In a development with potentially sweeping implications for local search and small business online marketing, Intuit has announced a partnership with Google that integrates AdWords campaign management and other Google-related features directly into the workflow of QuickBooks, the company's bestselling software package for small business. QuickBooks has 3.7 million active small business customers. A similar set of capabilities is contemplated for a future release of Intuit's other bestselling software program Quicken.
Simultaneously Intuit announced the acquisition of SME marketing firm StepUp. (Reuters is reporting that the acquisition price was $60 million.) StepUp has been doing for local retailers what local SEM/SEO firms like LocalLaunch, WebVisible and ReachLocal are doing (with partners) for local service businesses – helping them establish a web presence and pushing their listings and content out to consumer destinations where they could be found online. (I'll go into this aspect of the deal and its significance below.)
The Intuit-Google partnership and the QuickBooks implementation were quickly put together for the 2007 release of QuickBooks, which hits the shelves later this month. Both companies see their relationship as a long-term partnership with significant mutual benefits. Intuit CEO Steve Bennett and Google CEO Eric Schmidt are holding a conference call later today to explain the relationship in further detail.
Here are the details of the QuickBooks integration as I understand them:
AdWords Starter Edition Integration: Small businesses using QuickBooks will have the ability to sign up for AdWords and manage their campaigns directly within the QuickBooks workflow environment. They won't need to go to Google to do so; Google will receive a feed directly from within QuickBooks. As an incentive to advertise, new AdWords users will receive a $50 discount. Beyond FAQs and standard information about AdWords, right now there doesn't appear to be any "hand holding" or other special support. However I was told that additional features and support would come in future implementations. Intuit told me that they would be helping Google better understand and meet the needs of small business advertisers.
One-Click Listing on Google Maps: SME data contained within QuickBooks will pre-populate a set of fields to help SMEs upload their contact information and other details, which they have the ability to edit, in what amounts to one click to Google Maps. They will be enticed to do so with a message along these lines: "Get your business listed on Google for free."
Inventory/Product Feed to Google: StepUp has been working with Google to provide local retailer inventory information to Froogle. StepUp has about 5,000 small business customers. Being acquired by Intuit and integrated into QuickBooks will give the company overnight access to literally millions of small retailers and their inventory data. About half of QuickBooks' 3.7 million customers use the software for inventory management.
StepUp's application is similarly integrated into the new, 2007 version of QuickBooks. What this enables is a product/inventory data feed directly to Google/Froogle. As part of the install process of QuickBooks 2007 retailers will be given the option to list all their products on Google.
StepUp works with other distributors (e.g., SuperPages) and intends to continue doing so. "Our mission is to help retailers be found wherever consumers are," StepUp CEO Kendall Fargo told me in response to my question about whether the Intuit acquisition and Intuit-Google partnership would mean any changes in the company's roadmap or objectives. Beyond the additional reach this gives them, he said "no" and also expressed a desire to work with other partners (e.g., MSN, Yahoo!, etc.)
Google Desktop Integration: Finally the Google Desktop search application is being integrated into QuickBooks so that users can search their computers and the data in QuickBooks with the Google Desktop client.
Implications re Small Business Advertisers:
Google has been working directly and indirectly with channel partners to acquire small business advertisers. Many of those partners are yellow pages publishers. But consider that the U.S. yellow pages industry has approximately 3.2 million advertisers in total. As mentioned, QuickBooks has 3.7 million active users and Quicken another 3 million (not all of whom are small businesses obviously). But you get the idea: Instantly Google gets access – through a trusted third party (Intuit) -- to a huge installed base of potential advertisers.
The direct integration of AdWords into the QuickBooks workflow may not be as effective as a local sales rep. knocking on a door or making a phone call, but it gets close and it's considerably more efficient in many respects. And, as mentioned, Intuit will be helping Google to make AdWords more "SME friendly" going forward.
This is a privileged position with a massive SME aggregator that currently Google's competitors don't enjoy on a comparable scale.
Implications re the Consumer Experience:
The StepUp facilitated product inventory information, which will likely be more complete and accurate than almost anything else in the market, will make Froogle (or whatever it eventually becomes) a differentiated source of local product information ("Where can I buy it today?"). Intuit/StepUp has said it will work and hopes to work with others in providing this same information. So Froogle's competitors could potentially benefit from this feed if they build the required APIs.
The Google Maps integration will similarly provide (assuming that merchants opt for this) lots of accurate local content that otherwise wouldn't be available or might be outdated.
Of course it remains to be seen how all this plays out, but this is a major win for Google and a big value-add for Intuit in its relationship with small businesses.