with multiple divisions and diverse stakeholders. “In CRM cultures, it’s exciting to see how collaboration changes in companies where everyone has access to customer data, at least in the sales area, but also across departments,” Schuster said. “This means that by sharing access, we also have a joint opportunity. And then we can ultimately work together on reliability and team success in the interests of the customer.”
Unfortunately, the intent often gets lost. “The first thing that companies have done is limit the visibility. So the Rhineland sales channel is only allowed to see Rhineland customers and the branch in France is only allowed to see their own customers, and then again horizontally. So one distribution channel is only allowed to see its products, the other only the others. I take two steps forward and one step back.” This sort of self-limiting approach to consistent, broad-based information access is running out of time and space. “Today’s customers are also global, they also look at me globally,” Schuster added.
Regarding another common term, the customer journey, there seemed to be agreement that sales and marketing tools needed to evolve from something that supports the hunter-gatherer-farmer model that has been used so often, into more of a tour guide image. “Customers rarely stay forever, but they should have a good time while they are with you, and if you lose customers … they should remember you well because you always see each other twice in life,” Schuster said. Thank-you emails, offers of favorable contract extensions, and similar things will leave a good memory, showing gratitude that they were a customer rather than punishing them for leaving. “A customer who is won over today should be won over sustainably. They should be accompanied, not won over and discarded. These are customers who will be lost again.”
The Platform and Beyond
Still, Sugar sells technology which businesses use to succeed, and the company is always moving forward in that area. Schuster went into some detail about Sugar’s direction and goals, including the company’s new motto, “Let the Platform Do the Work.” It’s more than the automation every vendor has been building for decades; CRM is starting to use artificial intelligence to provide support and guidance so workers can be both more effective and more efficient with their time. “Artificial Intelligence, most people think that’s something difficult. But if you look at how simple the application possibilities are—say I look at my leads in Sugar. They are listed for me, one to ten, these are the most probable, these are the most improbable. I can plan a whole week around that.” Schuster adds that using software to do the grunt work to fulfill a request such as “How should I plan my week?” can take tremendous stress off of a person, so that they start each day energized and focused on what they need to do.
To hammer the point home, Schuster turned the focus to smaller businesses—consultants, like us. “You guys are essentially a one-man show. You live by correctly assessing sales opportunities. Is there someone who will actually become a customer, or do I potentially spend days feeding that sales opportunity and ultimately nothing comes of it,” he observed. “SugarCRM now has a feature, it’s even called Predict. That means, if I create a sales opportunity or a step before, I want to qualify a lead, then the system already tells me: ‘So from this industry you had a lot of leads in the past, but you didn’t win any of them. That means you can try again, but save your resources, be economical and realistic.’ With another lead possibly, ‘From this industry you have won a lot of customers in the past. That means, put more effort into it.’ That’s what the system does today. You used to have to build reports, combine them, export them. That was a real science. Today, the system does that by itself.”
If platform is the word of the day, then ecosystem is one of the runners-up. The shift of major vendors to become platform providers has meant greatly increased focus on partnerships—something Sugar has always done very well. One of the reasons for this ties back to the idea of a good customer journey. “SugarCRM is an ecosystem. We offer services ourselves. We have a system there, a network of channel partners. But no matter who it is, we basically offer customers this customer journey functionality as well, because we simply believe it brings something to win customers sustainably,” Schuster said “It prevents escalation. Escalations and re-acquisition measures are many times more costly and damaging for a company than customer acquisition. It really costs resources, it leaves a bad mood. Why should I win a customer only to fight for him next year? It doesn’t make sense.”
To close, we asked Schuster what three wishes he would like to grant to a potential customer so that he has a successful CRM project. “What would I want to give him? Definitely an open ear, because you have to listen first in order to be able to advise. Then all the experience I’ve gathered that I can throw into the ring, into the pot, that I can offer. You can’t avoid experience. You just get experience. It can be good or bad, but you can always help others with it. And the third thing I can give him is this: If he decides to become a customer, to stick with it, not to take for granted that it all just works now.”
This article has actually been written by my colleague Marshall Lager and is published with his permission