Salesforce, Google Make It Official, Launch First Product

Ending weeks of speculation, Salesforce.com has unveiled an expanded partnership with Google that will start by combining the on-demand software firm’s Web-based CRM product with Google AdWords.

The two companies, which have been linked in rumors for weeks, launched the product Tuesday in 43 countries and in 14 languages. It will create a single Web interface allowing businesses to buy AdWords advertising and use Salesforce tools to track results, refine campaigns and follow up on leads.

Seen by many as a competitive jab in the direction of Microsoft, a common competitor for the two firms, the partnership starts with Salesforce Group Edition featuring Google AdWords. The platform, which replaces Salesforce’s existing Team Edition, will allow even small companies to purchase Google ads, track their effectiveness and follow up on leads generated by the ads, the two companies said.

Speaking Up

“We’re glad we can finally talk about what we’re doing with Google,” Kendall Collins, Salesforce.com’s senior vice president for product and corporate marketing, told CRM Buyer. “We share a lot in common, including the fact that we think the Internet has completely changed the game for businesses.”

The Web-based solution will cost US$1,200 per year, though the companies are offering a $600 price for the first 30 days of availability, a price that includes $50 in AdWords credits for new customers.

While many Salesforce.com customers already use AdWords, many more do not, opening up a potential new customer base for Google.

“We believe this opens up largely untapped market opportunities around the globe for both companies,” said Salesforce Chief Marketing Officer George Hu.

Common Interests

Salesforce and Google are no strangers. Salesforce integrated Google Maps into its products in 2005, and offers the Google OneBox corporate search tool to its customers as well. Salesforce customers have already been able to buy AdWords, though the new offering dramatically streamlines the process.

The two companies also share similar cultures, with Google borrowing some of Saleforce’s philanthropic efforts, including giving 1 percent of equity, 1 percent of product and 1 percent of employee time to charity each year, Collins said.

The two also share a belief that many of the functions done by traditional boxed software are better done online. “If you have a Gmail account, you don’t care what version you have, you only care that it works,” he added. “Salesforce customers have the same approach.”

A small business could use the platform to buy keywords and then place a form on its Web site to collect information from leads generated by the ads, Collins noted. Those leads can then be vetted by searches that use Google News and other sources, including business databases built into Salesforce. The effectiveness of ads at generating both leads and sales can also be tracked over time.

Seamless Combination

The partnership comes as Google has launched an aggressive move into the business application space, using free versions of Google Documents to attract small businesses and launching enterprise-level versions as well that offer what Google says is more potential for collaboration than traditional productivity suites such as Microsoft’s Office.

However, the new alliance was aimed at creating a seamless Web interface that combined the two companies’ products as if they were being provided by the same company, Sean Whiteley, director of search marketing at Salesforce, told CRM Buyer.

“Google is so good at designing products for the mass market,” he noted. “When we started working together, the sole focus was on how to make life easier for customers.”

For instance, existing Salesforce customers can be signed up for AdWords accounts through the service simply by filling in an e-mail and password, negating the need to fill out registration forms. “That all happens in the background,” Whiteley noted.

The two companies also plan to offer access to programming APIs (application programming interfaces) that will enable customers to build customized applications.

Battle for Business

Since mid-May, word has been circulating that the two San Francisco Bay Area companies were in the process of linking up, with speculation ranging from ways that Google’s Gmail and Google Chat would be integrated into Salesforce to talk that Google was laying the groundwork for an acquisition of Salesforce.

As it evolved Google Documents and Applications and as it has tried to reach more businesses with AdWords, Google has used partnerships to tap into the small- and mid-sized business arena, for instance linking with Intuit to integrate Google services into Quickbooks.

Google has left little doubt that it believes its Web-based approach to productivity applications can become a significant threat to Microsoft’s bread-and-butter packaged software such as Office 2007, search engine expert John Battelle said. So far, businesses have tiptoed cautiously toward the on-demand approach to getting software, but the success of Salesforce CRM and similar offerings are starting to open eyes to the cost benefits.

“There’s no doubt left they are going right after Office,” he said.

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