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4/7/2011
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SugarCRM Boosts Social Customer Relationship Management Integration

The software maker announced it has extended the capabilities of its mobile apps, deepened its relationship with IBM, and acquired iExtensions CRM.

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SugarCRM has extended the capabilities of its social customer relationship management (CRM) software through new integration with applications from a bevy of industry heavyweights -- including expansion of the company's partnership with IBM, as well as SugarCRM's acquisition of iExtensions CRM from iEnterprises. The announcements were made during the annual Sugarcon conference this week.

These steps should help SugarCRM grow its overall sales and further expand into the enterprise, said James Ward, president of BrainSell, an integrator that recommends, sells, and supports CRM software by SugarCRM, SalesLogix, Act, and Sage. The solution provider is entering the second year of its relationship with SugarCRM, and on Monday, SugarCRM named BrainSell MVP for the Massachusetts region and honored the company for doubling its SugarCRM sales, Ward said.

"They are doing all the right things. They are doing all the things that allow them to cross the chasm. All the signs are there that I think this company will take off," he said. "They've done a great job of being relevant in that [social] space. We're adopting a lot of those products, and we're evangelists of this social CRM, or I'd more call it 'impact CRM.' Finally, CRM has an impact. They're on a rocket launch right now."

BrainSell -- which saw revenue increase 31% in 2010 -- soon expects to close a contract for 15,000 to 30,000 seats, said Ward. And the solution provider has cut its own costs by using Sugar's CRM software internally.

"On December 31, I ceased all Google pay-per-click advertising and began using Sugar social CRM with all integrated solutions," he said. "For the quarter, our sales this year are up 51%. If you follow inbound marketing and use CRM, it is really hard not to get [a return on investment]."

This news-laden week highlighted SugarCRM's ongoing strategy of forging relationships and integration with the developers and applications in use at enterprises and smaller organizations, according to Larry Augustin, CEO of the open source developer. Sugar 6 now integrates with applications from IBM, Google, Cisco WebEx, Citrix Online, and InsideView, SugarCRM said.

While SugarCRM executives did not respond to requests for comment, Augustin said in a statement, "today's professionals are demanding business tools that enable them to work the way they want to work -- in a connected, always-on world with fewer barriers."

Increasingly, businesses are investing in social CRM, according to several studies. In fact, over the next couple of years, about 30% of companies will extend their online communities to encompass customer support, according to Gartner. C-level executives are encouraging customer service managers to incorporate social media into CRM and customer support, reported the research firm. The incentives include consumers' willingness and interest in communicating via these platforms, social media's cost-effectiveness, and the speed of responsiveness.

However, some businesses are holding back, uncertain about how to integrate fast-moving social media platforms into their CRM applications, or how to figure out the return on investment. Last year, only 5% of organizations used social CRM for customer support, said Drew Kraus, research VP at Gartner. Within five years, Gartner predicts community peer-to-peer support via social media CRM will augment or replace tier 1 contact center support in more than 40% of Fortune 1,000 companies with a contact center.

With Sugar 6, SugarCRM hopes to simplify -- and encourage -- this adoption. Users, for example, will be able to upload, manage, and share Google Docs from within the Sugar 6 interface, and integrate with collaborative tools such as Cisco WebEx Meeting Center and Citrix GoToMeeting.

Going Mobile

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On Wednesday, SugarCRM announced it had expanded the capabilities of its mobile Sugar 6 -- CRM Made Simple -- to include support for the Android mobile OS, the Blackberry platform, native iPad support; offline synchronization capabilities; and a new HTML5-based charting engine. Like the existing iPhone mobile product, the newer mobile versions feature core Sugar modules and customization capabilities that allow IT departments to create mobile applications for field agents and other members of an enterprise's mobile workforce, according to SugarCRM.

"Generally speaking, based on observations in the industry, CRM is one of the more highly adopted applications for the cloud; it's one of the most immediately beneficial types of service," said Stefan Bewley, director of Altman Vilandrie & Co., a consulting group that recently released a study on bandwidth demand. The people using that are usually on the road or in remote offices. It's one of the key applications for a mobile worker.

In a separate announcement, SugarCRM touted the extent of its deepening relationship with IBM, including the company's Lotus unit, a step designed to help business employees increase sales, deliver marketing campaigns, keep customers, and create custom business applications, according to SugarCRM. These new solutions include integration between SugarCRM and IBM LotusLive; connectors for IBM Cognos Business Intelligence Suite and IBM Websphere Cast Iron for SugarCRM's integration platform, the CRM developer said.

"These new combined solutions and connectors to powerful IBM solutions extend the existing relationship between SugarCRM and IBM," said Clint Oram, co-founder and CTO of SugarCRM, in a statement.

SugarCRM for Lotus Notes, currently available, lets users schedule and host meetings from within their CRM program, as well as upload, share, and collaborate on documents, such as quotes or contracts, from within Sugar 6.

But SugarCRM did not only focus on integration and partnerships. The developer also improved the software's Sugar Activity Streams, which are designed to improve internal and external collaboration. The software's latest features allow users to reply to individual posts; view profile photos within posts; and integrate a user's Twitter streams and Facebook news feeds, according to SugarCRM.

Activity Streams are designed to help employees become collaborative and social by importing external data sources into their customer and business systems, the developer said. By accomplishing this task, enterprises become more customer-friendly and consumer-centric, and therefore are more responsive and see improved service, sales, and revenue.

Of course, internal data is critical. Businesses that can successfully analyze and leverage sales data create a competitive advantage, which spurred SugarCRM's integration with InsideView, which develops sales intelligence software. Sugar 6 will include InsideView's SalesView pre-loaded, giving users access to thousands of global data sources for insight into prospects and customers, according to InsideView.

"A CRM system is only as good as the data inside of it," said Umberto Milletti, CEO of InsideView, in a statement. "By accessing real-time sales intelligence and relevant social information within Sugar 6, users can discover prospects, qualify leads, engage decision-makers, close deals, and grow customer relationships more quickly."

One method for growth, of course, is through acquisition -- and this was the path that SugarCRM opted for when it announced Tuesday it would buy iExtensions CRM from iEnterprises for an undisclosed amount. Expected to become part of the spring 2011 release of Sugar 6, iExtensions functionality includes more support for Notes; Notes email and calendar plug-ins; and a connector to IBM Domino, according to iEnterprises.

As a result of this acquisition, iEnterprises CEO John Carini joins SugarCRM as VP of collaboration solutions. Other members of iEnterprises' development team also became SugarCRM employees, and iEnterprises will sell its iExtension framework as a SugarCRM value-added reseller.

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