Salesforce’s announcement about the acquisition of Slack for $27.7 billion turned heads at the end of 2020. Although the deal won’t close until the late spring or summer of 2021, we thought it was worth looking forward to what this deal means for manufacturers and users of Salesforce CRM and Rootstock ERP.
Let’s begin with what Salesforce and Slack have stated about the deal. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said: “This is a match made in heaven. Together, Salesforce and Slack will shape the future of enterprise software and transform the way everyone works in the all-digital, work-from-anywhere world.”
Stewart Butterfield, Slack CEO and Co-Founder stated: “Salesforce started the cloud revolution, and two decades later, we are still tapping into all the possibilities it offers to transform the way we work. The opportunity we see together is massive. As software plays a more and more critical role in the performance of every organization, we share a vision of reduced complexity, increased power and flexibility, and ultimately a greater degree of alignment and organizational agility. Personally, I believe this is the most strategic combination in the history of software, and I can’t wait to get going.”
These are the grandiose statements that you would expect for a transaction of this size, but you can’t argue that Benioff and Butterfield haven’t already created impressive companies and put their own influential stamp on the Enterprise software market. The question is, how will the combination of these companies achieve something greater than the sum of its parts? Let’s first step back and identify what Slack adds to Salesforce.
Slack vs Chatter
Slack is certainly an upgrade from Salesforce’s current social media offering called Chatter. Chatter is used primarily by Salesforce customers and has a limited adoption rate even in the Salesforce customer base despite having substantial capabilities that can benefit any company. One of Chatter’s strengths is how it is embedded into the low-code environment of the Salesforce platform in components such as objects, workflows and reports. In fact, Chatter is a foundational component in the Salesforce Platform as a Service (PaaS) and it appears that Salesforce aims to make Slack just as foundational if not more so in the future.
I’ve always thought the beauty of Chatter is that it can be embedded with any object so that a conversation thread can be attached to an object such as an opportunity, order or invoice. Conversations are married in context to the data in CRM or in Rootstock’s ERP to create conversation audit trails among employees discussing why an invoice wasn’t being paid or if a customer should be given a credit. The conversation is attached to the data (an invoice in this case) and isn’t separated in emails, voice mails and separate text threads.
Salesforce objects can also initiate conversations or Chatter streams. For example, when an invoice passes a late payment threshold, it can create a chatter stream notifying the Salesperson and Collections person that action needs to be taken. The late invoice might be an indication of a product or service problem, so other people such as service personnel can be added to the thread. While these are wonderful capabilities, the good news is that these capabilities already work as well today with Slack, not just for Salesforce CRM objects, but for ERP objects such as Rootstock’s ERP.
Slack Makes Salesforce More Collaborative and Universal
Despite Chatter’s strengths, it never attained full collaboration capabilities such as instant video conferencing, voice calls and screen sharing that are so necessary for today’s remote workforces. Slack’s growth has been fueled by providing a simple-to-use platform for the modern remote work environment, which is one of the big reasons why Benioff is so excited about this transaction. This addition alone makes Salesforce much more competitive with the likes of Microsoft, with which it competes across many product categories.
Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, Slack solves the market adoption problem for Salesforce. Slack’s freemium model makes it easy to adopt and lowers the barrier to adoption. Like Zoom, it has become an easy thing for any individual or company to deploy. This ubiquity is one of the things that will help it achieve the same universal status of email and phones, where anyone can email or call anyone. Slack eliminates the barriers to entry and makes it easy to establish a collaboration connection that combines voice calling, video calling, screen sharing, file sharing and text communications in one package.
Great for Internal Collaboration – Even Better for Customer and Supplier Collaboration
Slack, like its predecessor Chatter, is a great way to improve intercompany communications and bridge the gaps between departments, especially when it is combined with a single view of CRM and ERP information. It puts everyone in the company on the same page. These capabilities come at the perfect time when every kind of business has to rethink how just about any work function could be done more remotely. The trend toward remote work and need for tools such as this Slack/Salesforce combo is well documented, but the next big leap in productivity might occur with interactions that occur outside a company’s four virtual walls for Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Supplier Relationship Management (SRM).
COVID-19 Makes Us Rethink CRM and SRM
Besides the remote work lesson that Covid-19 has taught us, we’ve learned some valuable lessons about the need to stay closer to our customers and suppliers. The volatility that COVID-19 created across our supply and demand chains completely rattled companies, in some positive ways, but mostly detrimentally.
On the customer side of the ledger, some companies’ customers completely shut down, stopped paying bills and stopped orders. Other companies benefited from the crisis and stepped up to meet new and increased sources of demand. The speed and volatility with which this occurred was frightening in 2020, but it shined a light on an issue that was already there: the need to stay close and monitor the pulse of customers. Meanwhile, many companies experienced massive disruptions due to the same COVID issues hitting their suppliers. Supply Chain management disruptions became absolutely life-threatening to businesses. Companies were caught between the yin and yang of customer and supplier disruptions, creating the need for real-time and highly responsive ways to interact with customers and suppliers alike.
Customer 360° View + Slack’s Impact on CRM
For a long time, Rootstock and Salesforce have discussed the value of having a 360° view of ERP and CRM customer information on one platform so that employees can better serve customers. With a complete customer view at hand, companies can provide faster service, improve first call resolution and eliminate a customer’s frustration dealing with multiple departments such as phone call and email re-routing.
With the Customer 360° view as a given, let’s add Slack to the equation.
Due to the ease of use and general ubiquity of Slack, we anticipate manufacturers creating Slack channels primarily with B2B customers to have more instantaneous, real-time conversations. The Slack channel allows employees from the manufacturer and the customer to communicate through a single medium and consolidate information to eliminate unnecessary waits and the long back and forth experience of email. It also makes it easier to share documents and follow the progress on various topics. Of course, Slack conversations can also instantly turn into video calls with screen sharing, conferencing and the like. This capability alone immediately creates a more responsive, personal and holistic way to communicate.
Furthermore, because of the tight integration with the Salesforce platform and applications like Rootstock ERP, you can also share ERP information in the Slack channel (for example, a link to an order status, assuming the proper security is in place). Customer and internal employees are put on the same page, working from the same real time information from ERP. The system of engagement and the system of record are combined and working together. Conversations are in context of ERP and CRM information and can be attached to transactions and objects like cases. This forms a simpler thread to follow for everyone and an audit trail of all activities. ERP can also initiate conversations by automatically posting into Slack conversations (i.e., posting about a change in delivery status).
In short, when you combine Slack, 360° views and tight integration with ERP, manufacturers are in far better position to service and be more responsive to customers in a whole new way.
Supplier Relationship Management (SRM) and Slack: The Next Collaboration Frontier
CRM systems have been around for years to manage customer relationships, while SRM is less mature as a vocation and not as well supported by the software industry (especially the “R” in SRM). Most companies cobble together disjointed solutions and struggle to make SRM a collaborative and holistic experience. However, COVID-19 might be the wake-up call that will spur manufacturers to take a similar approach with SRM as they did years ago with CRM. Real time connections, holistic messaging channels, compressing time-out processes, and having visibility to the same data are all desirable for the customer and supplier alike. The addition of Slack to the Salesforce Platform could change the way we think about SRM.
A fundamental notion of supply chain management is to get closer to your suppliers, especially in times of need like Covid-19. If manufacturers want to keep tighter tabs on their suppliers, then they need a way to follow supplier interactions, monitor service and compress time-out processes.
So, wouldn’t you want the ability to see all verbal (calls), written (email), and electronic interactions (online chat, messaging) with suppliers in a single place just like CRM? And don’t supply chain managers also need a 360° view of information of suppliers, including POs, lead times, pricing, delivery status, delivery performance, quality, payments, credits and product returns? Once again, a combined system of engagement and system of record is the answer. But now you also have ability to easily set up a real time collaboration channel with your suppliers via Slack supported by the combined ERP and CRM solution. In short, SRM is the other side of the CRM coin and should also be a prime candidate for using Slack.
In summary, the addition of Slack to the Salesforce Cloud Platform will be a powerful combination for manufacturers when combined with the capabilities on Rootstock ERP and Salesforce CRM on a single cloud platform. The Slack acquisition will certainly help companies with inter-company collaboration and remote workers, but the bigger value might be realized from better managing our relationships with our customers and suppliers.