Building Company Culture on Customer Relationships

Clint Oram of SugarCRM is customer-focused and customer-driven.

As more and more busi­ness­es have added dig­i­tal com­po­nents to their exist­ing sys­tems, a cus­tomer rela­tion­ship man­age­ment (CRM) sys­tem has proven to be at the heart and cen­ter. This sys­tem ties every­thing togeth­er and enables inte­gra­tions and automa­tion to help process­es run faster and smoother. While many of us use a CRM to run our busi­ness, it’s not often that we hear how a com­pa­ny that builds a CRM looks at its own cus­tomer rela­tion­ships. We took this insight from a recent chat with Clint Oram, Co-Founder and Chief Strat­e­gy Offi­cer of Sug­ar­CRM.

Non-Serial Entrepreneurship

When Sug­ar­CRM start­ed back in 2004, Clint thought he was kick­ing off the Sil­i­con Val­ley dream: build a start­up, scale, sell, then wash, rinse, repeat. The num­ber of busi­ness­es he built would mea­sure his suc­cess, or so he thought. 20 years lat­er, he’s still at Sug­ar because he found true love.” He fell in love with the first com­pa­ny he built – with what it does, with the cus­tomers, with his team, with the part­ners. And it turns out that suc­cess is just as mea­sur­able when build­ing one busi­ness well as in build­ing many. That makes Clint a non-ser­i­al” entre­pre­neur, some­thing he proud­ly announces on his LinkedIn profile.

A CRM Living CRM Values

When you’re a com­pa­ny that builds and main­tains a CRM, you’re going to be scru­ti­nized as to how you treat your cus­tomers. Clint and his team lean into that, some­times too much. 

The first rea­son this hap­pens is the cul­ture at Sug­ar. It implants a pas­sion and dri­ve to make suc­cess hap­pen for cus­tomers. That pas­sion, with­out the prop­er bound­aries, can lead to burnout. 

The sec­ond rea­son is how Sug­ar approach­es cus­tomer requests. Almost to our own detri­ment, we’re focused on cus­tomer suc­cess,” Clint says. It turns out that there is such a thing as being too cus­tomer-cen­tric, and that’s when you make unsus­tain­able deci­sions to please customers.

Yes, If

One way to deal with both of these chal­lenges is by cre­at­ing bound­aries. The sec­ond is mak­ing sure that every­one defaults back to Sugar’s Yes, if” atti­tude to cus­tomer requests. This open and pos­i­tive answer allows Sug­ar to say some­thing oth­er than a straight No” when a cus­tomer asks for some­thing. But it also com­mu­ni­cates clear­ly to the cus­tomer that if some­thing is pos­si­ble, Sug­ar will do it. That gives the com­pa­ny room to look at whether a request is rea­son­able and can be incor­po­rat­ed into the exist­ing struc­ture or whether it’s sim­ply too far out­side the scope of what Sug­ar is doing.

Sweet Rewards

Anoth­er way that Sug­ar lives its val­ues as a CRM is by incor­po­rat­ing the great ideas of its cus­tomers into its own prac­tices. One of Sugar’s pro­grams, Sweet Rewards, got its start at Otter­Box. Otter­Box has been a Sug­ar client for some years. Clint was at their offices when he noticed that they have thank-you cards in every office to allow team mem­bers to offer appre­ci­a­tion to col­leagues right then and there. Clint loved this and brought it back to Sug­ar, to more con­sis­tent­ly com­mu­ni­cate grat­i­tude company-wide.

That grat­i­tude is some­thing that Clint feels vis­cer­al­ly as one of the C‑suite mem­bers of the com­pa­ny and helps keep him bal­anced. One of the best things about hav­ing a com­pa­ny is that you’re able to employ peo­ple and give them a liveli­hood and put food on the table for fam­i­lies.” Ear­ly on, Clint felt the bur­den of such respon­si­bil­i­ty and why it can be over­whelm­ing when you first deal with it. Over time it has become one of the aspects of his work that he appre­ci­ates and val­ues the most. That grat­i­tude then builds in momen­tum from the inside and then flows out to embrace cus­tomers as well: Sug­ar wants to make the lives of every­one it touch­es — be they team mem­bers, part­ners, or cus­tomers — better.

Don’t Work on Vacation

Anoth­er val­ue that Clint has tried to fos­ter, par­tic­u­lar­ly in an era in which he says we live at work, or work at home, not sure which,” is that of mak­ing sure that when peo­ple are off, they are off. He recounts that one employ­ee had tak­en a week off but still attend­ed three meet­ings vir­tu­al­ly. When Clint asked the employ­ee why he had done so, the employ­ee replied that he liked hav­ing the agency choose what he would or would not do. 

While Clint appre­ci­at­ed the moti­va­tion behind this, he com­mu­ni­cat­ed that this was not okay because it was send­ing the wrong mes­sage to every­one else. If some­one on vaca­tion still attends meet­ings, it sends a sig­nal, intend­ed or not, that that is accept­able behav­ior, and Clint feels strong­ly that it isn’t. I want team mem­bers to spend time with their fam­i­ly, spend time recharg­ing, putting up healthy bound­aries about how we work, not just with our­selves but with our cus­tomers and our part­ners.” Just as with Sweet Rewards, val­ues and prac­tices that start from the inside of the com­pa­ny radi­ate out to end users. 

Per­haps that’s the most impor­tant cul­tur­al les­son we can take from Clint. You don’t have to be a CRM com­pa­ny to live your val­ues. And you don’t have to be a CRM com­pa­ny to have those val­ues lived so con­crete­ly and con­sis­tent­ly that they nat­u­ral­ly radi­ate out to cus­tomer interactions. 

Those val­ues are part of a gen­uine cul­ture that mat­ters more and more as the idea of employ­er brand con­tin­ues to devel­op. What for­mer employ­ees say about your brand and what the reviews say on Glass­door can’t be faked. Good out­comes in these sit­u­a­tions are a result of gen­uine cul­ture, the sort of gen­uine cul­ture that Sug­ar doesn’t just preach by run­ning a CRM but prac­tices by liv­ing cus­tomer rela­tion­ships each and every day.

Check Out the Full Episode

Learn more about build­ing a cus­tomer-cen­tric, employ­ee-focused orga­ni­za­tion. On this episode of The Brag­Wor­thy Cul­ture pod­cast, Jor­dan sits down with Clint Oram, Co-Founder & Chief Strat­e­gy Offi­cer at Sug­ar­CRM to dis­cuss how cus­tomer rela­tion­ships are a core val­ue of their com­pa­ny cul­ture. Sug­ar­CRM offers sales force automa­tion, mar­ket­ing cam­paigns, cus­tomer sup­port, col­lab­o­ra­tion, mobile CRM, social CRM, and report­ing. Lis­ten on Apple or Spo­ti­fy.

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