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Trying to make sense of the news of Salesforce acquiring Slack

WSJ is reporting of Salesforce’s plan to acquire Slack. What makes this interesting for me as a Salesforce consultant, is that Salesforce has been working on improving their existing chat platform Chatter in the form of Salesforce Anywhere.

Salesforce Anywhere is expected to let sales and service team collaborate not just in the context of a record of information, but in the context of data points as well. It also had a dedicated app, which the existing Chatter solution does not have. This is very similar to the integration Salesforce has with Slack, where changes in data points could be displayed within a channel for discussion in a team.

Why is this happening?

Simply put, competition. To be more specific, Microsoft.

Microsoft is making an incredible sales pitch off-late and a tough to beat pricing by bundling its Office, Email, CRM, Analytics and Teams solution. There is no other company in the industry that can offer all that under a single invoice as of today. There are companies that do CRM better than Microsoft or chat better, but as a combined offering, no one truly stands a chance.

From an enterprise perspective, the decision on the service to take up is made based on a combination of service capabilities and pricing. If the pricing is good enough, companies can get by with good enough product. A better product doesn’t stand a chance to win with a gap in terms of pricing.

The $$$ impact of buying the best CRM, productivity, email and communication solution from different vendors that costs multi-fold, swings a lot of deals in the favor of Microsoft.

Also, a lot of companies are dealing with SaaS invoice fatigue. They are now looking to consolidate their systems with a few vendors. This is an angle that Amazon and Microsoft are doing well in already that Salesforce won’t be able to always match competitively even with Heroku.

What does Slack gain from this?

Slack has also been facing a tough competition from Microsoft since Teams is bundled in its suite. On top of this enterprises have an unsaid aversion to anything that appears cool or fun, which Teams definitely isn’t.

Under these circumstances they can either tough it out and fight against Microsoft with little success or partner up with someone big to live another day. The problem with a simple partnership is that the end customer will be vary of dealing with two different companies for implementation and support.

This leaves acquisition as an option.

How does it stack up now?

If the acquisition does happen, how will Salesforce’s offering compare against that of Microsoft at an enterprise level?

ProductMicrosoftSalesforce
EmailOutlook Salesforce Inbox
CRMDynamicsSales and service cloud
ProductivityOffice suiteQuip
CommunicationTeamsSlack
Salesforce Anywhere
AnalyticsPowerBITableau

Email

Microsoft wins here hands down. Salesforce has a good working relationship with Google, but they have no email provider solution to offer to customers.

From an application perspective Salesforce Inbox is a very good app that lets sales users automatically log all interactions with customers in Salesforce, but it is no replacement for Outlook as it is closely integrated with office applications.

Productivity

Microsoft has a big advantage here as well with its office suite. While Quip is very good at what it does, it is no replacement for Excel or Powerpoint.

On the other hand, if you want a live breathing document, Microsoft has no offering that can match Quip as of now. Nothing stops it from developing improved Dynamics support in office tools though.

CRM

Personally, I feel Salesforce offers more from a CRM perspective in terms of functionality and extendability. With the acquisition of Vlocity, Salesforce now has industry specific offerings as well to fast track roll out to customers.

Communication

From an enterprise perspective, Teams have an upper hand for now. With functionalities groups, planner, calendar, video calling and chat no Salesforce offering has a chance for now.

Chatter is great for notifications and in-context discussions but it is very restrictive for 2020. Salesforce Anywhere promises to make this feature relevant again, but it needs to be available to all customers soon.

Adding Slack to the mix is going to be interesting, but it needs to be available at a minimal price point for it to be attractive. In the past Salesforce has taken a year to three years to properly integrate acquisitions into its platform. The faster they can do this with Slack the better it’ll be for everyone. The fact that Slack is already available on Appexchange gives me some hope.

Analytics

Salesforce analytics approach has been a bit confusing for customers. The analytics in Salesforce CRM is great for day-to-day reporting, but it falls short for long-term reporting with large data volume or for generating AI-based insights.

They launched Wave Analytics to manage this and this was rebranded and upgraded under the Einstein Analytics branding. This product has been improving at a steady pace, but the acquisition of Tableau confused everyone.

The plan is now to integrate Tableau and Salesforce Analytics into a common platform over the next two years with seamless data transfer between both offerings. Oh, also Einstein Analytics will now be Tableau CRM.

Compared to that PowerBI has been stable, albeit slower to add features and capabilities. Enterprise doesn’t mind that so much though, so this will ultimately come down to pricing and how much importance companies give to AI-generated insights.

Why not someone else?

From a Salesforce perspective, we also need to think of which other company they could have acquired. Webex is owned by Cisco, GoToMeeting is owned by LogMeIn which was acquired by Francisco Partners and Evergreen for $4.3B last year, Meet is owned by Google. Not many sellers there.

From a chat perspective there is Slack and Discord. The problem with Discord is that their business is mostly B2C. Salesforce has experience dealing with B2C and all the complexities it will need to deal with around moderating content. This leaves Salesforce with Slack, which too has a lot of B2C users, but also has a lot of B2B users. That might have made it an obvious choice.

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