What would Google CRM look like?


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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 (Salesforce.com 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 Salesforce.com’s Force.com platform is the best comparison as it allows extensions to the Salesforce.com 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.

Laurence Buchanan
Laurence is CEO of EY Seren and leads EY’s global Customer & Growth practice. He works with clients to help them re-imagine growth through human-centered design, innovation and the transformation of Marketing, Sales & Customer Service functions. He is a recognized authority on digital transformation, customer experience and CRM, he has worked across a wide range of sectors, including telco, media, life sciences, retail and sports. He received an MA in Modern History from the University of Oxford.


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