That was one of several questions I posed to Google Enterprise President Dave Girouard in his office at the Googleplex in Mountain View, Calif., in December 2007.
"I think we're smart enough to realize we're not the guys to build everything. The things that have consumer analogs make a lot of sense for us. We learn a huge amount from what consumers do and how they interact with our products like Gmail. We wouldn't have the advantage or that insight for CRM. We'd have the infrastructure to do it. But I think Salesforce.com is very good at what they do, so I think we'd be much more inclined to work with them and others like them."
Indeed, in 2007 I thought Salesforce.com would be a great acquisition match for Google to make a statement in the enterprise software business at a time when Google was just starting to push Google Apps for collaboration. Google Apps and Salesforce.com would go on to create integrations between their products that only bolstered my position.
Three and a half years later, Salesforce.com is in full control of the SAAS CRM market, and Google's flirtation with CRM exists within the context of its Google Apps Marketplace, where thousands of vendors seed their software and integrate with Google Apps.
The Marketplace is an incubator for Salesforce.com and other SAAS vendors to pluck hungry startups from, as Salesforce.com did with ManyMoon.
Google still wins because Google Apps is still being served in ManyMoon's software. It might not be making money from this, but it's gaining mindshare and hooks deeper into the enterprise. Any little bit helps versus the Microsoft Office and SharePoint leviathans.
Carlson's points are good. She argues Gmail has become something of a CRM hub unto its own. She noted Google could develop a CRM system based on Gmail and its collaboration apps, but would more likely buy a CRM vendor with a social media focus. Because "social" is as sexy as "lead generation" to CRM buffs these days.
Let's take the build part first. I could see Google socializing Google Apps to the point that it assumes the properties of Salesforce.com's Chatter, which we just started using at eWEEK and find interesting and useful.
And to the second part about Google buying a CRM vendor, I doubt it. The only way to disrupt that market would be by buying Salesforce.com, and CEO Marc Benioff isn't selling.
Moreover, we haven't seen Google moving mountains to bolster its enterprise business, not since acquiring Postini in 2007. Google Apps' focus of late has been to build or buy hooks into Microsoft Office and Exchange or IBM Lotus Notes.
Moreover, as I noted last month, with Google founder Larry Page taking the helm as CEO in April, I don't think the company expects to set the enterprise on fire. Page isn't exactly down for button-down shirts and business boardroom meetings to sell Google Apps deals, not the way Google CEO Eric Schmidt has become accustomed to for decades.
And frankly, it's probably too late in the game for Google to be effective in CRM. Carlson herself noted:
"If Google had ambitions to enter the CRM market, it seems they would have done so already. Any alternate move Google might make in the CRM space would likely damage their partnership with Salesforce, while failing to bring meaningful market share."
Finally, I just don't see CRM subscriptions as Google's focus. They're focused on ads and how to serve them in search, mobile and social platforms. Anything else in ancillary and will continue to be so.
So when Carlson concludes that Google will dabble in CRM by rolling more social tools in Google Apps, I'd agree. But I'd also view this more as an organic evolution of Google Apps as a social suite a la Salesforce.com's Chatter than an effort to worship at the temple of CRM.