The CRM walled gardens in the enterprise space

The enterprise CRM and office software space just got exciting

Microsoft bought LinkedIn (old news!) . That was the first of the CRM walled gardens created in the office enterprise space. What is hot off the press, comparatively speaking, is the alliance announced between between Google and Salesforce. After months of rumor about SFDC joining the Microsoft camp, this announcement pretty much completes Google’s arsenal against Microsoft in the enterprise segment.

The key, as both Google and SFDC execs said separately- is that these companies are “cloud natives”. So, they see natural synergies. Some of it may well be spin, but a lot of it is true. I do find it interesting though the price points of the 2 offerings are far apart. An SFDC license could cost anything between 10 to 30 times more than a Google G-Suite license. So Google can run a scheme like take a G-Suite license free for every SFDC license, but it will be highly unlikely for SFDC to run a similar scheme (take a SFDC license for every G-Suite license you own!).

It leaves the rest of the CRM vendors a little left out to say the least.

The enterprise CRM walled gardens

There are now two CRM walled gardens- MS and LI are a camp and now SFDC and Google. It leaves SAP looking for a partner of similar heft in a parallel space to ensure the world of CRM is not bipolar.

What will Facebook do? It is moving to the enterprise space- there is the Facebook for business initiative- right now, little more than an ad and page manager. Whatsapp is beta testing its api or enterprise customers. Either it announces a CRM or partners with a CRM or buys one. Perhaps buys into one of the inbound marketing companies like Marketo or Eloqua or more likely, Hubspot.

Zoho and Sugar CRM will be rethinking their game as well. Zoho has built a office suite with the breadth of Google and will feel vindicated that their strategy to broadbase their offering seems to being followed.

What about us?

The SFDC Google alliance does not solve what we see as the problem with the way SFDC works. It is a software which managers love, but the users are less enamored of. Adoption is not easy, requires very strong consulting support and constant engagement with business IT.

We are in a quest to build a CRM software that SFDC perhaps set out to build when they started- something that requires very little training or customization and users liked using. And, then we have the benefit of wisdom acquired through the efforts of the current players and the changed technology landscape.

The changed technology landscape

Today it is all about connectivity and being present on multiple platforms and stores. Even SFDC hasn’t severed its links with Office 365 and it still calls AWS as a preferred partner.

It is also about mobility. As a customer told me the other day- they don’t even use our product on the web- they only use the Saleswah Android App. No reflection on our web app- it is just that his team is constantly on the road and it is not convenient (and it is expensive) to use laptops on the move.

So as we straddle both MS and Google and keep an eye out for Facebook and sharpen our play in mobile, we are aware that we simply have to continue doing the same thing- but do them a lot better than we have so far.

 

Open letter to Gopal Vittal

Gopal Vittal
MD & CEO
Bharti Airtel Ltd.
India & South Asia

Dear Mr Vittal:

I am in receipt of your email that arrived in my inbox yesterday morning. That one where you make out that the Airtel Zero plan is nothing but great for consumers, aimed at reaching the internet free of cost for the vast majority of the people who can’t afford the rates.

I have 3 immediate reactions. Let me go through the gut feel responses first.

1. You need to change your PR agency.

So long after the battle of net-neutrality started in India, so much was said both pro and for the positions, this is the best you can come up with? And, drag Mr Modi’s name into it? If your idea has merit, it should stand on its own legs, should it not?

So, now after Airtel Zero, we will have Vodafone Zero, Idea Zero and so on? Each offering a carved up portion of the internet for free. How absurd is that? And, you want us to believe it is best for consumers that it is that way? We already get a taste of that in our DTH services- with family plan, family + sports, South India plan etc. And believe me, it costs me more and the service is not great.

2. This is a cosy club of folks who have already made it. And to hell with innovation.

Internet is democratic and a level playing field- and it is more than a fact, it is an article of faith. This lack of entry barrier has given rise to once unknowns like Facebook and Google commanding huge valuations.

Imagine if in the early days of Google, Yahoo had subsidised access to it, would people have gone to a “paid search” like Google? Or, if MySpace or Orkut had done a similar thing to Facebook when no one outside of the few college campuses had heard of Facebook? Imagine Google with its huge stockpile of cash subsidising access to Orkut in the early days of Facebook. There would be no Facebook today.

At a personal level, Mr Vittal, I am scared that we could have Microsoft or Oracle or Salesforce or SAP carve up the CRM software space by colluding with the Telecom operators. And, that would really be tragic, would it not be? Because, who would innovate then? Who would keep the biggies on their toes?

3.  It does not benefit consumers, Mr Vittal.

You are telling us that some access, even to a walled garden, created through this walled garden internet of yours, is preferable to having no access at all. Surely, even you can see that is not true. This is not what will create competition, it will lead to cartels. How does that benefit consumers?

And, if your plan and that pushed by Facebook in collaboration with one of your competitors goes through, how soon will it take for the governments to get the idea of creating their own walled garden? Or even political parties?

Please do not do this, Mr Vittal.

PS: Here’s what you wrote to us:

Airtel
Dear CustomerOver the last few days you may have seen a lot of conversation on our toll free platform Airtel Zero. It has been painted as a move that violates net neutrality and we have been very concerned at the incorrect information that has been carried by some quarters in the media as well as in social media. I wanted to take this opportunity to clear the air and reiterate that we are completely committed to net neutrality. Let me clarify.

    1. Our vision is to have every Indian on the internet. There are millions of Indians who think that the internet is expensive and do not know what it can do for them. We believe that every Indian has the right to be on the internet. We know that if we allow them to experience the joys of the internet they will join the digital revolution.
    1. Airtel Zero is a technology platform that connects application providers to their customers for free. The platform allows any content or application provider to enroll on it so that their customers can visit these sites for free. Instead of charging customers we charge the providers who choose to get on to the platform.
    1. Our platform is open to all application developers, content providers and internet sites on an equal basis. The same rate card is offered to all these providers on a totally non discriminatory basis.
    1. There is no difference between this and toll free voice such as 1-800. When a company selling an insurance product enrols into the toll free voice platform, customers who call the number are not charged but when they call a normal number they are charged. Calls are not blocked or given preferential treatment else our whole business would be jeopardized. Toll free voice helps the business owner engage with their customer. At the same time it provides the customer the benefit of reaching the business for free. Toll free voice is not a product or a tariff plan, it is merely a technology platform. We are simply taking the same concept of toll free voice to the world of data. As a result it is for the application developer and their customer to decide how data charges will be paid for. If the application developer is on the platform they pay for the data and their customer does not. If the developer is not on the platform the customer pays for data as they do now. Companies are free to choose whether they want to be on the platform or not. This does not change access to the content in any way whatsoever. Customers are free to choose which web site they want to visit, whether it is toll free or not. If they visit a toll free site they are not charged for data. If they visit any other site normal data charges apply.
  1. Finally every web site, content or application will always be given the same treatment on our network whether they are on the toll free platform or not. As a company we do not ever block, throttle or provide any differential speeds to any web site. We have never done it and will never do it. We believe customers are the reason we are in business. As a result we will always do what is right for our customers.

There has been a deliberate effort by some quarters to confuse people that we will offer differential speeds or differential access for different sites. This is untrue. After all we earn revenues from data. If there are more customers who are on the Internet the better it is for our business. Our revenues are not dependent on which sites they visit because we charge on the basis of consumption of mega bytes not which site they visited.

In sum our platform is a technology platform and is open to all application developers and their customers. Our platform only provides a choice of how the data that is consumed is paid for by any of the two – the application provider or their customer. Whether any application provider enrolls on the platform or not is entirely their choice. All we have is a technology. We do not have a product or tariff plan that we have launched. We simply have a platform. And every application developer and their customer is free to choose in an entirely neutral way what they want to do.

In conclusion, we stand fully committed to net neutrality to ensure the goals of the Prime Minister`s vision of digital India are met.

Regards,
Gopal Vittal
MD & CEO
Bharti Airtel Ltd.
India & South Asia

Inconsistent contact data sharing policy ruining user experience

If you are online today, chances are that you have an account with at least two if not more of the big internet companies like Facebook, Google, Microsoft. Yahoo and LinkedIn.

While Google, Microsoft and Yahoo provide primarily email services to a logged in user, Facebook and LinkedIn provides social and/ or business networking. All five though have many commonalities, the biggest being the ability of store a large number of “Contacts” or “Friends” and their details.

Information storage is rapidly moving online and accessed and then stored on multiple devices – mobile phone, desktop clients etc. We need to address the issue of data consistency and remove duplication of effort to keep data updated across multiple platforms.

Our experience with Google Apps

This is a complex task but not impossible. Our experience in creating bi-directional sync between data in Google and our platform has been quite good. We have ensured that you can enter business contact data in one of the two platforms and not only transfer the data to the other platform but also ensure that edits on one platform show up on the other.

So, if you are working on your contact list in Saleswah CRM, if you make a change in a contact record in the CRM (On the Phone, the Desktop Windows 8 App or on the Web) or in Google- whether on the web or on the connected Android phone- you make changes only in one place and have it show up on the other. We were so kicked about it that we wanted to replicate the same thing across all platforms- Microsoft, Yahoo, LinkedIn etc. The first hurdle we faced was from Microsoft.

Microsoft- we like to micromanage

The linking process went through reasonably smoothly. But, for a long time we could not figure out why we are not getting all the information in the Contact Records that I had in my account. Then, after some digging, we discovered that Microsoft does not make available information about the Contacts that Google makes available readily. The most important missing information was that of the Company that my contact (s) worked for.

This was a disaster.

For one, if we found a Contact Record in Microsoft which is already available in CRM, we will not be able to ever sync the information the way we sync with Google- Microsoft will never show the company name and we would show that we do and there will be a mismatch.

Why has Microsoft done this? We sniffed around online and the latest discussion we found on this was pretty old. It was interesting nevertheless, so we are reproducing a snapshot here. Those who want to read the entire thread, can click on the picture and follow the link.

Data sharing policies

Basically, Microsoft says that it is okay to share email addresses and/ or mobile numbers of a user’s contacts but not okay to share the place of work. Does that even make sense? And by the way, this is information that the user owned and decided to keep in Microsoft for later use only to find that he can’t.

LinkedIn- without a way to contact

If this was not bad enough, we tried linking with LinkedIn and we found that they share everything but the email address of your contact records. Great!

Why would you want to store your Contacts in your CRM without the ability to contact them? Again, it does not make sense.

I am almost scared to try out Yahoo! now. I have a feeling it will not be a great experience.

Why is there such a disconnect?

To be honest, I am not even sure. I would love to get an answer. In the case of Microsoft, it seems like a not clearly thought out policy. In either case, I find there are simply no good reasons for this.

 

Folks we want to thank

Google

Firstly, we want to thank Google for letting us use Google Apps for free.
Google Apps is the suite of office productivity tools like Gmail, Calendar, Docs, that all businesses today need to run- no matter whether you use Microsoft or Open Office or Google.

We use Microsoft Office but we also use Google Apps for sharing and collaboration. And, our email runs on Google Apps. The same look and feel of Gmail, the same fantastic anti-spam features; except that it is integrated with our domain. So, we can mail you from anwesha dot in rather than having to conduct business from a personal looking abc** at gmail dot com or even, (horror!) abc.anwesha@gmail.com.

Google Apps for business is free for upto 10 users; after that it is 5$ per month per user. For that you get huge storage, secure IT infrastructure and all the office apps that you possibly need. It’s a no-brainer; especially if you consider the alternative is to worry about hardware, software, hosting, connectivity and so on.

Fusioncharts

The reason Saleswah charts look so good is because we use Fusion Charts to output them to! And, believe it or not, Fusion Charts has a free version as well; which we use!

Fusion charts is a tool for creating great charts, gauges and maps. We code the logic behind each report, dump the XML into Fusion chart and Fusion chart converts that into pretty nice looking charts.

…and, even though we have already thanked them, once more won’t harm..

We want to thank Microsoft for making available all the development tools and office productivity tools worth thousands of dollars for free under the Microsoft BizSpark program. Thanks, Microsoft. No matter what anyone says, you rock!