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Google’s Trojan Horse CRM Strategy

It’s only a matter of time until Google unleashes a free low-end hosted CRM suite. The heart of the business model for free CRM will be the potential for driving up advertising revenue while at the same time up-selling advanced CRM features. With Google Analytics launched and delivering a depth of features other free analytics packages can’t touch, the progression of Google’s product strategy is starting to take shape. Here are the mile markers showing CRM is on Google’s roadmap:

  • Microsoft has left a ton of cash on the CRM table too long and Google sees it. The bulk of the CRM opportunity was Microsoft’s for the taking, yet their product strategy and product introductions meant to lure users into waiting even longer is not working. At the high end of the market, SAP is handily winning new deals, and has already won the low-end of the market. As for Oracle acquiring Siebel, the former gets an attractive maintenance stream yet the OnDemand initiative will find selling very tough once Google CRM even gets hinted at by analysts. As for new deals for Oracle/Siebel, they will get a handful of US$1-million-plus deals per quarter, but the momentum in the U.S. and Europe SAP is experiencing isn’t going to subside anytime soon. One proof point: look at the last time SAP had a single-digit revenue growth in a quarter and you have to go way back to the 2nd quarter of 2003. Many companies talk market momentum and SAP delivers.
  • Google Analytics are just table stakes for the more process-centric applications. In the test driving I’ve been doing of Google Analytics, the most useful feature is the opportunity to parse site metrics by the three roles of Executive, Marketer and Webmaster. Included in the roles are goal-seeking guidance based on site analytics. There is also support for Marketing and Content Optimization. When Google brings out CRM expect to see multiple roles or views of customer data and the opportunity to upload various CRM-specific file formats.
  • Google has the potential to deliver Sales Force Automation on steroids. Google’s strength in semantic latent indexing is continually being fine-tuned by the work in Google Labs, along with alternate approaches to organizing, analyzing, and presenting content. Take into account the Google APIs and their pervasive support both in Google search engine OEM accounts and in the development community, and a perfect storm appears to be brewing for how to use Google search engine technology to populate sales force automation entries in a CRM system. Taken to an extreme, Google’s search engine capability could become the basis of backfilling customer histories by integrating APIs with Hoover’s, Dun & Bradstreet, Value Line Investment Surveys, Standard & Poor’s and many other information services firms. Suddenly smaller competitors in services vertical markets for example would be able to level the playing field by cutting the learning curve in half when it comes to learning about prospects — Google technology would do the work of the inside sales reps.
  • Hiring plans at Google point to CRM applications. Every three weeks I like to scan what positions Google is hiring, not because I am looking for a job, but because they can’t but help tipping their hand as to what’s coming up on their product strategies and roadmaps. In fact you can do this with any company to see how their overall health is and what their priorities are. Google is hiring for CRM right now, and from the looks of the position, it’s not for system maintenance, it’s for development.
  • Google may want to be your Friendster. Rumors are swirling that Friendster is up for sale and that some of the best M&A firms on the West Coast are vying to handle the transaction. Google acquiring Friendster is tantamount to buying a low-end sales force automation system many professionals use today to keep track of each other. In fact Friendster lists the number of direct connections each person has and who those people are. If the price is right Google may be your Friendster in 2006.
  • Google venture capital fund sightings will start to increase. This week in several blogs that track Google there have been claims and counter-claims of Google having a venture capital fund. While the current blog consensus is that they don’t, that is hard to believe when one considers just on one fact alone: Google is not just a search engine anymore, it has the potential to grow into a platform. From the platform allegory, product proliferation could easily result, and that prospect alone has got to making Microsoft nervous.

    If there isn’t a Google venture fund now, there will be, and just like Intel Capital has matured to include four funds at present including Intel’s Digital Home Fund, Communications Fund, Intel Capital China Technology Fund, and Intel Capital Middle East and Turkey Fund, Google must be thinking about how to fund emerging applications to further propel their product vision.

Google is on its way to being a platform and with that goal, product proliferation will follow. In 2006 it would not be surprising at all to see three things happen pertaining to Google:

  1. Free CRM and Sales Force Automation gets launched.
  2. Google Venture Capital sightings increase.
  3. Friendster becomes a bargain for Google and gets acquired.

Louis Columbus, a CRM Buyer columnist, is a former senior analyst with AMR Research. He is the author of several books on making the most of analyst relationships, including Best Practices in Analyst Relations, which can be downloaded for free.

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