Today I took the next step in understanding customer relationship management (CRM) by attending SugarCon in NYC. SugarCRM is a pseudo open source product. Pseudo from the standpoint that their company supports a community edition, but much of the development work goes into the enterprise and professional editions. The model that I've loosely described here is called "open core" and it generally provokes much passion when you converse with people who really embrace Open Source. For those who are interested in this sort of debate, I encourage you to check out SugarCRM community manager, John Mertric's conversation on Floss Weekly
Image via CrunchBase
While I realize that this isn't a very sexy conversation for most hackers, I thought it would be noteworthy to mention some of my thoughts on this conference. First I must begin with the elected conference hotel, Waldorf-Astoria. Very classical hotel that looks to have been built at the turn of the century. The Waldorf has undergone substantial renovations and a generous facelift, but its classical decor, while remarkable presents serious challenges for patrons attending a conference. For instance, the conference rooms were rather small and many had pillars which obstructed your view of the presentation. It did not help that the seating layout of the rooms were too spread out. The projector images were inadequate, as they could not easily move the backdrop to accommodate all the participants.
The one notable bright spot was what I would classify as an opera hall, that the organizers used for all of the keynotes. The hall was massive and the acoustics were excellent. The only problem was the attendance was notably sparse and was rather discouraging considering the sizable investment. Last words on hotel. As a native NYer, I can count on two fingers the number of times I have stayed in hotel in the city. As stated earlier the Waldorf is massive indeed, but the novelty wears off rather quickly. Oddly, the rooms were not equipped with free Wi-Fi, and the pay model was a gaudy $18/day. So most conference attendees spent their time in main lobby areas and also near the 3rd FL conference registration areas which were free to the attendees. I'm not sure what sort of feedback the organizers received, but I would be surprised if Waldorf hosts another SugarCon. I'm happy to have checked off the Waldorf-Astoria on my bucket list ;-)
Now onto the notable keynotes, Uncon, and the people who we met. I attended the conference with a fellow hacker. We're both interested in telephony and had a keen interest in sugarcrm integration with asterisk PBX. We met Blake Robertson, lead developer of the YAAI Project. I believe the project will be re-branded "Callinize". The package supports screen pops and ties the CRM product to Asterisk PBX. It allows you to capture inbound calls as records which could then be turned into leads or contacts. The Sugar module seems not be bothered by self-signed certificates and works well with Sugar instances that are protected by a firewall.
The best aspect of these conferences is the interaction you get with the developers. Many of them are ecstatic that you are using their code and really want the feedback.
Regarding the keynotes. There were several, but one seemed to resonate with me. Steve Laughlin, appeared to be the consummate salesperson. Laughlin's keynote was entitled, "The Empowered Consumer Era". His conversation reminded me somewhat of the VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) discussion that Doc Searls of the Cluetrain Manifesto fame, described in great detail. However, I do not believe Laughlin's talk went far enough in that direction. Nonetheless, Laughlin understands that markets are simply conversations. He offered the following marketing tenets.
- Know Me
- Interact with Me
- Offer to Me
- Support Me
I won't begin to try to break down each tenet, but suffice to say. The consumer of the digital era is empowered with several information channels. As Chris Anderson of Wired and Long Tail stated, if your company sucks, even the ants have megaphones and will scream on you.
If your company cannot or will not correctly engage with consumers, they will instantly become terrorists and often will not give you a second chance. Of course the social media network emboldens people to new levels, but typically the message is not a contrived or artificial. People generally experience a problem and are often not very interested in helping you fix the issue, but instead would rather tell others about their painful experience.
Overall the conference afforded me the opportunity to have a better appreciation for CRM (and a hunger for VRM). I understand SugarCRM to be a framework for enabling organizations to extract business intelligence to be leveraged to surprise and delight customers. Meanwhile it is painfully obvious that the Larry Augustin and the other SugarCRM leaders are determined to fully embrace the SaaS model and force people to look at Sugar with same lens that SalesForce enjoys now, which in my mind is wrongheaded. Instead, I would offer that since Sugar already differentiates on price and customer reach (well mostly if they do not totally abandon the Community Edition), Sugar would be better served showing people that they _are_ not interested in resembling SalesForce at all.
I spent time installing YAAI and also thought about leveraging ODBC to further empower our clients to search our records to know whether they have been scheduled for an evaluation or therapy appointment. More on this later.