MarTech Interview with Craig Charlton, CEO of SugarCRM
Hi Craig, please tell us about your journey into tech and how you arrived at SugarCRM?
I’ve spent my whole career steeped in customer, financial and sales automation software. I joined Sugar nearly two years ago, having first relocated to the U.S. from Melbourne Australia back in 2017. It was in my two decades in a variety of sales and management positions in Asia Pacific that I experienced firsthand the problems that SugarCRM is uniquely solving. Traditionally, CRM systems have generally suffered from the same fundamental flaws. One of the biggest is that CRM systems have been limited to telling you the state of the customer as it stands at that moment in time, but they don’t provide an historical perspective nor the ability to fast-forward to provide accurate predictions about the future. This fundamental blind spot and flaw in all CRMs is what SugarCRM solves with its time-aware, time-based CRM and CX solutions. When I sat down with our Chief Product Officer, Rich Green, and saw this technology in action, I knew that I had to join Sugar.
What lessons have you learned as a CEO in managing your company during the COVID-19 crisis?
The value of transparency, accessibility and team. Early on in the pandemic, I established bi-weekly, company-wide meetings to give our employees a candid and consistent update on the business. It’s an open dialogue I very much look forward to and I think the employees also appreciate the transparency and the opportunity to learn about the state of the business and how we are going to continue to succeed.
The pandemic has also only further emphasized the importance of my team. Yes there are dogs barking in the background and parents balancing virtual home schooling and works calls. However I’ve witnessed that when you have a great culture, people do what it takes to get stuff done. At Sugar, we’re continuing to help our customers. We’re onboarding new accounts and new hires. We’re even launching new products. When you are confident in your team, they will rise above the crisis and exceed your expectations. Ultimately I am reminded that we can’t let situations like this stop us from moving forward and achieving success. The solution is to unite as a team and work together like never before.
I think the crisis has also brought a renewed focus on the importance of knowing your customers down to the ‘last pixel’ and having the right systems, processes and people in place to allow you to communicate proactively – especially given the sharp increase in demand for information and reassurance.
Tell us about your Remote workplace technology stack? What tools / platforms are you using for Marketing, Sales and Communications?
I’m a big believer in drinking your own champagne and so at SugarCRM, we use all of our own technology, and made the leap to 100% virtual without skipping a beat. Even pre-Covid, we were a globally dispersed and very virtual organization. Thankfully we have had our Sugar Market product keeping our marketing team focused and productive, and of course, our Sell offering is used by our entire sales force, while our global, distributed support team relies on our Sugar Serve product. In fact, our own use case of dedicated yet dispersed global agents was one of the driving design and engineering guidelines for Serve.
We also use our Sugar Connect tools for teams to leverage shared calendars and archive and drive relationship insights from company communications. Our Hint product allows us to learn more about prospects, customers and partners without the benefit of in-person meetings. And our time-aware Discover analytics tool has been invaluable in helping us understand how COVID was affecting our business operations early on, allowing us to respond proactively and effectively to the major challenges presented to us.
Outside of our own software, we are using the usual litany of products – Zoom is the daily bridge for teams staying connected and having some semblance of “face to face” time. We leverage a number of cloud-based collaboration and content sharing tools, as well as a project management platform to ensure our marketing and sales content factory stays online, so to speak. Of course, engineering has Jira and similar collaborative development platforms as well to stay connected and on top of everything even as we remain remote in most regions around the world.
How is a B2B CRM different from that used by an E-commerce / Mobile App marketing company?
Well, the real big difference is in the “R” of CRM. Most B2C or e-commerce CRM use cases are highly transactional in nature. There may be a lot of segmentation of customers, and studying what they buy to make offers, perhaps, but not much else. In a B2B scenario, you are taking on a lot more data points, and really building up an entire history of the relationship with multiple individuals at an account over time.
This calls for a much more robust toolset – because the touchpoints are so diverse and happen typically over longer cycles. The human element of the business relationship – and how we capture, analyze and prescribe next best actions along the journey – is critical to a B2B CRM platform like Sugar.
This is why we built our CX platform to be time-aware. What this means is that our technology is time stamping and tracking everything that happens across marketing, sales and service so we can immediately identify interesting moments – those opportunities for humans (and sometimes systems!) to connect and engage and move the relationship forward – whether that be by a salesperson, marketing outreach, or a support agent doing the right thing for a customer in need. With the acquisition of Node, we are adding even more predictive and prescriptive AI capabilities to our platform, to make these types of proactive engagements even more seamless and predictive insights more readily available for our users.
As a CEO, tell us about your interactions with your CIO and CFO? How are these discussions different from pre-COVID days?
Just like our customers are doing, we are taking a close look at how each vendor we work with is serving our needs and making sure to invest in the right technology to maximize employee success. This goes for everything from the remote video conferencing solutions to the right platforms to put on top-notch digital conferences that approximate the value of our in-person ones. Because of our time-aware CRM capabilities, we are also able to better predict our own sales pipeline and forecasts, all the more critical in this unique time. I know my CFO really appreciates that.
You recently acquired an AI startup, Node. How do you plan to extend the benefits of this acquisition to your customers?
Node is young but certainly far from a startup. They have been in business for 6+ years and have developed a very proven, cloud-based, deep learning application which can provide incredibly accurate predictions about the future. Node’s AI technology helps complete Sugar’s vision for a high-definition CX platform. Our acquisition of Node has provided us with an enormous opportunity to focus on overcoming the challenges faced by sales, marketing and service teams for decades.
One perennial issue for companies is actually making sense of the data collected. The quantity and quality of input data is historically inaccurate or incomplete in real-life CRM implementations and that limits the accuracy of deep learning models. By enriching a businesses CRM data with additional company and market data available from public sources, Node enables remarkably accurate AI-based predictions even with incomplete or incorrect customer data, as well as insights that aren’t available in the source data. The net?
We can provide answers that the customer data hadn’t considered and deliver solutions to really important questions businesses didn’t know they should be asking.
Hear it from the Pro: CMOs are inquisitive about CDPs and Marketing attribution techniques. How do you see CRM makers wading through the tough times competing against CDPs and Data Analytics tools?
As I previously mentioned, Sugar is built upon what we call a customer experience platform (CXP). But at its core, it is a CDP – just one that is time-aware and provides fuel for our prediction engine. By understanding time and sequence as a by-product of the CXP, we can offer multi-touch attribution and other features built-in to our offerings. This means a more seamless experience for users, but more importantly – faster ability to take action on the types of insights uncovered by our CXP. This is a huge differentiator for us and in turn our customers. Most businesses don’t want to have to craft together multiple applications and databases to try and engineer a complete solution. Sugar is very mindful of this and we aim to offer complete solutions that deliver immediate value.
Our Node acquisition and subsequent Sugar AI products and features will put these capabilities into hyperdrive. We will not only add the future time element to our time-aware CXP – but we will seamlessly add more prescriptive and proactive capabilities for sales, marketing and support professionals, making them more effective every time they engage with customers, as well as helping them discover and engage with the right prospects at the right time.
As a martech CEO, what kind of future do you foresee for Cloud-based Contact Centers and CRMs for Sales and Marketing?
The cloud is a powerful tool for business. It’s why we optimize our CX suite for cloud enablement. Unlike some of the leading CRMs that are built on a proprietary cloud, Sugar products are designed to maximize the use of AWS’s incredibly powerful cloud architecture. We use AWS for far more than just hosting. We use as much of the power of the AWS platform as we can and that enables us to seriously accelerate our pace of innovation in the areas our customers care about. This gives our customers boundless opportunity to scale, add additional capabilities or geographies, and layer on new innovation without being handicapped by proprietary technology or added costs. For us, AWS empowers Sugar to be more agile and focus on building innovative features instead of pouring resources into maintaining a proprietary cloud or building the infrastructure that ultimately customers don’t really care about.
Your favorite podcast / webinar series that you would like to recommend to fellow CEOs and CMOs:
I love what Paul Greenberg and Brent Leary are doing with their live streams – they always have a broad swath of both industry experts and people putting great CRM initiatives in play.
Also I think people should be checking out Ray Wang’s DisrupTV – it’s a great video podcast for the tech industry.
The most challenging aspect of dealing with Marketing- Sales alignment:
No doubt the biggest issue is still getting the right message to the right person at the right time, and breaking down the silos between sales and marketing teams and data. All too often, marketing might have great information about a prospect, but that gets stuck in the marketing silo and doesn’t pass on to a sales rep at the right time, or passes without the right context. That leads to poor engagement, poor follow-up, and just overall decreased ability to connect and succeed.
It is one thing to tell sales what leads to go after but we want to take it to the next level. We want our system to be prescriptive about how to engage in order to achieve the highest level of success. That’s the next chapter in really aligning marketing and sales for optimal effectiveness.
One advice to young marketing and sales professionals in the CRM market:
Work for a company that thinks outside of the CRM box, one that looks at how to help companies deliver customer experience holistically, across customer-facing teams (marketing, sales and service). The future of CRM is replacing a fragmented, out-of-date, and distorted picture of the customer with a sharply focused understanding of both the customers and the business.
More generally I would advise young professionals to never stop learning. Always have an open mind and take the best ideas and iterate quickly. Never be too proud to call out a mistake, take a different path and learn from it.
Tag a person in the industry whose answers you would like to see here:
Enterprise software veteran James Norwood (Twitter: @jlnorwood) comes to mind as he always has something interesting to say.
Thank you, Craig! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.
As CEO, Craig Charlton leads all facets of the SugarCRM business, from setting our vision and strategic direction to making sure we’re executing in the best possible way on the ground every day. Craig has been building and running high-growth businesses for 25 years. Before joining SugarCRM he was CEO of Oildex – the financial automation software and services provider – where he drove growth and oversaw the company’s acquisition by Drillinginfo. Craig also served as CEO of Abila, the financial and CRM provider operating in the association, non-profit and government space. Abila, which was acquired by Community Brands, grew its revenues threefold and transformed its revenue base to a subscription-based (SaaS) model over a three-year period. Craig has also been senior vice president and general manager (Asia Pacific) for ERP provider Epicor Software Corporation, where he shaped the company’s regional strategy to deliver consistent revenue and profit growth.
SugarCRM’s time-aware sales, marketing and service software helps companies deliver a high-definition (HD-CX) customer experience. For mid-market companies and anyone that wants a CX-driven platform, Sugar gives teams the time-aware customer data they need to achieve a clear view of the customer and reach new levels of business performance and predictability, and increase customer lifetime value. More than 4,500 companies in over 120 countries rely on SugarCRM. Based in Silicon Valley, SugarCRM is backed by Accel-KKR.