Content collaboration vendor Box today starts rolling out a native e-signature capability, building on its acquisition earlier this year of SignRequest. In a surprise move, Box Sign is included free-of-charge for unlimited signatures to all customers of its business and enterprise subscription plans, and later this year to business customers on the entry-level starter plan.
Offering the e-signature capability without charge is a different strategy than we've seen from other digital teamwork players. We spoke to Box CEO Aaron Levie on Friday and he explained that the motive is to increase Box's penetration across the enterprise, beyond the one-in-seven employees that currently use the cloud content platform within its existing customer base. This is a change of strategy away from selling a broader set of products to existing users, and thus increasing revenue per seat, towards broadening adoption to new users in order to increase total potential revenue per customer. Levie says:
We are not in a position where we need more products to sell customers. What we want to go do is drive greater adoption of our product within customers, and be able to expand more use cases into more user populations within our customer base ...
What we want to do now is make it even easier for our customers to get that entire portfolio — not think about this as adding on lots of individual products, but instead think about it as buying into the whole platform.
The pandemic made e-signing a priority
The move into e-signatures is one that's been under discussion at Box for at least the past eight years, says Levie, but the time never seemed right until the pandemic struck last year. Suddenly, the ability to sign documents electronically became a priority across the customer base. He says:
As we talked to our customers throughout the pandemic, [asking] 'Okay, how are your digital transformation efforts?' E-sign came up consistently as the number one capability that Box could add, that would drive a lot of value.
Having taken that decision, it was important to embed the capability directly in the Box environment rather than making it a separate purchase. He explains:
It's not a separate universe that customers go to, it works with all of your Box content, and you do all of your management out of Box ... When customers roll this out, they will be able to turn it on for 100% of their users included in their subscription plans, and it will be fully natively integrated in Box, where there's nothing else you have to do. That's a big breakthrough in getting this to a much wider part of the market.
The company is making a big investment in the success of the new feature, including the recruitment of Diego Dugatkin as Box's new Chief Product Officer. He was previously at Adobe with responsibility for strategy and execution of its Document Cloud products, including the Adobe Sign e-signature product. The engineering team for Box Sign will be one of the largest at Box, Levie tells me. He says:
This is not a casual entry into the signature market. And we don't think it's a space where it's just a feature. We think that there's going to be great innovation from other companies that focus heavily on this. But we also think that there's a huge opportunity to give our customer base access to this technology at a scale that has just not happened in this category before.
One important aspect of adding e-signature is that it brings Box into transactional processes for the first time. The Box platform is already widely used to share content across the enterprise boundary, often with multiple third parties, but adding signatures is a new step. Levie comments:
The signature component of that is now getting us into a very mission critical transaction in that collaboration. And that's something that we just previously have not been a part of in a native way. I think ... it's going to increase that level of external business process, and we're very excited about that.
Expanding the Content Cloud footprint
Box's broader strategy, dubbed Content Cloud, is to create a single platform for the full lifecycle of enterprise content, across data protection, real-time collaboration, workflow automation, e-signature, content analytics, document retention and governance. Levie sums up:
I think the real breakthrough is getting customers to see Box as a platform for their content lifecycle, as opposed to bespoke products that they add on to Box to solve these use cases.
The ongoing expansion of Box's functional footprint is in line with trends across the industry, where all the digital teamwork players are expanding their reach, whether it's Salesforce combining with Slack or Zoom acquiring Five9. He comments:
I think the days of companies staying in their lane are over, and we just have to accept that we are in the largest digital economy, certainly in history. I think the recognition from all the various industry players is that this is not slowing down, it's only speeding up ...
People are going to expand their lanes, and then APIs are going to force interoperability and integration. But companies are going to be much more competitive. Not out of out of the goal of being competitive, but out of the goal to solve a greater array of customer problems through their portfolio.
This is creating best-of-breed players that operate on a much grander scale than in the early days, as Levie explains:
We're talking about $40 billion companies that are best-of-breed, not 15 people out of a house in Mountain View. We are in a very different era in software now, and it's just not going to ever reverse course. Now, it's all about openness, it's interoperability, it's best-of-breed platforms that work together. This is absolutely the future.
Carving out a content platform role
Box's mission is to continue to carve out a role amidst those other players, such as the Salesforce-Slack combination. Levie says:
We want a world where there's multiple big places that people are investing in, that they're going to work from, because then you need to manage your content in a central and neutral platform that connects to all those applications. So that ability to have a central platform for content that connects across all the different tools you're working on, is really really powerful.
The key points of Box Sign at a glance:
- Documents can be sent for e-signature directly from Box to anyone, including those without a Box account
- There are four standard field types (signature, date, checkbox and text) and templates for common, repeatable processes such as NDAs.
- Documents can be routed either in serial or parallel, with email reminders and deadline notifications.
- Sign inherits Box's security and compliance profile including HIPPA, SOC, ISO and FedRAMP, and adds other secruity controls to authenticate signers.
- The Box for Salesforce integration has been extended with Box Sign capabilities, enabling customers to generate and send NDAs, contracts and other documents for signature directly from within Salesforce. There is a cap on the number of documents sent via third-party and customer applications, with more available for purchase.
- Developers can access Sign APIs to build e-signature capabilities into third-party apps and workflows.
- The enterprise plan adds bulk actions, the ability to include further documents as attachments, and the abilty to provide self-service signature workflows.
- A new Enterprise Plus plan bundles all Box's major add-ons — Shield, Governance, Relay and Platform — along with all the capabilities of Box Sign and unlimited documents sent for signature directly from Salesforce.
Personally, I've been quite surprised at how long e-signature has survived as a standalone product proposition rather than being subsumed as a feature into content workflow products. That it has is a testament to its hidden depths — which Levie acknowledges. But in a world in which, either through choice or necessity, transactions increasingly happen electronically, there's a growing demand for this capability to become a routine part of content workflows. Therefore this is a sensible move for Box, perhaps even one that could be described as long overdue.
It will be interesting to see the impact of including this completely free-of-charge. It gives Box a useful foot in the door to wider adoption, but its success will depend whether the cost of a Box user license is seen as a worthwhile alternative to a DocuSign or Adobe Sign license where these are already in place. Where there's no existing e-signature platform, it could prove an easy sale, and Dugatkin's familiarity with the market will prove a useful asset in maximizing that opportunity.
There's a strong emphasis also on the integration of Box with Salesforce and I suspect Box sees the combination of Salesforce and Slack as a big new area of opportunity to insert its content platform into the sales processes of the Salesforce customer base. Overall this is a useful addition to the Box platform and provides a handy boost to its market reach at a time when the company is under pressure from investors to continue to perform well.