SugarCRM CEO Larry Augustin: 'CRM Space Has Underinvested in the Needs of the Individual'

SugarCRM is bullish on its future and that of the CRM market as a whole. The privately held CRM provider announced it had 77 percent year-over-year growth in 2013, which marks its 17th consecutive quarter of growth. For the year ahead, the company announced a new focus on the individual, which its is dubbing "iCRM." Engineering budgets will be weighted toward user-friendly changes, and sales teams will focus on selling the solution as friendly to fellow salespeople and end users rather than management.

On a phone call with CRM magazine, CEO Larry Augustin outlined the company's plan for growth. One step is to increase the number of seats used by each organization. People who work as receptionists or on financials are among those SugarCRM sees as able to benefit from a CRM system. "More and more people in companies are in the position of having to interact with the customer," Augustin says, a trend he sees driven by the Internet and social media.

SugarCRM also plans to continue its expansion into the enterprise market, serving companies with 250 to 2,000 employees. "We're reaching that midmarket space in an aggressive way. Many companies that should have a CRM solution in place don't have one."

While 10 years ago, Augustin saw skepticism from buyers about CRM systems, he's seen a shift among prospective clients. "There's a general sense among companies that they need CRM, but it's not clear to people how it can help enable their sales process. The good news is that companies are having those conversations with us, and they're walking in with a positive disposition about a tool that will get them there."

The market as a whole for these systems is underpenetrated, which is one reason Goldman Sachs invested $40 million in SugarCRM in August 2013. Gartner forecasts CRM will be the fastest-growing segment of the enterprise software space, and become the largest segment by 2017, with a global market of $36.5 billion. That's good news for all CRM vendors. "There are 20 million users of CRM overall, but there are 200 million users of LinkedIn. Our vision of the market in the future is that every customer-facing employee can benefit from CRM," explains Jennifer Stagnaro, SugarCRM's vice president of marketing.

To achieve that growth, SugarCRM developed a user-friendly interface that it launched in November to underscore its efforts to make CRM helpful for the individual who uses it, rather than for management.

SugarCRM aims to provide a tablet experience, not a PC experience, Stagnaro says. "The old legacy systems had screen after screen of endless fields," she says, while newer designs aim for a centralized dashboard that makes data entry and retrieval easier.

Forty percent of SugarCRM's business is international, which Augustin acknowledges "is unusual for a company of our size." He attributes the strong global presence to the SaaS model. The business in Europe "also involves more resellers and channel partners" who guide customers through the process. SugarCRM is also available in almost six dozen languages, with two-thirds of those coming from the partner and customer community.

"Our belief is that the CRM space is one that is underinvested in the needs of the customer-facing employee, and has favored management and control," Augustin says. "We believe that's what has been holding these markets back."

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