Most companies don’t buy Google Apps so they can integrate it with an existing customer relationship management (CRM) platform. Typically, companies “Go Google” to either save money, energy, or break down data silos. That said, if you can avoid annoying your customers and your sales and marketing teams in the process, why not?

The key complaint from sales and marketing teams, whenever a company goes Google, is that their three key assets (documents, calendar, and email) are not synced with their customer data.

The problem with Google Apps and CRM is that the integration between these two data silos (company data and customer data) is underdeveloped, and the integrations, overall, have poor to middling support from the CRM vendors.

The big guys

There are two notable cases of big CRM companies integrating with Google Apps: Zoho (5M+ total end users) and Salesforce (72,500 customers, as of 2010). Although Salesforce’s integration was released over three years ago, the integration is a “light” one, and true calendar and contacts integration is only supported by a third-party tool from Appirio.

A cursory look at the Google Apps Marketplace reviews shows that the Zoho tool has a decent amount of feedback, but neither integration scores more than a 3-star review from users. A company named i3000 also made a third-party connector for Google Apps and Oracle’s CRM on Demand, but it was not made by Oracle, directly.

To their credit, Google worked with animated-video provider CommonCraft to make a cool-looking video on the Salesforce-Google integration, in 2008.

The little guys

Some of the B- and C-level players in the CRM space have also made a quick jump to the Google platform, and it’s clear why: their offering, like Google Apps, is an easy fit for small business, and their integrations, on the whole, look a lot smoother. Oddly enough, the small CRM companies and email marketing firms have mainly garnered 4- and 5-star reviews in the Google apps marketplace, while the “big guys,” like Salesforce and Zoho, have not fared as well.

Recent additions to the Google Apps Marketplace include social CRM company Nimble (founded by Goldmine co-founder Jon Ferrara), social platform Get Satisfaction, Rapportive, and Nutshell CRM, a social CRM platform recently acquired by email provider Constant Contact.

A host of email marketing providers (ESPs) have also integrated with Google, including Mailchimp, VerticalResponse and SurveyMonkey, and due to the fact that nearly all of the ESPs have large-scale CRM integration (Salesforce, Oracle CRMonDemand, SugarCRM), there’s somewhat of a murky integration between most large CRM platforms and Google Apps. But few enterprise IT admins would stake their reputation, or their career, on that type of integration.

Where are the case studies?

As a Google Apps customer (or a prospective customer), you’re probably wondering – where are all of the case studies about Google Apps and CRM integration. That, indeed, is the rub – they’re really hard to find. If you’re searching for a stack of them to validate a Google/CRM integration, it’s a good idea to start out with large third-party cloud integrators, like Appirio (the first partner of both Salesforce and Google). One of Appirio’s case studies, including Salesforce and Google Apps, is from Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s Brady Corporation.

“Appirio is helping us connect our Salesforce CRM and Google collaboration platforms so if employees are in one system they don’t need to re-enter or change information in other systems. We think this is a way to make our employees more productive, encourage even greater adoption of the systems we have, and improve the quality of data we have in these systems at the same time,” Brady’s director of IT Strategy, Matt Vandenbush, said in the Appirio case study.

Another notable Google/Salesforce shop is biotech firm Genetech, who were one of the first companies to roll out both a Google Apps and Salesforce solution. Another California company, UST Global, adopted the Salesforce/Google combination for its 5,500 employees, but the results of their rollout are unclear.

Two key questions for your organization

Before moving forward on a Google Apps and CRM integration, there are a few key questions your organization needs to ask.

  • Are our sales and marketing users doing “double-entry”?
    The way to detect this is simple. Have an observer simply watch a sales and a marketing user for a day, and jot down the time spent doing double entry. Multiply these figures across the business units, and calculate the time-cost of the wastage.
  • Is information that’s critical to our customers buying toolkit trapped in internal documents?
    If your enterprise is withholding data from customers that could be a part of their buying toolkit, and not making it available in a CRM-based, customer portal, you’re missing mid-funnel selling opportunities. If customers can’t educate themselves, on their own buying cycle, then your company is missing selling opportunities.

Keep an eye on this space by regularly visiting the Google Apps marketplace, and by asking your CRM vendors what they’re doing to keep up with Google’s Apps platform.