Google Bets on Buyers' App-etites

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Pamela O’Hara says she literally jumped up and down at the news that Google was opening its platform up to business application providers. “For those of us who are small businesses and are so in the weeds with small businesses, to see something as big as Google want to service the industry in a way that makes sense is really exciting,” enthuses O’Hara, president and cofounder of on-demand social CRM company BatchBlue. 

When the Google Apps Marketplace launched in early March, there were 50 software-as-a-service applications on board, most integrating with Google’s business applications—namely Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Docs, the company’s collection of office-productivity applications.

For VerticalResponse, a provider of marketing services to small businesses, putting its application on the Marketplace was a no-brainer. “The target audience [Google is] going after is nearly identical to what we go after—small-business owners who are looking to manage their businesses in the cloud through Web-based tools,” explains Josh Feinberg, vice president of product management for VerticalResponse. “The requirements Google put out there made it really easy to get it developed and get it launched in a short amount of time.”

Although the Apps Marketplace has a category for midsize business applications—CRM and enterprise resource planning provider NetSuite, for example, plans to sell its solutions on the platform—vendors targeting small business users seem to be benefiting most, notes Laurie McCabe, a partner at analysis firms SMB Group and Hurwitz & Associates. Even in its early days, the marketplace appears to be gaining traction among small-business end users, as well: O’Hara reports that the level of traffic seen by BatchBlue within one week of its Apps Marketplace debut used to take a month.

“It’s great for small businesses because obviously Google is a place we all go to every day for something,” McCabe points out. “It’s a natural hub to search for anything, so what [Google executives] have done is really simplify the search for an application.” The customers now empowered to search the Apps Marketplace might have used a search engine to find an application that suits their needs.

The VerticalResponse team says that appearing on Google’s Marketplace was an opportunity to springboard off the success it has had on Salesforce.com’s AppExchange and Intuit’s Workplace App Center. “Being able to attach ourselves to platforms that may not have a native marketing component built in is a nice way to complement the user experience by blending the two together,” Feinberg says.

McCabe says that the roster of players in the marketplace for application marketplaces is determined not by competition, but rather what she calls co-opetition. “To succeed you have to work and play well in lots of these different ecosystems,” she says.

Salesforce.com, though, was absent from Google’s platform launch, a fact that competitors such as Zoho, a provider of office-productivity solutions, were quick to note. Raju Vegesna, Zoho’s self-styled evangelist, says the absence surprised him, but that Salesforce.com may have seen the Apps Marketplace as competition to its own AppExchange. 

McCabe says that Salesforce.com’s absence may simply be a matter of timing, and that the company may still jump in if the right moment presents itself. 

In fact, Salesforce.com—which has several ongoing partnerships with Google—has acknowledged the possibility that it may shift gears in the future. “Our customers have always been our number-one priority and they drive our product roadmap. As new services and products come out, we look to our customers to determine what we should support,” said Sean Whitely, Salesforce.com’s vice president of product marketing, in a statement about Google’s Apps Marketplace. “We will be looking to our customers for guidance.” 

Zoho, a launch partner in the Apps Marketplace with its Projects and CRM applications, theoretically competes with Google in a number of areas—mail, documents, and spreadsheets, to name just a few. “The nice thing about Google’s marketplace? They know we’re competition, yet they don’t block us,” Vegesna says. “They basically invited us to be a launch partner. That’s one of the key differences in cultures between Google and Salesforce[.com].” 

Zoho has been denied a spot on Salesforce.com’s AppExchange, a decision that Vegesna attributes to the fact that Zoho offers a CRM product that competes directly with Salesforce CRM. (A Salesforce.com spokesperson did not reply to requests for comment on the exclusion of Zoho from the AppExchange.) 

“We know that Google is [our] competition primarily for office suite and email, but these are qualified customers to be using Zoho applications,” Vegesna says. “If there’s a business that has already decided to operate online, it’s an easy sell and it makes sense for them to use a CRM application to complement email and others.”

Comparing Salesforce.com’s AppExchange and Google’s Apps Marketplace may be an apples-and-oranges situation. “Salesforce.com has been a tremendous success, but it’s not a Google,” McCabe says. Small businesses that already subscribe to Google Apps are what McCabe calls the “no-frills businesses of the world.” What that means, she says, is that “they may never for whatever reason have anything to do with Salesforce[.com] but they may have a lot to do with Google.” 

BatchBlue’s O’Hara, for one, says she’s overjoyed with Google’s move. “They have not only the size to change the small-business world, but they have the right intuition,” she says. However, she knows it won’t change BatchBlue over night. “Still it means competition and it means we have to be the best,” she says. “We can’t rely on ‘being in the marketplace’ to be the winner—we still have to be the best.” 

SIDEBAR: The Apps in the Market

“Customer management” is just one of more than two dozen categories in Google’s Apps Marketplace, but as of early April, 15 offerings were already in the mix there. Here are the top 10, in descending order of user ratings.

  • Zoho CRM 
  • Capsule
  • BatchBook Social CRM
  • UserVoice
  • Tactile CRM
  • OnState Virtual Call Center for Google Apps
  • Solve360 
  • Ofuz
  • Strategicfrontend.com
  • Timetonote CRM

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