Linking Your Customers to Your SugarCRM

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Implementing SugarCRM 5.x

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Install, configure, and administer a robust Customer Relationship Management system using SugarCRM

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by Angel Magaña Michael Whitehead | September 2010 | Open Source

SugarCRM is a popular Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. It is available in both free open source and commercial versions, making it an ideal way for small or medium-size businesses to try out a CRM system without committing large sums of money.

In this article by Angel Magaña and Michael Whitehead, authors of the book Implementing SugarCRM 5.x, we will discuss important topics, such as capturing customer leads and requests for information from the public website directly within the CRM system, efficiently tracking customer service requests, and related product/service flaws to improve customer satisfaction. We will also discuss the development of a customer self-service portal in conjunction with the CRM system to allow clients to file or monitor their own service cases.

(For more resources on SugarCRM, see here.)

Surely, the most important goal of any CRM system is to make your customers feel positive about your company and to make them feel that exciting things are happening at your company, such as the following:

  • That the employees they are in contact with are caring and well-informed
  • That new and better information systems are coming into place
  • That your company is responsive to product and service issues, and cares about its customers

Limiting CRM system access to only the employees of a business will certainly affect the first of the aforementioned items positively, but not necessarily the other items. To really improve a customer's perception of your organization, one of the biggest improvements you can make is to allow customers to interact almost directly with your CRM system. Some of the activities that make this possible are as follows:

  • Capturing customer leads and requests for information from the public website directly within the CRM system.
  • Efficiently tracking customer service requests and related product/service flaws to help improve your offerings and customer satisfaction.
  • Developing a customer self-service portal in conjunction with the CRM system to allow clients to file their own service cases, check on the latest status of a case, and to update their own customer profile.

Most of us in our own lives can forgive or understand if a family member, friend, or supplier lets us down a bit, or makes a mistake—as long as they communicate with us honestly and effectively. In addition, with early detection of any errors, corrective action can always be put in place more quickly. Integrating your CRM system more directly with your customer is no more complicated than this—promoting more effective, more accurate, and timely communications with your customers. The net effect of such actions is that your customers feel informed, valued, and empowered.

Capturing leads from your website

Capturing leads from your company's website directly into your CRM is one of the greatest early initiatives you can implement in terms of streamlining business processes to save time and effort. This section will guide you through the manner in which this can be accomplished with SugarCRM.

In the past, setting up a process similar to the one just described would have required the expertise and assistance of a programmer and your webmaster. Coordinating everyone's efforts to accomplish the goal would sometimes become a task in and of itself. Days may have elapsed before your lead capture form finally made it up to your website. Fortunately, those days are behind us.

SugarCRM includes a tool that allows you to quickly and easily create a form that you can use to capture leads from your website. Through this tool, you will be able to select the fields corresponding to the data you wish to capture and also create a ready-to-use web form. Let us set up a web lead capture form through SugarCRM's tool.

p style="margin-left:40px;margin-right:40px">The lead capture tool is specifically designed to import data into the Leads module only. Should you choose not to use the Leads module, or you wish to use a similar technique to capture data within a different module, you should use SugarCRM's SOAP API to accomplish the task.

 

To begin the setup process, hover over the Marketing tab and select Campaigns. On the shortcuts menu on the left-hand side, click on Create Lead Form, as highlighted in the following image:

After clicking on it, you will see a screen that permits you to select the fields you wish to capture through your form, as illustrated in the following screenshot:

The field selection process is quite simple. On the leftmost column of the three that are presented, you will see a list of all the fields corresponding to the Leads module (including custom fields).

To select a field for your form, simply drag-and-drop it from the field listing on the left onto one of the two rightmost columns.

It is best to visualize the layout of the form that will be produced as one similar to the edit or detail view layouts. Fields can appear next to each other, horizontally or vertically, but only within one of two columns. Most organizations prefer the vertical approach, which is the technique we will apply. However, feel free to experiment.

Proceed to select the fields to match the preceding image, plus any other fields you may wish to include. Note that required fields are marked with an asterisk, as they are within the Edit view screen. You must make sure to include all your required fields to ensure that the process will work as expected.

In addition, you will notice that we have selected the Lead Source field. Doing so will allow website visitors to make the appropriate selection corresponding to what drove them to your site. Click on Next once you are satisfied with your field selection.

Now you need to set some final parameters, as illustrated in the following image:

You will undoubtedly want to modify the Form Header. This value corresponds to the title of the page that website visitors will see in their browser, so you will want to tailor it to reflect something a bit friendlier than the generic text.

The form we are building is no different than any other web form you may have encountered in your day-to-day web browsing. As such, it too will include a button for visitors to click and send the data they typed in. If you prefer the label of the button to read as something other than the default label of Submit, change the Submit Button Label accordingly.

The Redirect URL and Related Campaign fields are also quite important. The former is used to specify a URL that a visitor will be sent to after clicking on the Submit button on your lead capture form, while the latter is used to associate a particular marketing campaign to the form. Establishing this relationship is critical as it will help you properly measure the effectiveness of your marketing efforts.

Lastly, the Assigned To option allows you to define a user to whom the Leads will be assigned upon being entered into SugarCRM. You may want to consider creating a specific user, such as WebCapture, and assigning the Leads to that user. Doing so will permit you to quickly identify records that entered your system through the web lead capture tool versus other means.

Click on Generate Form after you have applied your edits and you should see something similar to the following:

The default form should now be presented within SugarCRM's HTML editor. This is a handy capability as it allows you to manipulate the look and feel of the form to make it conform to the already existing look and feel of your website. However, you may wish to ignore that, as additional options allow you to more easily integrate it into your website. To access those features and save the form, click on the Save Web To Lead Form button.

SugarCRM provides the convenience of a fully formatted, ready-to-use web form which can be downloaded by clicking on the Web To Lead Form link. However, if you prefer, you may copy the code displayed in the box and then embed it into one of your already existing pages. The second approach would save you the hassle of having to modify the cosmetic aspects of the default page to match your site.

To start receiving data into your SugarCRM system, simply place the form on your web server, fill out the fields and submit the form. Make sure that the server on which it is placed is able to access your SugarCRM system or it will not function.

You can test it by opening the form in your web browser and submitting data, as shown in the following image:

Assuming everything is working as expected, the records will automatically appear within the leads module of your SugarCRM system without any intervention on your part or that of other users. In addition, e-mail notifications of new records will automatically be sent to the defined assigned user to inform them of the new entry so they may act upon it. Through the use of add-on modules, like SierraCRM's Process Manager, further actions, like the scheduling of follow up calls, can also be automated. Remember, all of this can happen automatically and herein we begin to see the real benefits of a CRM system.

There are few things quite as satisfying as driving along in the car, and receiving an e-mail on your BlackBerry telling you that a new lead has been received. Especially, when you know that it all happened automatically!

From a process perspective, the concept of having every new lead automatically entered into the CRM system makes it quick and easy to convert that lead into a contact, enter details of new sales opportunities, or include them in e-mail marketing campaigns—all without any data transcription errors, or lost leads, due to human errors.

One note of caution: most lead capture sites capture as much as 50% bad data. Some visitors to your site will enter anything they fancy in the form; potentially polluting your database. This highlights another reason why it is beneficial to enter them by utilizing a username such as WebCapture. Doing so would allow you to easily filter leads to only show those created by WebCapture and in turn allow you to cleanse them, either by deleting them or performing other data integrity checks.

Customer self-service portals

After automating the lead capture process, the most common step that follows in linking your customers into your CRM system is the self-service portal.

Just as it sounds, this i s a software system that enables your customers to exchange information with your organization in a completely autonomous manner. In this initial implementation, we will show you how to implement a system that allows customers to submit and manage service cases directly within your CRM system.

Most of us have had the experience of needing to contact a call center to address a customer service issue or other matters. Usually, that process involves staying on hold for some time time. If you are lucky, the time that you stay on hold is not long, but at the same time, spending 30 to 45 minutes on hold or being transferred around is not unheard of. To make matters worse, you usually need to make these calls during normal business hours, meaning you are not able to tend to your normal work while you are burning time on hold.

The fundamental capability that the self-service portal provides is empowering customers by allowing them to contact you at a time that is most convenient to them. Customers are no longer bound to specific business hours, nor must they wait in a call queue or navigate a maze of phone options. If they need your company's help to resolve an issue, they simply go to your website and submit their issue.

Likewise, customers do not need to contact you directly to check in on their previously submitted cases. They simply visit your website again and they will be able to review their cases.

This functionality works hand-in-hand with the Cases module that is built into SugarCRM. Typically, users would leverage this module to track service calls that they receive from customers. Through this functionality, all members of the organization are kept up-to-date on any issues that a customer may be experiencing at any given time.

The Bug Tracker module complements the Cases module quite well by providing a central repository where all known product flaws can be tracked. In turn, all cases resulting from any of these flaws can be related to a given bug, allowing you to measure the impact it is having on your customers. Together, they can be used as very effective tools for not only providing customer service, but also prioritizing product development needs and improving customer satisfaction.

However, that process can be inefficient, as it relies on a user to enter the data to produce a case in the first place. Empowering the customer in such a way that allows them to directly interact with the Cases module not only makes it easier for you to get feedback and become aware of problems, but it also gives customers the feeling that you care to hear what they have to say about their problems. That is the goal that the self-service portal hopes to accomplish.

Self-service portal configuration

Before we get too deep into the specifics of configuring and using the self-service portal, you must first understand some important boundaries.

First, although this is a built-in feature of the Enterprise Edition of SugarCRM, it is not a feature of Community Edition. To obtain this functionality, we must use the combination of a SugarCRM add-on available on SugarExchange.com, plus an open source CMS (Content Management System) named Joomla! If you are already using another CMS package or cannot use Joomla! for other reasons, you will not be able to utilize the functionality described in this exercise.

The second and last important note is that, at the time of this writing, the add-on did not support versions of SugarCRM Community Edition higher than 5.2.

Now that we have a clear understanding of some important limitations, let us begin the process of deploying this feature.

Installing Joomla!

Assuming you have already installed SugarCRM Community Edition on the target server, you have already established the perfect environment for installing the Joomla! CMS package. Like SugarCRM, it too leverages the LAMP or WAMP system software platforms. Just like SugarCRM, it is also an open source application.

You can download Joomla! from the project's site, located at http://www.joomla.org.

Our exercise will use version 1.5 of Joomla! (Full Package). It is assumed that you have already successfully downloaded and installed it onto your server. If you require help with the process, visit the Joomla! website to review its documentation and obtain further assistance.

Assuming Joomla! is operational, proceed to access the administrator page. It should resemble the following:

Let us leave it at the admin page for now.

Implementing SugarCRM 5.x Install, configure, and administer a robust Customer Relationship Management system using SugarCRM
Published: September 2010
eBook Price: $29.99
Book Price: $49.99
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Read more about this book

(For more resources on SugarCRM, see here.)

Installing the SugarCRM portal component for Joomla!

Our next step will be to download and install the Sugar Portal for Joomla add-on. This add-on will act as a bridge between Joomla! and SugarCRM to provide the functionality that we are seeking.

You can download it from the Sugar Portal for Joomla project page located at the following URL:

http://www.sugarexchange.com/product_details.php?product=474

The Sugar Portal for Joomla consists of two Joomla! components, to extend its functionality as follows:

  • com_sugarbugs: This links the Joomla! portal to SugarCRM using Sugar's SOAP communications facility to provide searching, creating, and editing of software bug reports.
  • com_sugarcases: This links the Joomla! portal to SugarCRM using Sugar's SOAP communications facility to provide searching, creating, and editing of services cases.

Our example will focus on the cases component.

In order to install and use these objects within Joomla!, you will first need to define a portal user within SugarCRM. This will represent the set of SugarCRM credentials that Joomla! will use to communicate with the CRM system.

Within the admin area of SugarCRM, create a new user—typically with the username Portal, and the Portal Only User checkbox selected. This user will be used exclusively for this purpose and will not be a valid login for SugarCRM as a normal user. This is shown in the following screenshot:

IMPORTANT: You must download and read the installation instructions (install.txt) on the Sugar Portal for Joomla project page BEFORE proceeding. The document contains important information pertaining to configuration changes that must be manually applied to SugarCRM in order to enable the portal functionality.

Next, you must use the administration area within Joomla! to install the various components needed by Joomla! to link to SugarCRM. You should first install com_sugarcases and then com_sugarbugs. Assistance on installing Joomla! components can be found at http://www.joomla.org.

Once the components are successfully installed within Joomla! we need to configure them so that they communicate with your instance of SugarCRM. Let us take a look at the process of configuring the SugarCRM cases component.

In Joomla !, select Components Sugar Cases | Configuration|. Update the Password, Sugar Soap Location, and Username fields to reflect the portal user and password combination created earlier in SugarCRM.

You will also need to enter the URL that corresponds with your installation. The URL can be easily obtained by looking at the address field on your web browser while working within SugarCRM. For example, your test installation may indicate a URL of http://127.0.0.1:88/sugarce52/ or http://sugarcrm.example.com/ (as shown in the following screenshot). In either case, you will want to append the text soap.php at the end of it, so it reads as http://127.0.0.1:88/sugarce52/ soap.php and http://sugarcrm.example.com/soap.php respectively. Save your changes when done.

You will then be given the opportunity to select the SugarCRM case record fields that you wish to display within Joomla! Leave it set to the default settings for now, as shown in the following image. You can always modify it later should the need arise.

Lastly, you will need to add SugarCRM cases to the Joomla! menu system so that website visitors are able to access it.

To add the menu option, select Menus | User Menu and click on New. Select Sugar Cases and enter Support Cases for the Title. Set the Access Level to Registered and verify that Show the Title Page is set to Yes under the Parameters (System) section. Click on Save when done. The following screenshot shows how menu options are added:

That should do it for the Joomla! side, but how do we tie the data in SugarCRM to a specific Joomla! user?

This is accomplished by means of the portal fields on a contact record. Switch to SugarCRM and access the contacts module. Select a random contact and access its edit view screen. At the very bottom of the screen you should find the following:

The Portal Active checkbox enables/disables portal access for the current contact record. The value specified in the Portal Name field is of greater importance as it is used to establish the relationship between a Joomla! user and a SugarCRM contact (this is displayed in the following figure). In turn, that allows Joomla! the ability to display and manage cases related to the specified contact.

Enter a value in the Portal Name field and enable the Portal Active checkbox on the record, and save the record. Take note of the value you specified in the Portal Name field as you will need to create a Joomla! user with the same name as described in the next section.

Creating a new Joomla! user

Use the Joomla! administration menu to navigate to Site | User Manager, and then click on the New icon to create a new user. Once you have entered the user information (note that you need to set Group to Registered), click on the Save icon. Make sure that the user that you have created matches the value from the Portal Name field from SugarCRM.

Using your new self-service portal

You should now be able to use your self-service portal. Log out of Joomla!, and log in to the regular Joomla! website as the new Joomla! user that you just created by navigating to http://localhost/joomla.

Click on the link for Support Cases. From here, you have choices for Home (which lists all cases that relate to your user), New (to create a new case), and Search (to look for a specific case). Note that the following image demonstrates a default Joomla! page. You will most likely want to modify it to match the branding of the rest of your website or general corporate imagery and style guidelines. Rest assured that such modifications can be made through standard CSS modifications and Joomla! customization techniques.

Click on New to create a new case. Enter a name for the case, and a description, as shown in the following image:

Upon clicking on Save, the case is submitted and entered into SugarCRM. Within the portal, you should see the following:

Now, switch to SugarCRM and take a look at the Detail view screen of the contact associated with the Joomla! user who has just submitted the case. This is depicted in the following image:

As you can see, the case was not only entered into SugarCRM, but it was also automatically linked to the corresponding contact.

While we have only illustrated self-service case management capabilities here, it does serve the purpose of highlighting possibilities rather well. This component uses the standard SOAP interface for SugarCRM and by investing some development time to further the related Joomla! components, you could create all sorts of customer self-service applications, such as document sharing portals, project tracking portals, and so on.

This sort of technology use is only going to grow faster and faster in the coming years. Now that you have seen what it can do for a business, do you really want to compete without these tools against companies that are using them to their full potential?

Summary

In this article, we have covered two key techniques for linking your CRM to the outside world, and more specifically to your current and potential customers.

Lead-capture applications are simple to set up, and have immediate impact on the bottom line in terms of both creating revenue, and cutting administration costs.

Developing customer self-service portals is a key technique to maximize the return from your CRM investment. They keep your customers better informed and happier, while improving efficiency and reducing costs in the customer service and support areas.

From here, the sky is the limit. The future will hold many new developments in the CRM field. One widely anticipated trend is that CRM systems act as their own portal—offering carefully controlled and regulated direct access to the CRM for customers and suppliers. This will allow them to see only that information and navigation capability that the system is set up to allow them.


Further resources on this subject:


Implementing SugarCRM 5.x Install, configure, and administer a robust Customer Relationship Management system using SugarCRM
Published: September 2010
eBook Price: $29.99
Book Price: $49.99
See more
Select your format and quantity:

About the Author :


Angel Magaña

Based in Los Angeles, California, Angel currently works as a CRM consultant helping businesses of all sizes realize the benefits of SugarCRM. He is a seasoned veteran of the technology world, initially getting his start in the CRM industry back in 1996 with GoldMine Software (now FrontRange Solutions). During his years at GoldMine he authored numerous technical documents, and contributed heavily to development and product management efforts that helped make GoldMine a leading and award-winning solution.

His affection for open source software began in 1998 when he started exploring Red Hat Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP; a combination now widely known as the LAMP stack. As an advocate of open source technologies, Angel has continually focused on emphasizing their feasibility and viability in relation to CRM and small business needs.

SugarCRM first caught his attention in 2005. Impressed by what he saw, Angel quickly moved to familiarizing himself with its capabilities, and shortly thereafter deployed his first instance. Since then, Angel has continuously refined his SugarCRM skills while also sharing his knowledge with others as an active member of the SugarCRM user community. In addition to his numerous contributions on the SugarCRM Forums, his projects on SugarForge.org have earned him two "Project of the Month" recognitions. Angel also maintains a blog at http://cheleguanaco.blogspot.com, where he shares additional insights on customizing and troubleshooting SugarCRM.

Away from the computer he is an avid soccer fan and regularly writes about the local soccer scene for LAist.com. When he is not playing, watching or writing about soccer, he is out running, riding his bike or enjoying the outdoors. He is fluent in English and Spanish, with a little French in between. His two dogs are a constant source of amusement.

Michael Whitehead

Michael Whitehead is a leading authority on the design and implementation of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems. Michael’s experience and expertise spans a thirty year career in software architecture, design and development as well as business management and ownership of multiple technology organizations. Among many other accomplishments Michael is the contributing author of the SugarCRM Open Source User Guide.

Michael has authored this book for entrepreneurs and small/medium business leaders, like himself, to help propel the success of their businesses through the disciplined application of CRM best practices. More than just a practical guide for the implementation of SugarCRM, this book explores and explains the business implications—and benefits—of customer relationship management for the small/medium business.

Michael is currently the founder and President of The Long Reach Corporation (www.thelongreach.com). Long Reach blends real world CRM expertise with commercial open source technologies to develop and deliver cost effective CRM solutions for small/medium business and divisions of large enterprises. Long Reach offers a full range of SugarCRM implementation, customization and training services. Long Reach is also the developer of Info At Hand™, a complete, commercial-grade, customer-centric business management solution built on SugarCRM Open Source.

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