Cloud CRM giant Salesforce and cloud content management vendor Dropbox each have their own collaborative document platform — Salesforce Quip and Dropbox Paper. So why did they just ink a deeper integration partnership? The answer tells us a lot about how the enterprise collaboration market is evolving — and perhaps also sheds some light on the market opportunity for Dropbox as it prepares for an imminent IPO.
Collaboration platforms are crucially important to the smooth functioning of the modern digital enterprise — it’s the glue that holds the whole edifice together. Paradoxically, that’s why there are so many of them to choose from. They’ve all been evolving furiously in a Cambrian explosion of innovation. The corollary is that none of them are yet sufficiently evolved to do the whole job.
With the battle for market dominance still far from resolved, enterprises must mix and match a combination of offerings to fulfill their digital collaboration needs. When I last looked at this in detail, I counted eight separate capabilities, including messaging, content and workflow, that need to be anchored in a collaborative canvas for digital teamwork. No wonder vendors are still jostling for position in such a crowded landscape.
By forging partnerships with Salesforce, and Google Cloud the week before, Dropbox is staking its claim to be a leading player in this evolving enterprise market. That’s an important message to send in the run-up to its IPO, where inevitable comparisons to content management rival Box have emphasized Dropbox’s far greater reliance on individual subscribers. These new partnerships are clearly designed to bolster the more lucrative prospects of the enterprise-focused Dropbox Business offering.
Quip does better than Paper
So what does Salesforce bring to Dropbox, and vice-versa, as a result of this deeper partnership? One of the most interesting features is the unequal treatment of Dropbox Paper versus Salesforce Quip. The integration brings Dropbox into Quip, which, as I discussed during last year’s Dreamforce, is Salesforce’s own collaborative canvas. But the favor is not reciprocated. There’s no new integration of Salesforce into Dropbox Paper.
This doesn’t mean that Dropbox has given up on Paper as a potential collaborative canvas. It simply means that, in this specific deal, Dropbox has decided to prioritize getting its content management capabilities in front of the widest possible audience. As Billy Blau, Global Head of Business Development & Partnerships at Dropbox explained to me in a briefing call ahead of the announcement:
We want to allow users to utilize Dropbox in the context of their daily workflows. We want to make sure you have a good native experience with Dropbox and you don’t have to pop out to Dropbox, it’s contextualized in the workflow you’re already doing.
We understand, particularly in Sales Cloud and Service Cloud, people live in Salesforce all day long.
Digital asset engagement
The other new element of the partnership is the integration of Dropbox into Salesforce Marketing Cloud and Commerce Cloud. Unlike the existing AppExchange partnership that already integrates Dropbox into the Salesforce Sales Cloud and Service Cloud — and which is mainly focused on internal file sharing — these new integrations build on Dropbox’s strengths in sharing across the enterprise boundary.
The expectation is that these new integrations will be used for sharing digital assets with external agencies when planning campaigns, or for making multimedia content available to customers. Use cases might include a marketing manager working with outside agencies across multiple campaigns, a retailer focused on an online shopping experience, or perhaps a luxury vehicle manufacturer using a Dropbox folder to share assets such as an owner manual or a personalized selection of how-to videos. Says Ryan Aytay, EVP of Strategic Partnerships at Salesforce:
It’s enabling customers to connect to their customers in a whole new way.
It’s in both companies’ interests to focus on these shared use cases where cloud providers offer big advantages over incumbent on-premise systems, he adds:
If you look at the next generation of collaboration and team-focused productivity, we are working together to make it better for customers and helping them move away from those individualized, on-premise solutions of the past.
Broadening Dropbox business appeal
The prize for Dropbox is the ability to broaden its appeal to Salesforce’s business customers, says Blau:
We feel like we have strong customer overlap and we can expand our customer base through these integrations. We already have thousands of customers that are overlapping.
We believe that content and documents are at the heart of how teams work and how business gets done. Bringing Dropbox and Salesforce together, we’re able to do this for more B2B and B2C customers generally.
The goal is to build acceptance of Dropbox as the home for collaborating around content, he explains:
What we’re trying to build is a unified home for collaboration — that means all content types. When somebody is trying to get work done, they want to see all the content that’s relevant in one place.
Dropbox needs to play to its strengths, which are centered around content and particularly its file share and sync technology. That’s a big enough market already, and one where the primary competition consists of an almost endless vista of legacy on-premise file storage solutions. We’ve spoken to enough Dropbox customers such as Designit and News Corp to recognize the extent of the potential market there.
But as we’ve also noted, collaboration in the digital enterprise is increasingly centered around messaging, not content. So while there’s still a huge market to fight over between Dropbox and Box — along with Microsoft and a few others — the bigger prize lies elsewhere.
That’s not to say Dropbox — and indeed Box — won’t be successful. As I mentioned, content is already a huge market, and collaboration has growing importance in the digital enterprise. Remember too that content isn’t just classic documents, it’s also images, video and audio, all of which take on increasing significance with the growth of artificial intelligence mechanisms for automated tagging, transcription and search of multimedia content — and which may become the foundation of an entire new generation of enterprise applications. Content alone is a huge market.
Salesforce appears to acknowledges this potential with its commitment to invest an additional $100 million in Dropbox as part of the IPO.
Even so, in terms of positioning for the greater prize of becoming that central collaborative canvas of enterprise collaboration, both Salesforce and Dropbox are at a disadvantage compared to messaging platforms such as Slack, Atlassian Stride and Microsoft Teams, — which just celebrated its first birthday with the addition of some new features. In that context, integrating Dropbox into Quip looks like an astute move by Salesforce to keep its own collaborative canvas contender in the game.
Image credit - Teamwork concept with hands and jigsaw pieces © Coloures-pic – Fotolia.com
Disclosure - Salesforce is a diginomica premier partner at time of writing.