Google’s SMB Achilles’ Heel: People




I wasn’t planning on posting today until I saw an article in the Wall Street Journal about how Google has added sales people to sell to local businesses. The push is to move products like Boost and Tags for the local market.

The article says

Google Inc., which helped popularize the idea of automated ad sales on the Web, has been quietly turning to an old-fashioned tool—phone calls—to compete in the hot market for local business advertising.

The Internet-search giant this year has hired several hundred sales representatives to call U.S. businesses such as spas, restaurants and hotels to promote new advertising initiatives, people familiar with the matter said. The effort includes an office in Tempe, Ariz., with around 100 sales representatives, one of these people said.

It’s an interesting article and one worth the read but one paragraph really stuck out for me and confirmed that Google doesn’t get something very basic to the SMB market: relationships and the people that need them.

Google’s new sales reps are primarily selling two ad offerings called “tags” and “boost” to the four million businesses that have contacted Google electronically to verify the accuracy of their Place page. The ads show up on Google search results and in Google Maps that display local businesses.

Google executives are looking at these 4 million ‘prospects’ as an instant revenue stream. Do the math. Even if 10% of this group invest an additional $25 per month in Tags it generates $10 million per month in revenue. Small potatoes to Google but add to that those people spending money using Boost and the number could double or triple. Now there is real money to consider.

Here’s the trouble with Google’s approach. I don’t believe that they realize the issues that exist among many of the 4 million or so verified place page owners. As a result, what they think is a sales call will very likely turn into questions and a request for service that Google will have to answer and support before they can “close a sale”. This request for service will reveal Google’s true weak spot: it doesn’t understand people.

Look at how many people have defected from the ranks of Google recently. They leave because they crave something that the world of algorithms and automation don’t have which is consideration for the nuance of the human being.

Visit the Google Places forum to get a taste of what is wrong with the Place Page system. Duplicate listings, confusing processes, lack of human interaction, misplaced reviews, listings coming and going with no real reason. It is a service nightmare that Google has allowed a few brave (and unpaid) people to man the ship and provide the support. Non-Googlers helping other non-Googlers. They might call this community but it’s really just a few people spending a lot of time trying to build their own reputations in the space and taking guesses at what Google is really up to.

Occasionally, a Googler will interject and say “We are working on that” or give a tidbit of ‘advice’. But considering how important these pages appear to be to Google it is simply mind blowing that they think that they work just fine as they are and they don’t need to truly support the businesses that they are trying to extract more money from through this offering.

Google is asking for trouble here and I hope they get a lot of it. In fact, my wish is that they get buried under the confusion and angst they create by their automation that often times doesn’t work, does random acts of stupidity and then is left to run itself.

I knew this was in real trouble when I was told by Mike Blumenthal (whom I have interviewed and will have a post up next week) that he thinks it’s a good idea to have a Tags account just for the chance to talk to a warm body at Google! Imagine that! $25 bucks a month just to talk to a human being even though that person’s sole purpose is to sell you more and get more commission from your spend! The theory being that at least you may have a shot at getting some service out of Google!

My message to Google, which likely will never be read or acted upon is that you need to tell Larry Page that on this one, he is dead wrong (if what is said below is true).

“Google has always had large sales forces and, quite frankly, the advertiser opportunity has always been bigger than the number of people we were able to hire,” said David Scacco, who joined Google as the first advertising sales executive in 2000. But he said Google co-founder Larry Page stressed from the beginning the “need to build automation,” or allowing advertisers to buy ads through a self-serve system rather than just hiring scores of salespeople to reach the advertisers.

Mr. Scacco, who is now chief revenue officer at MyLikes, a social-media ad company, said Mr. Page would tell Google’s ad team: “If you only throw people at the problem, you won’t innovate.”

What a classic insight into the real Google culture of automate and innovate. What Google is leaving out is that this process (service) will eventually do something to the SMB’s of the world: inoculate. They will use Google to the point that they understand and can handle on their own then they will turn elsewhere (Facebook? Foursquare? Something new?). Maybe Google is OK with that and knows its limitations with only a certain percentage really feeling comfortable with self serve offerings. The rest will see that Google isn’t their only option and they will go elsewhere. Talk about leaving the door wide open for Facebook to come in!

SMB’s will look to an outlet that will work with them to understand their specific needs that are not considered under a hard coded algorithm that is meant to find the common thread through all users. Each SMB is extremely unique and they need to have some, make that ANY, level of support in order to truly use a tool to their advantage. Google doesn’t get that and doesn’t seem to give a rip just as long as your credit card is good.

Google doesn’t get people. That’s obvious. They put really nice folks out in front of segments (Matt Cutts for the SEO crowd is a great example) that they deem important but they put literally no one in front of smaller businesses (account reps for large accounts and agencies have been around forever) to service them in anyway. I find that pathetic and incredibly short-sighted.

I realize that this is preaching to the choir on many levels but with the news that Google will readily hire more people whose sole purpose is to get into the wallets of SMB’s without even considering servicing these people in a real way is a tell tale sign of a company that doesn’t get it. Moving forward I think they need to get this or they will suffer. People are people, not automatons who hand over cash without consideration.

I still can’t imagine that Google will ever be brought down but I suspect that many people ever thought IBM or Microsoft would be put in their place eventually by market forces. Google is showing that it is truly vulnerable in an Internet era kind of way by saying “Let them eat self-serve and automation!. Oh and if they need a shove let’s sick a salesforce on them to get them to ‘understand’ what they need.”

Well, good luck Google. You are selling to people. You are asking for their hard earned money. You are offering your channel and saying “That’s all you need so just keep spending and we’ll deliver. Support? Forget that!” It’s not going to be enough for many but maybe you don’t care. I, for one, wish you did.

Merry Christmas!

  • Mike

    Hit the nail on the head!

    While Tags and Boost are products not unlike a Saturn, they’ll be sold like a Chevy. I’m sure that some of those commissioned sales people are likely to say anything to close a deal.

    This is going to be a PR nightmare for Google unless they take this opportunity to beef up their human interactions. Something tells me it ain’t gonna happen, but we’ll see.

  • http://www.bahrns.com/ Justin Nielson

    It is hard to reach out to Google. But it’s kind of challenging trying to figure out their algorithm for the search engine ranking of our materials handling website. A large business will always have communications problems. It’s a start that Google is taking the initiative to interact with people even if it’s to make more sales.

  • http://www.buballe.co.il buballe

    Google today is a monopoly. Must declare it as a monopoly, otherwise there is no way startup companies to develop and grow.

    • http://www.frankthinking.om Frank Reee

      @buballe – Thanks for stopping by. Google is a powerful and wide-ranging company but I still don’t buy the monopoly talk if Yahoo and Bing tout owning up to 33% of the search market today.

  • http://www.gazoomy.com/ Lotte

    It sounds like a good marketing strategy to me. It’s not always about the initial expenditure and gain, but about the potential gain.