Sweeter Sales | Clint Oram from SugarCRM

CRMs have become the lifeblood of every sales organization. Being able to track and manage leads has grown far beyond mere record keeping—it’s now an analytical tool that helps analyze performance, chart action, and so much more.

And yet, often traditional CRMs themselves become a tool that must be managed, rather than an assistive partner. So Clint Oram started SugarCRM, a sales platform that offers detailed insights into customer relationships and predictive analysis.

SugarCRM is helping companies such as Agfa, Tetley, and Tyson focus on customer relationships instead of managing technology.

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Clint helped found SugarCRM in 2004 with the goal of enabling companies around the world to turn their customers into loyal fans. Today, he leads strategy and acquisitions for the company. Clint was one of the original architects and developers of the Sugar application and has focused on building out the product, company, partners and community in a variety of executive roles.

Prior to co-founding SugarCRM, Clint held senior roles in the development, professional services and product management organizations at Epiphany, Octane Software and Hewlett Packard. He has 20 years of experience in the enterprise software industry and over 15 years designing and building award-winning CRM software solutions.

Clint holds a BS in computer science from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and is the co-author of multiple CRM software patents. Clint enjoys traveling and speaking at conferences on a variety of customer experience and entrepreneurship topics, and has visited SugarCRM customers and partners in over 25 countries.

DISCLAIMER: Below is an AI generated transcript. There could be a few typos but it should be at least 90% accurate. Watch video or listen to the podcast for the full experience!

Clint Oram 0:00
And we’re going to remove those blind spots from your business that that are slowing you down and ultimately just strip away every roadblock possible and allow you to focus on the thing you care about, which is building a relationship with your customer. Remember, I talked about that a few minutes ago. But what is what is legacy CRM technology has to do with actually customer relationships and doesn’t seem like a whole lot. But the future absolutely does.

Alexander Ferguson 0:30
Welcome to UpTech Report. This is our applied tech series UpTech Report is sponsored by TeraLeap. Learn how to leverage the power of video at Today, I’m very excited to be joined by my guest, Clint Oram, who’s based in San Francisco. He’s the Co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer at SugarCRM. Excited to have you on Clint, good to have you on.

Clint Oram 0:48
Thank you. That’s me, You bet.

Alexander Ferguson 0:51
Now, you actually helped found SugarCRM in 2000, for one of the first two developers and architects. But the whole goal of SugarCRM is is enabling companies around the world to turn their customers into raving fans, as we were talking about this just a second ago. Hashtag raving fans hashtag, raving, kind of theme, right that everyone is trying to get through. Now today, you are focused on leading the strategy and acquisitions for the company. You played every role throughout the company over the years, which I am excited to dig into later in our founders journey series. But in this particular case, I’d love to talk about the concept of the role of CRM, what it was and where it is now, today. Oh, yeah, take me back first, when it began, what was it then the focus of the CRM?

Clint Oram 1:39
Well, you know, let’s, let’s grab some popcorn curl up around the fire. Let me tell you a little story here, right, so. So if you go back into the history of what today is called customer relationship management, it all really started back in the early 70s. In an airline call centers, the idea of being able to call into an airline and change your bookings make a booking, things like that. And they and they developed this idea of call centers. And so for many years, the term customer relationship management was really connected to call center technology through the 70s and 80s, across various different technology platforms. It was in the mid 90s, that a just this brilliant man named Tom Siebel, left Oracle created a company called Siebel systems, and, and started delivering software for field salespeople to help salespeople keep in better contact with their customers. And at that point in time, the term customer relationship management got really attached to what we now call Salesforce automation. So at that point in time, it was really around helping sales reps, manage their day contact lists, tracking their deals, who they talk to last things like that, and with the advent of laptops in the early 90s, that that really stimulated that industry and launched it forward. Few Years Later, and by the way, contact center technology is still their customer service technology is still there, but really separate worlds, right? And then you fast forward a few years and the internet comes about and this wonderful thing called spam, not just a breakfast anymore, starts starts inundating us and that really kind of kicked off the idea of well, if a spammer can do it, me as a company, I can use email to engage with my customers and prospects. And so these three side by side industries, marketing automation, Salesforce automation, Customer Service Automation really started taking off at that point time and the term CRM was was still pretty attached to the sales solutions out there. Fast forward several years, the the analysts and the industry consolidated under all together under the CRM, banner, sales, marketing, customer service, but still a lot of people connected CRM in their heads to Salesforce automation. And that’s actually been a little bit of a legacy around SugarCRM when we started the company, back in 2004. We plan to name the company just sugar. We’d love that we love the term sugar. And then we got our first lawyer and our lawyers and we tell the lawyer let’s go trademark that terms. It’s almost sugars hard to trademark, let’s you should add something onto it. Oh, yeah. What is that. And so we added on CRM. And in our minds, it was to convey the meaning of that fully integrated suite of software helping you to manage every step of a customer’s journey. And but over time, it really still got connected to the Salesforce automation idea. And we ended up really succeeding in that area. And so for a long time come many of our customers thought of sugar crm as equally Of course, they’re all about sales software. As we’ve grown as a company and as we’ve matured, and in our customers have grown and matured. They now look to us to help solve that full front office suite that I talked about a moment ago. And and so we’ve evolved beyond just To sales technology to that full suite. And to me, it’s a little bit of going back to home. Because that was our original vision was the full suite. And we just got really focused for about a decade on sales technology. So so there’s a there’s a little bit of a primer on the on the term of CRM, that is powerful. Just an amazing story, just a short amount of time. I missed my popcorn there for a second. But it’s it’s interesting to that full circle, as you say, coming back to the house, we know where you are today is your role. So as a strategy officer and acquisitions is what do you see is is kind of going forward from here the the value and the focus of why you would have a CRM and the rule of

law there’s, there’s so much innovation happening. So let’s talk about from a technology perspective for a second, it’s no fun to talk about tech, right? And and if you think about the evolution over the last 10 years of mobile technology, social technology, cloud, most recently, artificial intelligence, all of these technologies are condensing together into what we call a phone today. But you know, I grew up in the in the 70s, and 80s. And my original definition of a phone doesn’t quite match today’s definition of a phone, right? But this wonderful computing device in the palm of our hands, is is this new frontier in front of us, I think we frankly, have only just started scratching the surface on it. Think about the way you think about your technology today. I think if you’re like me, you want it to guide you through the day. Tell me what to do next, tell me something I didn’t already know. What should I be focusing on? What am I missing? Who is this person? I’m talking to? Right? Right? What’s the background on on this person? And, you know, these are the types of things that I think we’re all looking for from technology. And that’s really propelling the CRM industry into its whole next phase of turning CRM from a tool where, where historically you typed in a bunch of information to help your manager manage you more effectively. By the way, where’s the customer relationship? Right? Right to now a tool that helps me work with my customers in a much more intelligent and an effective way than ever before. So that that personal assistant, that’s where I see CRM technology going ahead of us.

Alexander Ferguson 7:16
That’s a powerful visual and also analogy to connect to the consumer side of having your phone Yeah, I look at it tells me what next I’m going to do gives us context and visualization of the world around us. Same in the business side, being able to understand where customers are available, interact with them. That’s powerful. And I feel like you guys recently had an acquisition of a company that’s really propelling you forward into this direction.

Clint Oram 7:39
Yeah, last year, we had the fortune of getting teamed up with a company called says some really brilliant people when it comes to predictive learning side of artificial intelligence, we could have a whole discussion about artificial intelligence and what you know, the robots are coming, the robots are coming not quite right now that that might be the distant future ahead of us, but it’s more about algorithms and such. And, and in the world of artificial intelligence, as applied to business topics, kind of breaks into two areas, one area being machine learning, predictive analytics, give me a good sense of what’s going to happen next. And the other area being what’s called natural language processing, or conversational intelligence, conversational and analytics. Basically, think Siri think Alexa, that type of thing. And, and the both of those are artificial intelligence under the broad banner, but two very different disciplines that our friends at node brought us the predictive analytics and machine learning capabilities. And we’re partnering up very closely with Amazon for the conversational analytics side of things you know all that all that cool technology that powers Alexa, that’s what’s coming in front of you is sugar.

Alexander Ferguson 8:54
How does that play out then Can Can you give me if I’m a salesperson, I’m in there what what is that going to be my everyday work life looking at going to look like using this type of abilities?

Clint Oram 9:04
Well, when things are working well, with CRM technology, you’re getting inundated with new leads, your your context, switching across customers super quickly throughout the course of the day. You’re trying to keep track of all of those meeting notes. And and what was said last and what are the action items. And you’re in the end, you’re trying to take a as a salesperson, you’re looking at your overall book of business, and you’re trying to deliver some predictability to your leadership around you so that they can do business planning around how much revenue is coming in a lot of moving parts, bottom moving parts, a lot of masters in there, your customer, your manager, your calendar, all these things driving you through the day. And that’s ultimately what we’re helping to to people sift their way through so that they can find the most valuable Things to focus on next.

Alexander Ferguson 10:02
I feel like I’ve heard from salespeople that that CRM or those types of tools are burden, like having to manage them and keep them updated. And how do you

Clint Oram 10:11
how do you recommend dark underbelly of CRM? No doubt? Yeah.

Alexander Ferguson 10:16
Is that gonna ever change? Is that or is that gonna?

Clint Oram 10:18
that’s what that’s what exactly I’m talking about? How about imagine as a salesperson, your notes for the cut for the meeting you just had dictated to the phone, right? You just say? Or even better? What if the systems monitoring your email in the background? and say, Hey, did you follow up with this customer? Right? You said that there was an action to be done, has it been done. So help help the person go through their day, prompt them on what to do next. That’s that’s our vision of where CRM type, frankly, all, all business technology is moving towards this path. And so that’s that’s my promise to, to all of my fellow sales people out there, that that we’re going to take away that burden of busy work. And we’re going to remove those blind spots from your business that that are there slowing you down, and ultimately just strip away every roadblock possible and allow you to focus on the thing you care about, which is building a relationship with your customer member. I talked about that a few minutes ago. But what is what is legacy CRM technology has to do with actually, customer relationships? Doesn’t seem like a whole lot. But the future absolutely does. Getting back to the basics or back to the root of the purpose of it. For AI in general, there’s been a lot of focus and energy on it. And it’s and sometimes it can be a lot of fear. Yeah, there’s a lot of large jargon out there. But I’ve also been hearing a lot more fear and uncertainty as people are asking the question, is this going to take away my job?

Alexander Ferguson 11:52
Right? Yes, a kit? Am I still going to have a role? Is it going to do everything for me? Where do you see, let’s let’s talk about this for a second that the balance between, you know, how far will AI and and the tools around us technology play a role? And where will the us as humans and individual salespeople be always our role will be? Where is the balance?

Clint Oram 12:15
Well, you’re asking, you’re asking that question to a classic sci fi nerd. So I am a child of the 80s. I grew up on Star Wars, I remember standing in line for in 1977 for for the first Star Wars Episode, right? Or the fourth depending on where you stand in Canada. Right. And and see threepio you know, quoting out all these statistics to Han Solo and Han Solo saying, Don’t quote me statistics, you know, all that kind of stuff. That that, that that tension between the humanity side of life and and the technology side of life, that that’s actually a very age old tension in popular media, science fiction fiction as a whole. It’s not a new thing. And we’ve been struggling with this idea of, of how do we effectively harness technology to help us as opposed to undermine us, if you will. And this is this is a very popular topic, right? Of course, as, as Mark Zuckerberg stands in front of Congress, and he does all of his, all of his subpoenas. What’s the word? I’m looking for depositions? And such as he talks about where all this is going? I’ll tell you where I stand on this. Right. And, and I’ve actually had this discussion a few times with other folks. When in the world of science fiction. I believe that the future of Star Trek, not the future of Skynet, Terminator, right. Yes, Star Trek, not Skynet. And, and what I mean by that is I see technology, ultimately, as a tool to help us to guide us there are traps in there, no doubt about it. But I personally am not worried about technology taking away jobs. I’m thinking about technology, it might take away old jobs, right, let’s let’s go, let’s, let’s be very fair and candid to this. We can’t just sugarcoat over this. If you look back across the history of technology and the Industrial Revolution, a lot of jobs were lost to automation, bottom manufacturing jobs were lost to the assembly line, if you will. And you can play that that story forward, year after year after a year and you think about all the service jobs of the 70s and the 80s. And how they got ultimately streamlined and made more efficient with technology and those fear those jobs but but what I think, from my perspective, is all that opens up new frontiers ahead of us so old jobs will go away new jobs come into position. we’re leveraging technology to to ultimately deliver more value to our customers more efficiently. more effectively over with a specific goal of improving that overall customer experience. So that the customer walks away says that was easy. That was awesome. I really liked working with that company. They made my life easier. That’s what we’re trying to do. And along the way, yes, of old jobs might get this might get disintermediated. But trust me, new jobs are right here on the right side.

Alexander Ferguson 15:25
I love that outlook and perspective. Star Trek, not Skynet. And I also heard the stat stat recently that when the internet came along, for every job, it took away 2.6 jobs were added or something to that effect. It’s no however, very LG plays exactly the case. No, when it comes to the using of machine learning and AI, often it’s been relegated to enterprise, just the largest corporations and their their ability to to take advantage of that. Is that still staying in that space? Where just oh, that’s

Clint Oram 15:56
that’s a cheap history. Right? You’re, you’re describing the world of a decade ago. And even further, it’s like that’s that was one of the core reasons of why we started Sugar CRM was that customer relationship, management technology as a whole was really the purview of large enterprises with large budgets because the software was extremely expensive was frankly very fragile was complicated to deploy complicated, fine. And, and in 2004, it was all about open source. And and we launched a sugar crm as the first commercial Open Source Software, a company out there that was that was delivering CRM applications. And it really drove us on the first 10 years of our journey. Along the way, frankly, open source became less of a topic and cloud became the focus and open source became the enabling technology to the cloud. But I think what you’ve what you’ve got across that, that that whole view there is technology is becoming more and more accessible everyday. Again, think about your phone, I think the real game changer, not wasn’t so much the internet really wasn’t so much the cloud to be asked, the real game changer in my mind was the iPhones raked in 2008. To me, that’s when the world changed. Because everybody around the world have this supercomputer, compared to 1965, you have the super can be more more compute horsepower than than what set the man to the moon, right? In the 60s, you have the supercomputer in your hand, and the the background technology of the cloud and open source and and everything else around a chest drove things forward. So now that this sea of technology is not the purview of just enterprises anymore, every company can leverage

Alexander Ferguson 17:47
very powerful predictive analytics with sugar customers, every one of our customer gets predictive analytics built right into the application. It’s not it’s not a special add on, you don’t have to pay more. It’s part of the core package that helped me understand when it comes to the this that predictive analysis being able to come into play because often it’s enterprise are using it because they have so much data, right, that they’re able to pull and be able to provide those predictions. How does it work when you don’t have as much data? Or is it you have to just wait until you have enough? Well,

Clint Oram 18:16
isn’t the world changing? There’s a huge amount of data out there, right? Even small businesses are awash in data in a way that they never were before. And even more. So data about companies and even about people is is readily available out there. So we have a product called hint, that allows you to get access to all of that demographic information about companies out there. So part of how our predictive analytics is powered, is not just the data that you collect, but all the data that other companies collect about the companies that you work with little bit of a fine line to walk in there. And when it comes to the privacy topic, no doubt about it. And we walk it extremely diligently. And we’re very, very thorough to make sure that every piece of data that we collect is data that should be and can be collected in a legitimate way. But what you get behind that is is the ability to power predictive analytics without having to rely solely on the data that you’ve collected as a small business. And again, I’ll point out the amount of data that that even the smallest of businesses collect today compared to 10 1520 years ago, it’s it’s I don’t know what 10x more 20x more

Alexander Ferguson 19:28
a lot. It’s only accelerating from here. It’s the real need or requirement is managing that data or curating it to get what you need is the right time the right place, which is what you’re focused on. It sounds like right. For for those out there that are are kind of looking ahead, looking to the future. What can you share of what you’re excited about both with what’s happening in SugarCRM, but also the industry at large of where we’re headed. Anything you can share from your perspective and insights.

Clint Oram 19:57
Yeah, you bet. So when it comes to The tools that we’re delivering to help marketers be more effective and, and salespeople more effective customer service people were effective, you’re gonna see a lot more along the lines of the artificial intelligence capabilities I just described. So we just, we were just acquired the company late last year, we just released our first new capabilities, we’ve got a whole roadmap ahead of us, that has more and more come. It’s very exciting. So. So imagine being able to, essentially, focus your company’s energies, on the right leads the right deals, the right customers, the customer who’s most likely to churn in the next 60 days, the deal that is most likely to close in the next 60 days, the prospect is most likely to want to start talking to you in the next 60 minutes, right, because the prospects have very short attention span. That’s that’s what we’ve just been delivering over the last couple months, and we’re completing that whole rollout right now. coming ahead of us, think about all those email and phone conversations with your customers and being able to pull out the sentiment of those customers is a happy conversation, is this an unhappy conversation? Is it a neutral conversation? How do those the that sentiment with all the other data that you’re collecting, turn into a churn prediction score, right, or a reference prediction score, right on the other end of the spectrum. So think about all these new tools to help your average marketer, salesperson, customer service agent deliver a truly exceptional customer experience to their customers, that’s all happening right now, this, this is real, this is practical, this is being delivered as we speak. If I were to forecast ahead into the future, I envision a world where you do almost no typing at all, when it comes to your relationships with with your interactions with customers, you’re you’re you’re not clicking buttons, selecting drop down fields, you’re just doing business with the customer. And the system in the background is prompting you with based upon the conversation that just happened with the customer, would you like to change the likelihood of this deal closing? Or the next stage? Or what are the action items that need to do the system’s prompting, and then, with a simple voice response or a gesture, you’re telling the system what needs to happen next, and you get out of the world of thinking about managing CRM data, which I will argue, too many customer facing professionals have to spend too much time thinking about data and structure and dropdowns and all these other things. And they just want to they wanted to get business done. Right. And the customer in the background, by the way, doesn’t care at all about the system that you have to fill out. They just want their questions answered. And that’s where we want to focus. And so that’s that’s what I think we’re enabling more than ever, and I see a very bright future ahead of us.

Alexander Ferguson 23:05
Can I can I put it in a phrase in that you’re almost wanting to humanize the data management side so that the computer just simply talks to you and you talk back to it and you don’t have to enter it that as data manually?

Clint Oram 23:18
Yeah, you’re I think you’re you’re reading over my shoulder because we’re we’ve been working on some some language around this. How about this? Let’s try this one on cercis automates the mundane and humanize the exceptional. Oh,

Alexander Ferguson 23:32
yeah. automate the mundane humanize the exceptional.

Clint Oram 23:36
Yeah, that’s, that’s what I want to see happen in front of us. And that comes back to AI and why AI? And why is AI valuable?

Alexander Ferguson 23:46
Right. And I kind of given the mention a little bit earlier that there has been a lot of hype and around the term AI for a while often is just some some automation. But it sounds like when when you start to combine the many components that simple AI algorithms here or here or here all together into something larger. That’s where our dream of in sci fi on AI should do. How are we getting there? We are really close to not not I’m not talking about general intelligence, but the concept of an AI like on Star Trek, the the he would speak to the computer on board and they would make a request and they would understand are we getting closer to that?

Clint Oram 24:29
Certainly in the in the case of voice activated question response. I mean, we live that world with Alexa. And and it’s kind of choppy, right. You know how many of us by the way as each time I say the word Alexa kind of looking for a light to pop up in the background and start saying something to me, right. Kind of getting there. It’s It’s not bad. It’s still a little choppy. It’s certainly not fluid. And and and if you stray out of very prescribed conversational calm instructs the machine. I’m sorry, Clinton, I did not know what you just said. That sort of thing. So we’re getting there. But it’s early days. And again, by the way, let’s draw my analogy. I’ll take an analogy back to the auto industry. Right. So So how long have have I hesitate to call them phones, right? mobile phones have been around forever. But these these supercomputers that we have in our hands, how long has that been around? Less than 15 years? Right, less than 15 years, think about where the auto technology auto industry was 15 years ago, compared today. It’s rapidly evolving, there’s so much coming ahead of us. And I argue the same thing as for a lot of the the, the voice activated artificial intelligence constructs. So so to come back to your original question, the voice response, it’s practical, it’s real. It’s got some room for improvement. But I’ll come back to that other analogy that I talked about Han Solo talking with C threepio. Right. And, and I’ll put out a couple terms from some books I’ve been reading. Some sci fi books have been reading on this topic, sentient artificial intelligence and non sentient artificial intelligence, s AI, ns AI. I think we’re well on the path to NSA AI, non sentient artificial intelligence, where where we have and it’s in today’s day and age, I think we move beyond the robot analogy of C threepio. But But the idea that NSA AI can can participate in helping us smooth out and streamline our days that’s coming. Absolutely. And and I see that being very much a real part of my kids generation, right. So I’ve got two teenagers and the their business life I think is going to their 30s and 40s. It’s an absolutely be well augmented by by NSA, Ai, sentience, artificial intelligence. We’re not there at sea. threepio is not coming to take or RTD to write because we all liked RTD to better than C three to r two D two is not coming to take over your job. It’s not happening that not in our lifetime, at least.

Alexander Ferguson 27:15
I appreciate the distinction between the two. Just for fun a question if you could wave a magic wand or sci fi wand and have any futuristic tech right now? What would it be?

Clint Oram 27:28
Oh, Beam me up Scotty. teleportation I like Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, that would that be cool. I spent too much time in airplanes. And that that, that would be cool. That’s the one that I look for. Love. Well,

Alexander Ferguson 27:44
thank you so much. For this insight. Stick around for part two, where we’ll be digging into the founders journey of the many different job roles they’ve had over the years and the evolution of the company and the story behind it. Thanks again for your time, Clint, and we’ll see you on the next episode of UpTech Report. My pleasure. Have you seen a company using AI machine learning or other technology to transform the way we live, work and do business? Go to UpTech And let us know



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