Sometimes CRM vendors can get so caught up in their own processes and technology that efforts to update their software can sometimes overlook the most crucial aspect: the customer. Looking not only to keep users in the loop, but to make them an integral part of the update process, Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Sage Software says that it focused primarily on user requests with its Act! by Sage 2009, the latest iteration of its contact and customer management product family, released today.
The product family -- which would represent version 11.0 according to the company's previous numbering system -- comprises the following three offerings:
- Act! by Sage 2009;
- Act! by Sage Premium 2009; and
- Act! by Sage Premium for Web 2009.
When asked about the role of customer feedback with the latest release, David van Toor, senior vice president and general manager for Sage CRM solutions North America, simply says that “it was critically important.” Much as German software company SAP did with SAP CRM 2007, Sage spoke with and observed Act! users to find out their pain points and how they use the product. The company also set up a beta-testing program, which van Toor says users took advantage of: There were 900 registrants for the beta program and approximately 360 participants in the formal feedback program.
This doesn’t even take into account the Act! Online Community that was created in January. That online forum has already recorded more than 5 million page views and more than 75,000 individual logins, according to information provided by Sage.
The online community has been an essential addition to Sage’s repertoire, according to industry analysts. Noting its large user population -- Sage reports 2.8 million users and over 43,000 corporate customers for its Act! offering -- Mary Wardley, vice president of enterprise applications and CRM software at IDC, says that Sage has been able to bring forward the best of both worlds. “It is easy as a software supplier to get caught responding to minor requests and not acting for the whole and migrating the product based on broad market requirements,” she writes in an email statement. “It is very smart of Sage to look across the installed base and marry [users’ thoughts] with where [the company] sees the technology going.”
Rebecca Wettemann, vice president of research at Nucleus Research, agrees -- but adds that being able to cull everyone’s thoughts is a native advantage of online communities. “You can really see what sort of good ideas bubble to the top, and which ones may be niche enough that they don’t require a lot of development effort or something they want to entrust with a partner,” she says.
In the case of the Act! update, the result of the acumulated customer feedback is largely aimed at the user experience, according to van Toor. Some new features include:
- en masse email attaching: select multiple Microsoft Outlook emails from different senders and attach them to Act! contacts;
- activity scheduling from emails: create Act! activities within Outlook emails, and the contact and subject line are pre-populated; and
- one-click calendar copy: copy an Act! calendar to an Outlook calendar quickly from the main Act! toolbar.
Overall, van Toor says that, competitively speaking, improved integration with Microsoft Outlook is the most tangible -- and important -- new feature. Beyond that, however, he says the latest offering loads faster, has a streamlined look, and “just feels solid.” When asked about plans to integrate with other email applications such as Google’s Gmail, he says Sage is keeping an eye on how the technology matures but insists the company can support users who are on Gmail today.
Wettemann believes the solution’s features align best with what her organization currently finds in the industry. “Generally, we’re seeing a move away from 'CRM to support a process or gathering data,' " she says. “It’s more 'CRM to help individual users be more productive.' So, the calendar and Outlook integration [as well as] mobile access are those...areas that can really have an impact on user productivity.”
In a briefing with CRM magazine, Larry Ritter, Sage’s senior vice president of global product management, demonstrated these improved features as well as a handful of Web 2.0 technologies such as mashups bewteen sites such as iGoogle and Twitter in tabs on the Act! homepage. Wardley explains that incorporating the latest technological innovation is paramount for Sage. “This release takes advantage of the newest technologies in the background that are very important to keeping this product modern and in step with the Web 2.0 world,” she writes. “While there is a large [installed base] for Act!, there are many products that are targeting [those users]. If the product doesn’t keep pace with technological advancements customers will slowly move to other products -- but they don’t want to. [Customers] want to rely on their software supplier to keep them current.”
Looking ahead, Wettemann says beyond the latest technology, Sage has also thought about users wanting to expand their CRM capabilities without leaving Sage behind. “[The company has] evolved both the Act! line and SalesLogix line; think about how those products are complementary,” she ruminates. “Sage [executives are] thinking much more about Act! customers today looking for more fully featured solutions and creating that migration [to the next product].”
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