Clint Oram helped found SugarCRM in 2004 with the goal of enabling companies around the world to turn their customers into #ravingfans. Today, he leads strategy and acquisitions for the company. Clint was one of the original architects and developers of the Sugar application and has focused on building out the product, company, partners and community in a variety of executive roles.
Prior to co-founding SugarCRM, Clint held senior roles in the development, professional services and product management organizations at Epiphany, Octane Software and Hewlett Packard. He has over 25 years of experience in the enterprise software industry and over 20 years designing and building award-winning CRM software solutions. Clint holds a BS in computer science from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and is the co-author of multiple CRM software patents. Clint enjoys traveling and speaking at conferences on a variety of customer experience and entrepreneurship topics, and looks forward to doing that again one day soon.
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Table of Contents
We are thrilled to have you join us today, welcome to ValiantCEO Magazine’s exclusive interview! Let’s start off with a little introduction. Tell our readers a bit about yourself and your company.
Clint Oram: SugarCRM is a customer relationship management company. We are the challenger brand in the market place, disrupting the way companies and more importantly how sales, marketing and service teams leverage CRM to build better relationships with their customers.
In January of 2004, three of us that were working together at another CRM company saw the opportunity to build a different type of CRM company. Our vision all along has been to build CRM applications that actually helped front-line people get their jobs done. Legacy customer relationship management software has been very focused on collecting data to help managers manage their sales people, but not really on helping customer facing professionals build a relationship with their customers.
Twenty years ago, there were a lot of changes happening in the marketplace around subscription business models, around open source, around software as a service and we grabbed a hold of those business model shifts and turned them into a company focused on helping sellers sell and customer service agents deliver extraordinary customer service.
Fast-forward to today and what started as a game-changing open-source, freemium CRM product is now a modern, robust, AI-driven cloud platform that provides a full CX solution that unites marketing, sales, and customer service teams – providing out-of-the-box value and AI accessibility from Day One. We like to say “let the platform do the work” to makes the hard things easier and it’s a mantra that our customers have responded well to. We have thousands of customers in over 120 countries.
2020 and 2021 threw a lot of curve balls into business on a global scale. Based on the experience gleaned in the past couple years, how can businesses thrive in 2022? What lessons have you learned?
Clint Oram: In the past, e-commerce and digital sales efforts were relegated to low-ticket B2C purchases. This is no longer the case. The COVID pandemic has driven the adoption of end-to-end digital sales processes at all levels. This presents challenges but also an exciting opportunity never before possible. All data across the entire buyer life cycle can now be captured, analyzed and put to work. This analysis can help companies triangulate the specific marketing and sales efforts that contribute to the close of each piece of business—across the full range of web clicks, downloads, phone calls, emails, SMS messages or chat interactions—and cross-correlate those activities with buyer roles, account demographics, specific needs, pricing, promotions, and more.
To take advantage of this, organizations should have the means to collect and analyze this “sales digital exhaust” to always be optimizing future sales efforts. This can’t be done in spreadsheets or with educated guesses. Instead, businesses need to tap into the power of machine learning and predictive analytics capabilities to surface insights on demand, when your prospect is on your website or talking to your employees. Now is the time to reevaluate your sales and marketing automation solutions to ensure they have this functionality.
Our company’s recent CRM and Sales Impact Report* confirms that sales representatives are only spending 54% of their time selling. And 53% of sales leaders are fatigued and frustrated with the administrative burden placed on their sales teams, which is taking them away from customer-oriented activities.
This is a big barrier to realizing the biggest data opportunity we have ever seen—the de facto digital revolution in sales and marketing engagement that is making the buyer journey highly discoverable and manageable. The upside? Your customer data can now be analyzed and used to continuously focus sales efforts on the right activities to drive the designed outcomes.
This new approach to orchestrating a high-definition customer experience is leading the way for the birth of a new breed of sales professional that is data-driven as opposed to working from luck or “gut feel.” As a result, sales professionals can work smarter not longer—no blind spots, less busy work and fewer roadblocks.
The pandemic seems to keep on disrupting the economy, what should businesses focus on in 2022? What advice would you share?
Clint Oram: We recently completed research that surveyed 1,600 sales and marketing professionals worldwide – and the stats about customer defection are astounding. This year, 58 percent of survey respondents said their rate of customer churn has increased over the last 12 months. Here in the US, the customer turnover rate is nearly 50 percent – that’s absolutely catastrophic for businesses.
So I would say one key thing is businesses need to make a concerted effort to understand why customers are leaving – unbelievably most don’t because they don’t have the data and they aren’t maintaining close enough tabs on their customers. Businesses need to act now to remove blind spots, so they can understand what their customers want and predict what they need next.
This must be paired with a focus on eliminating busy work – to make it easier for customers to engage and empowering employees to create the satisfying experiences customers expect. Additionally, they need to remove roadblocks and friction points to consistently deliver on their promises.
How has the pandemic changed your industry and how have you adapted?
Clint Oram: We’ve all been in a state of crisis over the past two years. Even prior to the pandemic, the number one rule was to overcommunicate in a crisis. But we’ve seen the challenges in being able to follow this cardinal rule of crisis management when everyone is socially distanced and the water cooler conversations are gone. It’s so easy to become disconnected and disassociated. We’re now needing to be more purposeful about creating moments to catch up – at SugarCRM we’ve instituted daily “stand ups” to foster that communication and connection; this is a core idea of agile development practices in the software industry, but now we’ve embraced the concept and implemented it across the whole company.
Our once quarterly all-hands meetings now take place at a cadence of every other week. Since we are no longer visiting customers on site, we are being very rigorous and structured about calling on our customers to check in on them and understand their challenges.
SugarCRM, like many other businesses, has recognized that empathy is vital to business success. It is key to working in a more virtual way that goes way beyond adopting Zoom as a communications mechanism. We are all needing to connect in a different way in the context of business – connecting on a deeper human level.
What advice do you wish you received when the pandemic started and what do you intend on improving in 2022?
Clint Oram: Prior to the pandemic, 20% of our workforce was working remotely and they had voiced challenges along the lines of feeling like a second-class citizen and/or not feeling as culturally in the loop as their work-in-office colleagues. We sort of brushed it off – What’s the big deal of working from home? Of course, once the pandemic shutdowns started, all the challenges those employees were facing suddenly became the whole company’s issues. Hindsight being 20/20, I wish I had prioritized debugging remote work earlier.
Online business surged higher than ever, B2B, B2C, online shopping, virtual meetings, remote work, Zoom medical consultations, what are your expectations for 2022?
Clint Oram: I think we are increasingly going to see the rise of innovative ways to bridge the gap and replicate some semblance of those relationship building activities we enjoyed prior to the pandemic. Instead of going out to dinner or dropping by the office with doughnuts, an organization can send over a gift certificate for Door Dash so that business colleagues can have lunch together over Zoom, for example.
How many hours a day do you spend in front of a screen?
Clint Oram: Too many! If you include my iPhone, I probably spend at least 14 hours a day staring at a screen. I actually miss my commute to and from the office where I had a chance to unplug and process my day.
The majority of executives use stories to persuade and communicate in the workplace. Can you share with our readers examples of how you implement that in your business to communicate effectively with your team?
Clint Oram: I distinctly remember that day in March 2020 when businesses were ordered to send employees home. Sugar’s CEO Craig Charlton happened to be sick (non-COVID), and so the responsibility to address our employees was passed to me and I remember thinking, “what in the world am I going to tell everybody at this very anxious time?”
Now, I’m not a religious man, but at that moment, with the microphone in hand and hundreds of eyes on me — both in person and online — I could only think of one thing to say. I told all my employees, my colleagues, my friends that this is a time to have faith. I shared that for me, that meant it was a time to have faith in science, in our leaders, and in humanity that we were going to find the answers. And I remember telling them that they also are leaders – at work, at home, and within their family – and that people are going to look to them as leaders.
You see, it was so critical to remind us all to dig deep and lead in the best way that we could, because we needed to pull each other up by our boot straps and to have faith. My grandmother talked to me a lot about faith as a young boy. I think I finally understand what she was talking about, though not in the way she originally intended. Either way, it was faith that carried us through.
Business is all about overcoming obstacles and creating opportunities for growth. What do you see as the real challenge right now?
Clint Oram: At the onset of the pandemic, the first wave in connecting with customers was employing customer service technology to ensure employees were immediately available from a remote work perspective. Now, our focus has shifted to the long-game – driving digital engagement to build business and drive growth.
The challenge organizations are dealing with today is to reignite revenue growth through digital execution in marketing, sales and service. We hunkered down for 18-24 months, but we’re looking to get back to a semblance of normal, and in business that means growth and revenue generation.
In 2022, what are you most interested in learning about? Crypto, NFTs, online marketing, or any other skill sets? Please share your motivations.
Clint Oram: My goal in 2022 is to start up a podcast. My father was an entrepreneur and so I grew up influenced by a business builder, but I also learned what not to do and what mistakes to avoid. Business building is my passion and I want to give back; I envision the podcast as one way to do this.
A record 4.4 million Americans left their jobs in September in 2021, accelerating a trend that has become known as the Great Resignation. 47% of people plan to leave their job during 2022. Most are leaving because of their boss or their company culture. 82% of people feel unheard, undervalued and misunderstood in the workplace. Do you think leaders see the data and think “that’s not me – I’m not that boss they don’t want to work for? What changes do you think need to happen?
Clint Oram: I think every company is now competing against The Great Resignation. I have always believed that people join companies but they leave bosses. However, now you have a scenario where people are leaving for a litany of other reasons. The statistics tell us that working mothers are dropping out of the workforce in droves due to uncertain childcare, many others have taken early retirement, and many families have decided that they can make a go of it on a single income.
There are so many factors at play – right now, workplace success hinges not just about having a good or a poor company culture or management style. Organizations need to employ automation that helps them do more with fewer human resources and scale. Workplace flexibility is essential. You also need to rewire your interviewing/new hire processes. That candidate that you have your eye on – you better be able to clear your calendar to interview them today because highly qualified candidates are gone by the end of the day.
On a lighter note, if you had the ability to pick any business superpower, what would it be and how would you put it into practice?
Clint Oram: Prior to the pandemic, my superpower was being able to sleep on a plane – anywhere, anytime. I was that kid that always fell asleep in the car! Obviously being able to sleep on a plane is a superpower that has become super irrelevant and barely utilized over the past two years. So the new superpower that I am cultivating is connecting with people in a meaningful way over Zoom.
What does “success” in 2022 mean to you? It could be on a personal or business level, please share your vision.
Clint Oram: It’s been a tough few years for everyone both personally and professionally; working through obstacles and finding the path for growth have been major challenges. I think “success” in 2022 for me personally will be about finding fun in work again and helping others to do the same.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Clint Oram for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Clint Oram or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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