There’s been a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth lately from marketers about the impact of Gmail’s new inbox feature called Tabs. The feature is designed to make your inbox easier to manage by using different tabs to automatically organize your incoming mail into categories like Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates and Forums. Unfortunately for many marketers, newsletters are landing in the Promotions tab, not the Primary tab, and according to MailChimp, during the first few weeks after the change, the "promotions" emails incurred a 1 percent drop in open rates.
To the average person, 1 percent might not sound like a lot, but to marketers it’s reason enough to scramble to find a workaround. According to this infographic, 204 million email messages are sent out every 60 seconds. And with more than 425 million Gmail users—that’s a lot of newsletters, promotions and deals of the day not being opened. No wonder marketers are upset.
If you think about it, three of the most fundamental things we do in business every day are communicate via email, browse websites and social networks to find information. Now, think about which products you use—there's an excellent chance you're spending a significant amount of time and effort using Google products to build your businesses’ relationships.
Google Relationship Management
Back in 2010, I wrote about how I thought Google was becoming the onramp to social CRM, particularly at the small-business level. (I also earlier had predicted that Google would buy Salesforce.com—I clearly got that one wrong.) But even without acquiring a CRM vendor or building its own CRM app, I feel even more strongly today that “GRM” is a big part of CRM for small businesses. Here’s why: Over the past three years “the three As”—Android, Apps and Analytics—have been significantly penetrating the small-business market as more small businesses grow comfortable with the cloud. (Gmail is technically a Google app, though we have come to see it as so much more.)
Today the tablet, along with the latest generation of smartphones, has changed the whole landscape of how people live—both professionally and personally. And while the iPad is by far the most popular single tablet device, companies like Samsung, Amazon and Lenovo are creating Android-based tablets that, when combined, surpass the iOS in market share.
The Google Apps marketplace has also grown substantially over the course of three years. There are 120 apps alone in the CRM category. And companies like Insightly, Zoho and Nimble have deep integrations with Gmail, Calendar, Contacts and other Google apps—enabling their CRM offerings to work with the apps more small businesses are relying on daily.
Google Analytics has always been and continues to be used by small businesses to help them better understand who was visiting their websites, how they got there, what they looked at, how long they stayed and what caused them to convert.
It’s not just the widespread adoption of the three As, or the increasingly robust offering of each, but the synergies among the As and the fact that Google’s mobile apps, such as Chrome, Gmail and Hangouts, can be used on both Android and iOS devices, that make it a crucial part of any small business’s CRM strategy. These three As and the synergy between them will continue to play an important role in the interactions companies have with customers and prospects.
While Gmail is technically another app in the three As, it’s probably the most important from a business perspective. As Google’s Rich Rao told me earlier this year in a conversation, people are spending just as much time in email as they ever have. And many of the most important interactions with customers take place in emails, which is why Gmail is really at the foundation of why Google is so important from a small-business CRM perspective.
In 2010, Google+ wasn’t around. And while many are viewing Google+ vs. Facebook as a winner-takes-all grudge match, with Facebook way ahead, I tend to think that the world is big enough for more than one superpower. In fact, I think more intimate business interactions are happening in Gmail (emails, chats, etc.) than on Facebook, which makes it a great foundation for Google+—making the Gmail/Google+ combo a potentially great platform for small businesses to grow relationships with customers.
Another integrated piece to all this is how YouTube and Google+ are coming together to create a video-based interaction platform for even more opportunities to engage audiences—be it prospects or existing customers. With Hangouts, you can move a chat in Gmail to a video call, which could turn into a videoconference call with up to 10 people. If you have a YouTube account set up, you can do a Hangouts On Air, which allows you to broadcast that conversation on your Google+ profile, or your Google+ page. The video of the broadcast will be automatically sent to your YouTube account, so you can go back and edit the Hangouts broadcast, or re-share it using a YouTube URL and embed it on a third party site.
We're even seeing services like the Hangout Plugin that are allowing companies to use the Hangouts functionality to do webinars. And while this doesn't have the kind of robust functionality of traditional webinar services, being able to buy a plugin for a couple of bucks that gives you the ability to share slides with an unlimited audience definitely opens up more engagement opportunities for little investment.
A Non-CRM CRM Company
Three years is a long time in terms of technology. But for a company that isn’t officially considered a CRM vendor, Google’s platform may be just as important in this space as companies like Salesforce.com, Microsoft and others—especially at the small-business level. Every interaction you have with a person through Gmail or Gchat can give you a fuller understanding of what’s important to them. And each interaction is critical to growing relationships today, which is truly at the heart of customer relationship management, and why GRM is still an on-ramp to CRM for small businesses.
And who knows what’s next, with Google Glasses on the horizon or Google making WiFi faster at Starbucks—it can all be part of your business’s CRM startegy moving forward.
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