Thursday, 14 January 2010

What would Google CRM look like?

A few years ago, when I was working for SAP, I posed a question to my team: "If Google were to launch a CRM solution, what would it look like and how would SAP respond both tactically and strategically"? I mocked up some fictitious "Google CRM" screenshots showing Google CRM mashed up with Google Docs, Google Adwords, Google Maps etc and I described the solution as a free CRM solution funded by advertising revenue that would shake up the CRM market.

The session promoted heated debate. Some ideas, like mashing SAP CRM screens with Google Maps were fed into SAP's CRM Product Development and were embraced into the product, others, like partnering with Google to create a SaaS solution, never left the room.

Skip forward a few years and last month I read Jeff Jarvis' book What Would Google Do? In the book, Jeff Jarvis takes his readers into the Google mindset, discussing the tactics that have made Google so groundbreaking. He then applies his framework of thoughts to other industries, asking how Google would approach running a cable company, a restaurant, an airline a hospital and many more. I found it an extremely well written and thought-provoking read.

So while the book was fresh in my memory I decided to revisit the question of "what would Google CRM look like"? Here are my hypotheses (all open to debate and comment!):

1.   It would be free (standard edition) or offered at a nominal per user per annum cost (premier edition). Google commodities' everything. They would provide basic CRM and Social CRM processes like Sales Force Automation, Campaign Management, Customer Service free of charge, powered by advertising revenue. Above a certain user number or storage capacity, they would offer a Premium Edition which might include additional functionality (for context Google Apps Premier Edition costs $50 per user per year).

2.   Google CRM would be integrated into all existing Google Tools & Apps for example:
a.  Google Docs - for word processing e.g. proposal generation, presentation and spreadsheets e.g. reporting
b.  Google Maps and Google Earth - for mapping customer, employee or site locations (most CRM solutions already do this)
c.   Google Adsense and Adwords - integrated into campaign management to allow closed loop creation of adword campaigns ( already have this functionality)
d.  Google Alerts - to alert customer facing staff of key information relating to their customers
e.  Google Sites and Google Checkout - for basic eCommerce functionality

3.   It would be platform based - Google would  allow developers to build out CRM and Social CRM functionality via Google App Engine, similar to Blogger where Google provides a basic blogging tool but allows the tool to be extended with third party widgets. In the current CRM world's platform is the best comparison as it allows extensions to the solution to be built and distributed on AppExchange. Google would release Google CRM in beta then let developers and early customers build it out.

4.   It would be communications-enabled throughout, with unified communications and presence. This is similar to SAP's concept of communications-enabled business processes with their Business Communications Management solution, but Google CRM would leverage all of Google's communications and multi-media collaboration capabilities:
a.  Google Wave for team room collaboration
b.  Google Talk for IP telephony
c.   Google Mail & Chat
d.  Blogger (internal and external blogs)
e.  Picassa & Youtube for multimedia file sharing (e.g. social sales scenarios)
f.   Google Reader for RSS subscriptions
g.  Nexus One and Android for mobile use

5.   Google would think distributed, doing what they do best and linking to the rest.  Unlike CRM solutions of the past they would not seek to master all customer data and processes. They would seek to index and organise customer information wherever it sits and guide users to the right answers through intelligent search.

6.   Google CRM would be insanely easy to use. Jeff Jarvis describes Google's approach as "Simplify, Simplify", a philosophy most CRM vendors could still learn a great deal from. Think iGoogle widgets, voice control, unified experience across multiple-devices.

7.   Google CRM would leverage the Wisdom of the crowd:
a.   Internally to improve system performance and suggestions. For example, Google CRM would self-optimise business processes based on usage and it would re-engineer under-used functions.
b.   It would facilitate internal social collaboration. Oracle's social tools like Sales Genius are probably the closest and best I have seen in this area allowing sales reps to find similar customers to sell to, and allowing customer-facing staff to tag useful collateral.
c.    Externally, Google CRM would favour peer-to peer above traditional CRM channels. It would provide customers with open, transparent information about what other customers were buying and what service issues existed. It would encourage peer-to-peer as a primary communications channel, allowing customers to talk to each other directly to review products, give recommendations and solve issues themselves via  crowd-service (see my post on outsourcing your marketing, sales and service to your customers).

8.   Finally, (and I acknowledge that this one may be optimistic…) I'd like to think that my fictitious Google CRM would prevent evil! Google captures a huge amount of information on users and is often accused of compromising privacy. However,  Jeff Jarvis talks about an invoice relationship between trust and control. Perhaps Google CRM would allow customers to maintain and control the information stored about them inside the system, giving them control what offers they receive and what their relationships look like. Doc Searls calls this VRM or the inverse of traditional CRM where the customer controls the conversation.

Disclaimer and disclosure: this post is purely hypothetical. I have no knowledge of Google considering, building or buying a CRM solution. I have no direct vested interests in Google or in any of the other software vendors mentioned.


  1. I believe that Google will not want to directly jump into CRM space. It gains more by enabling multiple vendors complete over its platform.

    I build a Google App Engine (GAE) based iFreeTools CRM, which aims to travel the path you have described. The app is just a couple of months old and currently seems to be the only GAE based CRM app, with a decent set of CRM features - based on the app gallery..

    But I believe this will not remain so. More players will show up soon, all wanting to travel the path and the increased competition works in favor of both Google and customers, who will get better choice.

    My views in this recent blog post :
    Google And Its Effects on CRM - You have seen nothing, yet !!

  2. Many thanks for the links! I just logged on to iFree Tools CRM to take a look - you have a lot there!

  3. The problem with most CRM systems is that they too closely represent the relational database model, just a UI with a box per table. Users dont like navigating through loads of screens and drilling through records to see different kinds of data, so that model doesnt work too well for them. They just want to see everything on one screen, which gets messy with the relational model. I think if google did a CRM system, everything would be within easy reach, on one screen, optimised for user experience. This possibility has occurred to me and I think google would clean up

  4. Nezproc - Yes that would certainly play to what Google does best, organise the world's information and simplify! Thanks for your comment

  5. Two thoughts:

    1. Google might purchase another company who elegantly and comprehensively solves CRM. If 37signals' products were integrated with each other (instead of stand-alone) that might be a contender.

    Google purchased Jotspot to make into Google Sites. I'm not sure if that was worth it for them, but Sites has become a wonderful product for my teams.

    2. Google might be able to add CRM to their Google Apps offerings by integrating current offerings and adding one new object, the Deal:

    * Integrate Contacts, Tasks and Calendar. Integrate with a new object, the Deal.

    * Add a Deal (opportunity) object. The Deal must have some customization because businesses are so different, but it gets leads from Google Docs (forms), it integrates with a shopping cart, it it spits out data into Google Docs (spreadsheets) for reporting which is critical for any organization. takes a very simple approach that I could see complementing Google Apps well. Notice that everything is centered on the Deal?

    I'm hopeful someone will figure this out soon, but I expect it will take more than a couple years until we have something we can use.

    Thanks for sharing your ideas. Envisioning what we want in a CRM and how it integrates with our other productivity tools is an important discussion to be having.

  6. Riel - thanks for your interesting comments. I guess Microsoft have come from the Apps-integration standpoint, in effect building out CRM functionality from MS Outlook. Most CRM apps have pretty good Office / Apps integration these days.

    Zoho might be another potential acquisition as they a similar Docs / CRM SaaS solution.

    If Google did do something, I'd hope that they would do something more game-changing. Time will tell...

    Thanks for your thoughts


  7. "Most CRM apps have pretty good Office / Apps integration these days"

    I guess so, but I still have troubles finding SaaS CRM's that integrate nicely with Google Email and Calendar. Even with Salesforce you need the Appirio plugins.

    I think my head is filled with how CRMs can link with Project Management tools. Solve360 is a new product marketing itself as such.

    Zoho perplexes me because it seems like such an obvious comprehensive solution for companies but it does not have the traction I expected. They built out so many components, which I think is great, but now I guess they need to work on refining them.

    I expect to see more integrations now with Google Apps Marketplace, but I'm not sure.

  8. Hey guys, I am new here but I will certainly check back in.. seeing as how this one article gave tons of info (and what looks to be my next read... bonus!).

    I have a question that perhaps you might be able to help with...

    My buddy has started a small house-cleaning business... Can you suggest any CRM options for free that would suit his types of needs. It just seems like a lot of CRM's out there have WAY too much stuff built into them... He is really looking to keep things simple... Perhaps something with a high level of customization?

    Currently I am thinking of setting him up with Zoho, but was wondering if there was a better or more ideal solution.

    Thanks in advance.. Great site!

  9. Radie:

    This is Raj from iFreeTools CRM. We do believe in personalized apps meeting custom needs, to the extent that we allow people to build they own simple tools online using our iFreeTools Creator, which is hosted over Google App Engine and requires nothing more than a Google Account to get going.

    Sample walk-through on building apps over iFreeTools Creator..
    * Building a simple Property Management tool
    * Building a simple Bug Tracker

    In case your friend will need help in building the app, I can spend a couple of hours over the weekend to have it running for him. Just ask your friend to mail me (raj[at]sahasvat[dot]com) details of the data that need to be managed and I will build a prototype for free. It can then be customized further as per needs.



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