Sunday, March 25, 2007

CRM is Back

There were several interesting things that came out of Jacob Taylor's "CRM is Back" presentation to the SDForum Business Intelligence SIG last week. CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management, an umbrella term for the software and systems for managing sales, marketing and service, the customer facing aspects of a business. Jacob is CTO and co-founder of SugarCRM which is the leading Open Source CRM system. During the talk, he touched on the incredible success of SugarCRM, its relationship with Open Source and the use of the PHP language. This post is about the incredible success of SugarCRM. I will discuss SugarCRM's use of Open Source and PHP in future posts.

SugarCRM was formed in April 2004 and by July had come out with its first product SugarCRM Version 1, a sales CRM module. The company also received Venture Capital funding, the first Open Source software application vendor to do so. From the start SugarCRM generated a huge amount of interest, with as Jacob described many enthusiastic users who offered input, feedback and code to improve the product. By that October, SugarCRM had risen to become Project of the month on SourceForge, the leading repository of Open Source projects.

I recall from the time that SugarCRM had generated so much interest that there were the rumblings of a backlash amongst experienced CRM professionals. The old guard did not understand how this new product that was being made available in a new and low cost way could generate such excitement. However, the excitement is there. Since Sugar has launched there have been more than 3 million downloads of SugarCRM and related projects.

Jacob attributed their rapid success to a number of factors. The first advantage is in the three founders themselves. They have complementary skills in sales, service and engineering and they work well together. Secondly, the founders had a lot of experience with building CRM systems. Before forming SugarCRM they had all been at E.piphany which had been a major CRM system vendor in its day, and prior to that they all had experience with other CRM systems. Given their experience, they all knew exactly what was needed and this allowed them to put together an extremely capable CRM system in a very short period of time.

A third advantage is Open Source and the community that SugarCRM has built around their project. From the earliest days they had an enthusiastic user community who both used and contributed to the project. Sugar soon set up its own SugarForge to accommodate what are now more than 350 Open Source extensions to the project. The Sugar Forums with more than 38,000 members allow users to help each other use SugarCRM. The recently created SugarExchange allows people to sell and exchange products and services based on SugarCRM.

As Jacob put it, Open Source is "Passionware". People want to be involved in the tools they use every day and Open Source offers them new ways in which they can be involved. SugarCRM has been a leader at involving their users and building a community. The reward is that they have created a large number of passionate advocates of the product.

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