Google Extends Program Incentivizing Microsoft Office 365 Defections

Google on Tuesday extended the duration and scope of an aggressive program meant to lure customers to Google Apps from rival cloud-based office productivity products, primarily Microsoft Office 365.

The subsidiary of Alphabet introduced in October the incentive, which allowed midsize businesses locked in contracts with other vendors to use Google Apps at no cost until those contracts expired. The offer officially ended April 14.

But pleased with its success, Google decided to maintain the incentive until the end of 2016, while also making it easier for smaller companies to qualify, wrote Neil Delaney, sales director for Google Apps for Work, in a company blog.

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The program, which also helps fund migrations to Google's cloud, "is working as intended," a spokesperson for the Mountain View, Calif.-based tech giant told CRN.

More than 20,000 midsize companies took advantage of the offer since October, launching 200,000 new Apps seats they wouldn't have to pay for until licenses with other software vendors expired.

The original iteration of the program applied to companies with between 250 and 3,000 employees. But Delaney said Google fielded so much interest from smaller customers that it reduced the threshold to 100 employees for the extension period.

The program aims to induce companies "locked into an Enterprise Agreement (EA) to switch to Google Apps," Delaney said.

"Our EA program gives new customers the opportunity to influence the move to Apps -- and gives decision makers the final incentive to make the switch," he blogged.

Google wouldn't name specific competitors from whom it sees the program siphoning customers. But the target is clear -- the term "Enterprise Agreement" is widely associated in the industry with a particular form of volume license offered by Microsoft for certain products, including Office 365.

On a website promoting the program, Google mentions IBM in addition to Microsoft as a potential jump-off point.

For several years, Google enjoyed a first-mover advantage with its innovative Software-as-a-Service suite that includes Docs, Gmail, Hangouts and Drive. But some market researchers estimate that last year, Office 365 leapfrogged Apps in market share.

Allen Falcon, CEO of Cumulus Global, a Google partner based in Westborough, Mass., told CRN, "clearly they're looking for competitive wins against the range of competition, the largest of which is Microsoft."

Offering the incentive to smaller companies will help partners that sell to small and midsize businesses capitalize off the program, Falcon said.

Competition between the two rivals is intensifying. Falcon noted a second element of the program that offers a voucher to help cover deployment and data migration costs is similar to what Microsoft does through its FastTrack program for Office 365.

Rajesh Abhyankar, CEO of Princeton, N.J.-based Google partner MediaAgility, told CRN his company didn't fully embrace the program the first time around, forgoing a focused campaign to leverage the incentive to peel away Microsoft customers.

Abhyankar said he believed that customers needed to be already motivated to change vendors, so the best tack was to call attention to Google's program to customers coming through its traditional pipeline.

"But because they extended [the incentive], I assume it's working well for some partners, so we thought, why not give it a shot?" Abhyankar told CRN.

MediaAgility now plans a more strategic effort to win defectors, accumulating data for companies using Microsoft products -- especially those facing end-of-life -- and targeting emerging markets like India and Mexico.

"We'll be connecting dots and reaching out to those folks who need to switch at some point this year," Abhyankar said.

Google is introducing other perks to incentivize migrations, including funding a security workshop for midsize customers, according to Delaney.

And some Google for Work ISV partners, like AODocs, Powertools and Smartsheet, are concurrently offering their own special deals to the SMB market.

Bill Floyd, chief technology officer at Dito, a Google partner based in Manassas, Va., said the program offers peace of mind to companies that want to make a switch but feel boxed in by complicated existing enterprise agreements.

"This promotion certainly helps ease the executive decision-making process for budget-constrained IT departments, and provides an additional incentive for organizations already evaluating their options," Floyd told CRN.