SugarCRM V6 Makes Social Networking Sweet for Business
Published: November 9, 2010
by Alex Woodie
Capitalizing on the explosive growth of social networking has become the new gold rush in the high tech field. While everybody scrambles to "monetize the opportunity," SugarCRM appears to be on the right track with the latest release of its CRM system, which not only pulls contacts, relationships, and comments from sites like Facebook and LinkedIn into the CRM system, but it allows customers to use services like Twitter and YouTube as part of their outgoing sales and marketing campaigns.
The nature of computing is changing, once again, right before our very eyes. Just as last generation's Gen Xers grew up using graphical user interfaces (GUIs) and saying "what the?" when confronted with a DOS prompt, the current generation of "millennials" spend a big chunk of their computer time connecting with friends via social networking sites, sharing "media" like pictures, videos, and music, using video chat, texting continuously, and whatever else they came up with yesterday.
Not surprisingly, corporations are scrambling to reach the millions of people--young and old--who are using the Internet in this new way. The scramble is evident in announcement upon announcement every week in new social, cloud, and mobile (SoCloMo) offerings from IBM, the original tech company, older than your great-grandma Millie, that is once again attempting to redefine itself.
The scramble is also evident at a thousand other tech companies--startups and dinosaurs alike--that are racking their brains to figure out a way to make a buck off the unexpected phenomenon. It shouldn't be surprising that a CRM company devoted to open source development is out in front.
Whereas other tech companies are making the same old mistake in their social media products--they try to create a new destination that duplicates fine social features found elsewhere, while controlling the entire experience and preventing eyeballs from wandering--SugarCRM is taking a more pragmatic approach with Sugar 6 that seeks to co-exist, rather than replace, the uber-popular social networking destinations, while offering some central control.
In putting together a solid list of features in Sugar 6, it seems evident that SugarCRM listened to its customers and paid attention to computing trends, before mapping out a possible social strategy. Sugar6 is expected to become generally available today.
According to Martin Schneider, SugarCRM's senior director of communications, the software developer tried to emulate the flexibility and adaptability of the millennials in the new release of the PHP-based CRM system, which runs on IBM i, Linux, Windows, and other popular servers.
"The young people coming out of college are comfortable trusting data inside a social network, and they expect their business applications to do that same," Schneider says. Whereas current CRM users may value the capability to synchronize their CRM contacts with their Outlook e-mail system, the new generation of knowledge workers doesn't use e-mail as much--they message and communicate through social networks.
Sugar 6 can pull in contact information from business-oriented search engine and social media sites like ZoomInfo and JigSaw via new cloud connectors, and use it to populate the SugarCRM database. Instead of a customer doing a Google search to find information, Sugar 6 users can automatically pull information from data service providers and populate the account information.
"We're getting to the next phase and harnessing the data a little better," Schneider says. "Right now, it's about being able to listen and make decisions based on information that normally isn't in the CRM system … There are all kinds of other data sets you can use."
With version 6, SugarCRM allows users to send out messages via Twitter, and track responses, as part of sales or marketing campaigns. The CRM system can also import the latest customer status information from sites like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and also synchronize internal statuses from SugarCRM with those external sites. This will be a handy feature for Sugar users to stay in touch with external users, as well as other employees within the same organization.
People continue to share all kinds of personal and actionable information on their Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn pages, despite the security concerns it raises. SugarCRM's view is, Why not use it if it's there? If a customer says on his Facebook page that he hates a particular product, why not use that information to try and sell him an upgrade? If a customer has a vacation message on another site, the SugarCRM user knows to contact somebody else at the company, or wait till he returns.
Making all this information easy to access is another part of what's new with version 6. SugarCRM has introduced new AJAX-based productivity bars that live on Sugar screens and allow users to accomplish 90 percent of common tasks in one to two clicks, not the five to 12 clicks required under the old system. "It can very hard to find data," Schneider says. "We want to put the data at people's fingertips."
In addition to reaching external databases and data feeds, Sugar 6 can pull in images and other types of data that helps an organization to get a more complete picture of the customer. The goal is to make these other sources of data and collaboration available from within the SugarCRM environment.
"The ability to be able to do this Facebook interaction, sharing images and files records, enables them to stay in the system," Schneider continues. "Now you have a nice controlled centralized system for collaboration and sharing data. … We want to socially engineer what they do, so they're not just looking at columns and rows of data, or contacts and accounts."
The next phase--making money off social networking--is, of course, the holy grail, and it won't be easy. SugarCRM's goal is to stay open and flexible, because nobody knows what will be the hot new social networking site a year from now.
"Who knows--Facebook could be like MySpace," Schneider says. "We're trying to stay open and use all the newfangled sites and types of communities. Maybe YouTube will be the big thing in marketing. Load up videos and blast them out. The idea is, we want to be that core platform that whatever the fickleness of the social generation, we can follow."
Sugar6 also brings better support for the iPhone with a new Sugar Mobile for iPhone client. It also expands the list of supported languages, which now include: Bulgarian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, and Spanish.
Not all of the social media capabilities are available in the free Community Edition of SugarCRM, and require the purchase of subscriptions to the Professional or Enterprise editions. For more information and free trials, see www.sugarcrm.com.
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