MarTech Interview with Clare Dorrian, Chief Marketing Officer, SugarCRM

Clare Dorrian, Chief Marketing Officer at SugarCRM joins us for a chat where she shares her thoughts on what it takes to stand out in a crowded market space while also talking about the top capabilities of SugarCRM’s newest product – SugarPredict:


Hi Clare, welcome to MarTech Series! Tell us about your journey through the years…what are the best parts about being in Marketing (within tech) today?

I joined SugarCRM in January 2020. Starting a new CMO post is always challenging but doing this in the midst of a global pandemic has been even more so. Nonetheless, it’s an exciting time to be a marketing professional to help businesses pivot, challenge the status quo, and lean into digital to turn marketing strategies on its head. Within the technology industry specifically, I’m happy to be at the forefront of providing innovative solutions to help sales and marketing pros better serve their customers and navigate disruption.

Throughout my career, I’ve held various international marketing roles in the CRM and customer experience sector at KANA Software and most recently at Verint. Throughout the years, the mantra “creating customers for life” has been a core value that I hold near and dear and has shaped my approach to developing strategies that are not only results-driven but build long-term customer trust and brand loyalty.

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After joining SugarCRM, it became immediately clear that we compete in a market where there are Davids and Goliaths. When you’re playing in a crowded market space it’s increasingly important to be relevant and recognizable especially when you are perceived as the Achilles heel to these mega vendors. Since day one, I have been laser focused on finding creative ways to help SugarCRM break through the noise and stand out, while also inspiring my marketing team to reimagine the customer experience with new approaches that are good for our business and our customers. Sugar has been very active on the acquisition front and this has necessitated recalibrating our messaging to the market. I’m really excited about what’s next for Sugar. Keep your eyes peeled! 

When all is said and done, what gets me out of bed every day is the all the amazing multi-dimensional aspects of marketing — it involves logic, emotion, value, driving engagement where there was none before, ensuring you’re delivering on promises. There’s really nothing that marketing doesn’t touch, and that’s exciting. 

Given your leadership and experience over the years: can you share a few ‘’top best practices’’ that come to mind when building out and hiring high performing sales and marketing teams in SaaS and especially what CMOs of today should keep in mind given the current ‘’pandemic’’ times and need to rely on salestech-martech skills to scale efforts?

Driving customer acquisition as well as brand and market awareness is central to my role as a marketing leader for SugarCRM. I encourage my team to walk in the shoes of our customers to truly understand their journey so they can become storytellers and place customers at the center of the narrative. When I first joined SugarCRM, I dedicated a significant amount of my time to learn what customers loved about SugarCRM and what their experience has been like engaging with both our products and our company to help shape the right marketing approach going forward.

Through this discovery process, I quickly realized we needed to better leverage customer data and insights to determine what the ideal customer profile should be to make the right kind of decisions to drive sales and advocacy. A big part of that transformation was hanging our hat on a vision that Sugar calls high-definition customer experience (HD-CX) to set us apart. Much like the clarity offered by HD-TV, we are on a mission to understand our customers down to the last proverbial pixel; and leaning into new technology such as AI to align marketing, sales, and service to achieve next-level CX is the key.

While the pandemic certainly accelerated many CX trends, including digital transformation, we are seeing a shift from a sales-driven to a service-driven approach. One in which empathy and personalization have become the new hallmark to business (and marketing) success. It is my belief that post-pandemic, the path to recovery for marketers and businesses requires a service-first mentality and an innovative and nimble mindset.

Tell us your thoughts on the growing impact of AI backed tools in sales and marketing today; what are some top predictions for the near-future that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear about SugarCRM’s latest product SugarPredict as well…

In the COVID era, as market and customer needs have shifted, it’s a difficult and convoluted process to determine a brand-new ideal customer profile. The challenge starts with poor customer data in the CRM system, which impedes companies from doing proper laser-like targeting. The result? Poor performing campaigns, resulting in lackluster sales pipelines.

At Sugar, we saw an opportunity to solve this issue with SugarPredict, the first data-fueled AI for CRM, which we introduced this past January, only 5 months after acquiring AI firm Node.

 By using insights gleaned from the company’s own internal data (CRM software) and from third-party external data, organizations can augment data to fuel predictive models and reach new levels of performance.

CRM infused with AI allows companies to serve up predictions regarding ideal prospects based on where you consistently win, so companies are focused on the right leads to follow up on. We saw a crystal ball and an opportunity to answer questions across marketing, sales, and service that you were never able to answer before.

As such, SugarCRM is pioneering AI-infused CRM and forging a new breed of marketing and sales professional that is empowered with the necessary tools to be data-driven as opposed to working from luck or gut-feel.

One other thing about our acquisition of Node that I think is notable is that many people have been led to believe that AI is just for the enterprise and hard to get off the ground. SugarCRM targets mid-market growth companies so we want to democratize AI – it should not be exclusive to the enterprise. With high-definition customer experience, you have a very clear picture of your customers, so sales, marketing, and service have a shared understanding of what’s important to your customers, and a higher degree of predictability about performance and growth. I am especially proud to be a part of this journey — making something that was once inaccessible now accessible for the mid-market.

A unified platform is crucial to sales and marketing alignment and overall business success: how are organizations faring in this regard? 

This is a great question and very timely as we recently announced the findings of our CRM and Sales Impact Report which surveyed 1,000 sales leaders that use traditional CRM systems on what’s driving (or stalling) revenue and customer engagement, and the study points to inept incumbent CRM systems as a key culprit holding organizations back. 

CRM has traditionally been the heart of CX, providing the technical backbone to drive engagement and deliver experiences that keep customers coming back for more. Yet for most, CRMs are failing sales teams, customers, and prospects and becoming the (broken) heart of CX. 

Sales, marketing and service teams have typically been served by different applications versus one unified platform – and the full effect of this is now coming to bear. Our research found that 50% admit they cannot access customer data across marketing, sales, and service systems, which essentially leaves customer-facing team members without a clear picture of their customers. This is creating a “Customer Relationship Crisis” fueled by lack of visibility into customer data as many businesses lack the necessary tools to provide the kind of customer experience that will keep them competitive. 

In fact our report also found that 43% of professionals found their CRM to be too complex, unintuitive, and not user-friendly, while over one-third of respondents indicated frustration over customer data that is incomplete, irrelevant, and inaccurate. As a result of this disparate data disorganization, what sales and marketers think is their ideal customer isn’t actually the case.  

This state of affairs is a rallying cry for the $35-million-dollar industry CRM sector. Companies deserve better and the need for a better approach to CRM was the driving force behind the launch of our CX platform 18 months ago. It feels good because SugarCRM is part of the solution, not part of the problem.

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Can you throw light on some of the sales tech and martech that have helped enable your initiatives over the years; some that you still swear by? 

Technology has played an increasing role in marketing over the past five to seven years and it’s an exciting time to embrace and use it to your marketing advantage to drive efficiency and better serve your customers. Introducing new technology to the marketing stack frees up the team to do more creative thinking while technology does the grunt work. It’s really a beautiful thing when your team has more time and freedom to be innovative and creative with how we can communicate and engage with customers and prospects and not be bogged down by the administrative burdens that can be so easily automated by technology these days. 

Collaboration, AI and automation are the themes around the enabling technologies we use at Sugar. Project management and collaboration tools have always been at the heart of marketing organizations, but they’ve become increasingly critical over the past 12 months, as businesses need to pivot quickly and orchestrate activities. Marketers can ill afford to waste time. We rely on automation — or what we refer to as “no touch” workflows to do the heavy lifting. And we are using an internal version of our own technology to understand and act on buyer intent for lead scoring. One third-party tool we use is called Exceed — this is like a virtual business development rep. It uses AI and text capabilities to nurture those leads that may be farther out in the lead development process, so we can apply our people resources to those that have a higher intent and greater proclivity to convert.  

Something I am particularly proud of is the launch of our online community platform, SugarClub community. Accelerated by the pandemic, SugarClub is an online space for our customers to engage with peers and SugarCRM product experts to get their questions answered. The engagement we are seeing as a result of launching this online community has made the acceleration worthwhile. 

A few must-dos that every CMO in SaaS should follow through 2021? 

From a marketing perspective, the advice I always give about making a material difference to customers is to go talk to them and lead with authenticity in every communication. The best way to know how to pivot and respond is to listen. In addition, marketers should never underestimate the value of peer review sites. Today’s generation of customers are not shy; they are more vocal than ever when they are not getting the right level of service and attention. Customer review sites coupled with personalized engagement will help marketers set their priorities straight. 

In fact, the SaaS world fundamentally changes the customer dynamic. The focus shifts from a one-time sale to an ongoing relationship where marketers need to deliver great experiences at every touch point to maintain loyal subscription customers. Whereas marketing was previously focused on building brand and pipeline, we now need to extend that lens across the full end to end customer lifecycle.  

We’re also seeing permanent shifts in how we work and live as a result of the COVID pandemic. It’s time for CMOs to take stock of their sales and martech stack; if it’s not keeping pace with the needs of the “new normal,” it’s likely costing you revenue. Going back to our research, we found over half (57%) of sales leaders reported having trouble predicting when customers would churn, which is costing mid-market companies an average of $5.5 million a year each. That’s a pretty alarming revenue leak and something that should definitely rally the CMO as well as the wider C-suite to action! Now is the time for businesses to right their sales and marketing ship.

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SugarCRM helps businesses everywhere provide the most outstanding experiences of all time — for every customer, from anywhere in the world.

Clare Dorrian is the Chief Marketing Officer at SugarCRM

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