Catch Up: SugarCRM Wants To Go To The Next Level

Continuing on the series of catching-up with the spring conference series, next up is SugarCON from SugarCRM.

Great. Their embrace of the open cloud.  No other enterprise software vendor understands the cloud as well as SugarCRM does.  They are not out there discussing what multi-tenancy can or does bring to anyone because they understand it does not matter.  They support multi-tenancy (under duress I might add) for the late-comers to the cloud, but they can also work like a true cloud solution that supports any other platform (show me another vendor that can easily switch from Azure to Rackspace to Amazon without much detriment).  They are the only vendor I know that can deliver a true open-cloud solution for CRM today.  They need to refocus their message (see more below) around this model.

Good. Dropping the concept of open source as the key message to save the world.  Maybe a tad later than I’d’ve (I had to use that double contraction – I told my daughter last weekend I’d use it in a post to prove it exists – G, there you go :-)) liked to, but finally coming around to it.  Now starting to focus on the value of the platform and open cloud (also a tad later than I would’ve liked – but still ahead of most of the rest of the market) as their key deliverable – which is going to be what makes them very powerful when they decide to start courting financial analysts on their way to their IPO.  I want to see a better positioning as the best open-platform solution for CRM (see right below for more).

Bad. The go-to-market message.  I have been talking about this for many years: they need to focus on what they bring to the market as value – and it is certainly not being open source.  They need to put their entire marketing department to work (recently revamped marketing department, BTW- this should be interesting) to come up with a far better message of what they can do (and how differently they do it, and how well even)  in the cloud.  As more and more organizations begin to embrace cloud as a core infrastructure, more and more of them will be looking for a provider to give them a “CRM Platform” (yet to be fully defined) and Sugar could be it – if they had the right message.

Ugly. This is a tie.  First, the Waldorf Astoria as a conference location (I am still lost, and I left very long ago); they had wonderful food, good service and decent rooms – but it absolutely bottoms the list as a conference location.  Second, the delivery of the message.  This may be redundant, but they absolutely, definitely, positively need a better message and the only thing more in need is how to deliver that message so they can make the right impression in the market.  Lots of work ahead for marketing (and the executive leadership embracing it).

Overall Impression. I always said that the problem with SugarCRM is not their product: they have one of the best open-cloud based platforms for CRM out there.  Their problem has consistently been their message and the delivery of the same.  With the new emphasis on the marketing department it is my hope this will change soon.  There is a lot of work ahead to present a vision that leads the next-generation of CRM (it is doable, but there is lots to do) and it all starts on creating a better message that is focused on what customers are asking for (hint: it is not open source) and building a better ecosystem with partners (I still say that their Sugar Forge has lots of promise, but needs more focus).  A good product, good intentions going forward – I want to see SugarCRM deliver consistently over the next 12-18 months in claiming a position of leadership in the CRM Market.

disclaimer – SugarCRM is a client.  In addition, they covered most of the expenses and the entry to the conference.  They gave us good food, a decent bed, and a good event in exchange for my attendance, and they have had no influence whatsoever in what I wrote above.

Catch Up: NetSuiteWorld – Where’s the CRM?

This is the first in a series of posts where I just try to catch up on the latest shows around the country I attended between April and May.

The “spring season” was so well populated, and so busy, that I almost had no chance to write about current events.  I have four or five posts to catch up here (NetSuite World, SugarCON, InfusionSoft, and the combination of Allegiance and Medallia that led me to the new model for Feedback Management I am putting together – and that you get to see the early drafts here).

I am going to give you the good/bad/great/ugly in these posts and the overall impressions to supplement the tweet-to-tweet coverage of these events – either by me or someone else – while they were going on.

Let’s begin – NetSuite World was one of the first.

Great: NetSuite announced their intention to move their product to certain verticals and specialized functions (which is great, it aligns with one of the top requirements from customers to vendors these days: deliver value by delivering verticalized solutions).  To this end they introduced at the event one of the first partnerships for this: Autodesk and NetSuite announced their intent to take PLM to the cloud by combining their forces and creating an unique cloud-based solution.  This is very good news for customers of both that were looking for deeper integration, of course, but more than anything because it accomplishes three things that were not thought possible before:  1) puts ERP and PLM together in the cloud; 2) lays the groundwork, when and if it works, for NetSuite to further differentiate from other ERP vendors; and 3) settles the argument to the value for a 2-tier ERP strategy by bringing value that any of the Tier 1 vendors could not do so easily.

Good: In a move that made me reminisce of Mr. Benioff’s early days talking to customers at his event, CEO Zach Nelson brought on stage representatives from Williams Sonoma (parent company among other brands to Pottery Barn and associated brands) to explain how NetSuite enabled them to move their entire business to the cloud and save money and time by creating value propositions that were not before possible for them.  During the press conference, Williams Sonoma’s CIO John Strain said they are using CRM from NetSuite due to the easy integration (please stay tuned for more on CRM – which became a very interesting discussion at the said press conference)

Bad: During the entire keynote, and in most of the other sessions I was able to attend, the mentions  of CRM were kept to an absolute minimum (I initially said it was not even mentioned once, but one of my fellow analysts reminded me that during one of the slides they presented there was a box that said “CRM” – so will say it was kept to a minimum).  I am not going to say that an ERP manufacturer should focuses too much on CRM – but the main problem was the shift from the year before to this one: last year Social Business, Social CRM, and even plain-old CRM was featured in the program and keynote – this year, it was as if it almost did not exist.  I have no issue with them no longer providing it – I have an issue when two of NetSuite executives tried to convince me that they are the only company that provides “the REAL CRM” since they have order information that no one else has, or when they try to tell me that CRM is there, but we don’t see it because is a different flavor of CRM.  Not going to dwell on it at all, but I suggest they get a better story about it – CRM (or the new incarnation of it with the new cute name – yet to be found) is a critical part of managing any business – whether they are B2B or B2C – since it makes customer interactions better (and in the new incarnations, does the same for partners, suppliers, employees, and alliances).

Ugly: The good news of the ugly: they are not the only vendor who does this.  The bad news: they even got their customers on stage providing “testimony” into the game.  The name of the game? Not sure what to call it, but it was about putting down other vendors as unoriginal, not good enough, not creative, and providers of a bad product and worse experience for their customers.  I said this before, vendors should focus on highlighting what they do well and capitalize on what others don’t do so well to win.  Bringing other vendors down by attacking them is petty.  Involving your customers into it (even if they are willing and believe in it) is worse.  I have many allegories to drive the point home – but none of them are nice enough to publish.  Bottom line: make the best product, promote your product, and let the competition shoot themselves in the foot (if they are as bad as you say they are it should be simple).  Stop badgering other vendors.

Overall Impression: I am impressed by the speed at which NetSuite is adapting to being in the cloud and leveraging their position to offer something different.  I think that the partnerships with Autodesk is a pivotal point in the transition ERP is taking to become more cloud-centric,  I also heard of other partnerships and alliances that were lined up (CapGemini comes to mind) to offer a more complete ecosystem (which is slowly becoming the next generation of enterprise architecture thanks to the increasing adoption for cloud technologies in organizations).  I wish they would take a different approach to CRM, more mainstream – order management is not an integral part of CRM and it is an outdated view of it to think CRM is only for sales – and more focused on end-to-end experiences that encompass both front-end and back-end operations.  I am looking forward to see how they put that piece together in the coming months.

 

Continuing Discussions on Knowledge Management

Did you have fun reading through the last series of posts about the future of knowledge management I wrote for Stone Cobra (links at the bottom of  this post)?

My model is to do “sponsored” research; I know it sounds horrible, so let me explain.

I don’t have the bandwidth as a single person organization to deliver consistent, periodic research as I did when I was with Gartner.  I want to use blogs to spread the research, it is far easier than writing and distributing notes (trust me, I did that already) but I am somewhat limited when I just do it on my blog.  As much as I appreciate the thousands of youz that read my blog each month – I want to have a broader audience.

That is why I do “sponsored” research: I find partners that are compatible with a specific area I want to research and they sponsor the work I do for a while.  I can pay the bills, they get research to start and extend conversations.  Win-win.  I did that for a while with Stone Cobra and KM, and I am continuing the same with Coveo now.

I wrote the first of a series that looks at what is happening with Knowledge Management in today’s world and how you can get more value from your investment.  First post is titled “Three Ways to Generate Knowledge from Customer Service Interactions” and it will tell you how to use the data and information you collected during encounters with customers to better your organization, your delivery model, and to make sure you exceed customer expectations.

Check it out, let me know what you think in the comments below here or there… would appreciate that.

Future entries are going to take more use cases and explain how they produce knowledge – and what you should do with it.

Thanks for reading.

Stone Cobra Posts
The coming shift in knowledge
Five benefits of using collective knowledge
Evolving from Knowledge-in storage to Knowledge-in-use
Knowledge as a Service (KaaS): A proposal
The changing value of knowledge

Salesforce Launched Communities Today

(Event note: the traditional Salesforce marketing cycle is to announce a new model/slogan/message at a Dreamforce event, then take the next 1-2 yeas to strengthen the delivery of that message, refining it along the way in Cloudforce or Tour events like this one.  This is what happened with the social enterprise, and what is happening with the customer company.  I still don’t like the concept of the customer company – don’t think i ever will – but, the past few months have been very good for Salesforce corporate communications people and the message I heard here was much better – not there yet, but better.  I trust that by Dreamforce in November we will have a good message… it is just the painful process of having to listen to the iterations that makes it long and tedious.  Oh well, as long as they get it right – no pain, no gain)

Today at their Customer Company Tour in the UK Salesforce (SFDC) announced the launch of communities.  They showed a pretty poor demo on stage, had a follow-up session that did not add much, and the message is still work-in-progress: they talked about different purposes and models (the traditional purposes: answers, ideas, collaboration) and how each applies in different ways.  In my opinion, they missed showcasing in detail how collaborative sales, support communities, and inbound marketing (the three easiest use cases that come to mind) could be improved by the use of communities – but were on the right track.

I would be inclined to say it was a bad launch and that they are behind in the market for communities.  I would probably be mostly right too.  There is little value to what they can do today (very basic communities, just be there and collect content while integrating collaboration streams) and most of it is around external communities that can tie back to other SFDC functions.

However, to do so would be shortsighted — it was not the launch today that is the big news in this case, but the roadmap I saw and the features in it.  A large part of it was under NDA / Safe Harbor (that means they don’t want me to repeat it so they don’t look like they are promising product that could affect their stock price – public company stuff) but I can give you a few hints based on what I see as a next-generation community platform.

I have been saying for a long time that communities are the true value we inherit from the social media craziness we lived the past few years.  I have also been saying that the antiquated model is not right for what we need, and that the new model for communities should include:

  • the ability to create communities for specific purposes, and tie those communities to business objects (like creating a new community for a new lead, bring in the people that can help close the deal, then disband that community while retaining the knowledge and value generated)
  • the ability to easily add data, system access, people (from inside and outside of the organization), references to other communities, direct links to any content and knowledge produced before, and sufficient tracking and reporting tools to ensure compliance, audits, and other legal issues
  • use semantics and natural language understanding to automatically filter content, bring related content and people, and create links to knowledge already existing in other locations (whether communities, knowledge repositories, other systems, or other people anywhere in the world)
  • be part of a platform (PaaS, open cloud model of platforms – not a PINO [platform in name only]) that is open, expandable, secure, and easy to integrate into any other system of engagement or system of record with which it can easily exchange data both ways
  • contribute all that was learned and known as knowledge to existing knowledge management systems, including the ability to improve existing knowledge without having to create a new entry that would muddle the finding of the right knowledge at the right time

There are other considerations surrounding culture, metrics, and integration – but I would be very happy if I could find these new communities.  This is not, yet, what SFDC has created – but these items (some of them) are part of their roadmap.

And it is that roadmap that excites me the most about their solution (and what I kept telling Lithium for years to develop).  I was not present at the latest event from Lithium, I have limited knowledge of what they are doing other than what was publicly shared and thus cannot comment whether they are going in this direction or not (although I trust they will say they already have it or it is in the planning) and not going to do that.  I know that Jive (also a client) is working on several of those topics in their roadmap and already has others in their solution – and I trust some of the other providers (Telligent, Mzinga) will agree with that as well.

Alas, none of them are SFDC and are able to deliver the solution as part of Force.com (which is slowly becoming a de facto “platform” provider).  This is where it could become big — and please notice we are in the land of the IFs…

IF SFDC can deliver what it promised, and IF it is a platform service that is part of the Force.com platform, and IF they stick to the items we discussed (some of which are referenced above), and IF they are able to showcase by Dreamforce in November — then I think they have a very good chance to become very, very competitive in the communities market.

IF.

I am hopeful, always am.  I am a glass half-full type of person (cue laughter).

I really believe this is possible, and if so I am looking forward to see the Spring 2014 release when (acting under Safe Harbor provisions) they are supposed to have most of what we discussed integrated into their product and showing.

IF.

Disclosure: Salesforce is a customer, and they provided me with a free entry to the show.  I covered my own expenses.  Jive is also a customer, and Lithium was a customer some time back when they used to like me and were not upset at me.  Telligent and Mzinga are not customers, nor were ever, but we have relationships as an analyst that covers their space and we talk frequently for updates.