In its largest acquisition to date at approximately $27.7 billion, Salesforce has announced that it intends to acquire Slack in a move to add collaboration to its portfolio. Slack is a best-of-breed, cloud- and channel-based messaging platform used for business communications. It has a sizable fanbase in the software developer community. Its open APIs allow it to easily integrate into other business applications such as customer relationship management (CRM), bug tracking systems, or project management software.

This acquisition makes sense on paper. Any company employee involved in work that impacts customers should be able to easily access a customer’s information and view their account health and value to the company, which are all within a CRM. Adding in collaboration allows resources — now working primarily remotely — to better understand their customer and collectively organize around them, ensuring their customer’s success. Chatter has never truly filled that need.

Slack hasn’t made much noise as it should have during a year when we’ve seen much more remote work and presumably need more collaboration tools (contrast the buzz around Slack vs. the buzz around Zoom). And Microsoft has dominated the space in recent years, due to the large Skype for Business installed base that is now moving to Teams and Microsoft’s success in bundling Teams with M365. As of October 2020, there were 115 million daily active users of Teams; Slack had 12 million in 2019 (the last time that it reported active users).

Salesforce hopes that moving into this space will significantly extend the reach of its CRM. How?

  • Slack makes collaboration easier for customer service, sales, and marketing teams. As self-service capabilities for customer service mature, agents are routed the harder issues that often require collaboration with other agents, product experts, or even bots for rapid resolution. Similarly, sales teams — salespeople, sales engineers, product experts — must align around opportunities and sales strategies. Marketers must collaborate with sellers. CRM must evolve to make collaboration simple and available in the context of the CRM users’ workspace. Other CRMs such as Microsoft Dynamics CRM already include team messaging, putting pressure on Salesforce to offer similar capabilities.
  • Slack will allow Salesforce to continue its growth trajectory. Salesforce has not yet dipped its feet into the back office, instead spreading its reach, and fueling its revenue stream, by purchasing MuleSoft — integration software used to connect applications, data, and devices together — and Tableau, an enterprise business intelligence platform.
  • The acquisition will extend the reach of Salesforce within companies. Slack demos often incorporate bots and workflows that operate on systems-of-engagement or systems-of-record data. The purpose is to serve users who are not “heads-down app users” (e.g., frontline workers in retail stores) with a simpler interface that is more geared toward conversations and collaboration. While this may open up Salesforce to a reduction in classic Salesforce licenses, it does pull in a wider user base able to work on its overall platform.

While Slack may replace legacy messaging solutions (the now seemingly dead Chatter and Quip) in Salesforce customer accounts, this move will not erode Microsoft Teams penetration — in and outside of Salesforce accounts. Forrester sees no change in the short term for Salesforce and Slack customers.

Salesforce has an opportunity to exploit Slack’s special relationship with developers. A bigger and tougher opportunity is in its ability to tie together the entirety of its portfolio and embed workflows and communications (via Slack) into its portfolio that includes a unique mix of data (Tableau), interoperability (MuleSoft), CRM (Salesforce’s clouds), employee engagement ( platforms, etc. The endgame: Employees are more engaged with Salesforce applications in the way they work and communicate. If Salesforce can’t deliver on this, it paid a huge price tag that will result in relatively little impact.