SugarCRM plans new marketing, partner management tools

SugarCRM will add new marketing and partner management capabilities to an upgrade of its open-source customer relationship management software due out by about the end of the year, company officials said.

SugarCRM version 6.0 will be released in beta by about October and made generally available by the end of the year, depending on feedback from the beta test, said Clint Oram, SugarCRM cofounder and vice president of product management, at the company's SugarCon conference in San Francisco Monday.

Version 6.0 will have better lead generation tools, including a scoring tool that looks at how potential clients have responded to past marketing campaigns along with data such as their job title and company size. It will also coordinate multistep marketing efforts, where prospects are approached through various campaigns -- e-mail, telephone, Web advertisements -- that are sometimes linked to each other.

A new partner management application will allow partners to access a company's SugarCRM system, to register deals or ask for marketing funds, for example. It will provide separate views for partners and securely restrict access to information that's relevant to them, Oram said.

SugarCRM was founded four years ago and has about 4,500 paying customers, up from 3,000 a year ago, according to Oram. Customers can use its open-source software on-premise, or as a hosted service from either SugarCRM or one of its partners. Tata Communications of India added its name to that partner list this week.

The company is building a network of resellers and service providers that is allowing it to compete better with larger rivals such as Microsoft and Salesforce.com, according to Kristian af Saneberg, who manages SugarCRM accounts for Redpill Linpro, an open-source services company that operates across Scandinavia.

Linpro won a deal to provide a 400-seat SugarCRM system for the Nordic division of Avis Rent A Car, Saneberg said. It beat out Microsoft Dynamics and a smaller vendor, Mayflower, because Linpro was able to customize the open-source SugarCRM software to give Avis exactly what it asked for, he said.

"We built some new modules and did some integration that you can't do with Dynamics," Saneberg said.

Still, SugarCRM is a relatively young product and some of its capabilities are quite basic. A few people at SugarCon said it needs a better calendaring application -- one reseller here said he lost a deal over it. Another person asked for a better project management tool. Oram said calendaring and advanced project management, along with some other features like full-text search, aren't scheduled before version 6.5 in 2010. "We have to prioritize our resources," he said.

The company may offer its software in a full stack, including an OS and database, for partners who want to offer SugarCRM as an on-demand service. To do that today they have to assemble the stack themselves. "This is something we're considering, but it's still on the whiteboard at the moment," Oram said.

Before all of this, SugarCRM also announced plans to release version 5.5 of its software in about July, with a beta scheduled for March. Like other recent releases, 5.5 is more about strengthening the underlying "platform" than adding new CRM capabilities, Oram said.

Among the changes, the company has rewritten the Web services framework to make it easier to import data from external sources. It also has REST (representational state transfer) interfaces that should improve performance for custom modules and other plug-ins, Oram said.

It has also added new Cloud Connectors for Zoominfo and CrunchBase, providing access to those data sources. It has also worked on the user interface, making it easier for developers to create new "theme" views for end-users.

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