Bret Taylor, Salesforce COO, on the gameplan to expand its footprint with Slack

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright July 7, 2021
Just weeks if not days away from closing its acquisition of Slack, we hear from Bret Taylor, Salesforce COO, on its gameplan for the combined entity

Bret Taylor Salesforce June 2021- screengrab from Meet call
Bret Taylor, Salesforce (screengrab from Meet call)

We're just a few weeks — perhaps only a matter of days — from Salesforce closing its acquisition of Slack, and a clear picture is already emerging of the company's gameplan for the combined entity. Speaking to EMEA media last week, Bret Taylor, President and COO of Salesforce, set out the key ingredients, which together aim to digitally rewire the enterprise for what he describes as a new operating model, born in the pandemic. He sums up:

Our vision for the acquisition is really, to bring together the incredible, innovative way of working that Slack represents, with our vision for growth and helping companies get back to growth as economies around the world recover ...

We really think the combination is the operating system for growth for companies coming into this all digital, work-anywhere world.

That perception is grounded in Salesforce's own experience of the pandemic and what it has learned from its enforced adoption of more digital methods of interacting with customers and within its own workforce. He explains:

For a company that was defined by Dreamforce, and Salesforce Tower London, and all of these physical landmarks, I think it's really challenged us to say, what are the digital parts of our employee and our customer experience that we want to hold on to, on the other side of this pandemic? ...

We're not reflexively snapping back to our pre-pandemic mode of operating. We've learned how to successfully engage with our customers via Zoom, we've learned how to do digital customer service ourselves. And we've really, culturally, I think, become a stronger company.

Those behaviors learned in the pandemic are not going to be unlearned once the Vaccine Economy opens up, he believes. Most employees don't want to come back to the office full-time. Many shoppers like the convenience of curbside pickup. Most people found the experience of telemedecine more comfortable than traditional appointments. And many companies have decided they want their sales people to spend less time on aeroplanes in this new world. Even Salesforce's annual sales kick-off in Las Vegas is under review. Taylor explains:

We didn't do that this year, we did it digitally. And we did it in just two days. As a consequence, we gave our sellers multiple weeks of selling time back, rather than flying to Vegas — and probably drinking too much in the evening — they were out talking to our customers.

I think that it's transformations like that where we're really asking ourselves the question, should we do that next year? Is this a new way of actually operating our company?

Reflections like these at Salesforce and across its customer base form the backdrop to the decision to acquire Slack. Four key points came out of Taylor's briefing, which together give a clear view of the strategy that will go forward once the transaction closes.

Digitizing the customer experience

Acquiring Slack brings Salesforce much more deeply into the realm of employee experience, but that doesn't mean the company is shifting emphasis away from the customer experience. As Taylor explains it, this is more about recognizing the interdependence of employee experience and customer experience and digitizing both at the same time, so that, for example, your contact center agents can do a better job of helping customers, or your staff can safely come into the office with the help of Salesforce's message is that all of this is driven by the need to digitally transform the customer experience, and therefore its mission is still centered on the Customer 360 vision. Taylor elaborates:

You hear this phrase digital transformation thrown around a lot. It's not a digital transformation. It's a digital customer transformation ...

Right now, the number one agenda for every executive team and every board is getting back to growth. It obviously is happening unevenly around the world, as vaccines get distributed, but uniformly economies are reopening, consumer spending is returning, stimulus spending is really driving growth. And every company is saying, how do I align ourselves to capitalize on these trends and really get back to growth? That really is about Customer 360. It's about sales, it's about marketing, it's about e-commerce, it's all the things in the the front office of your business that are about engaging with consumers, engaging with customers, and really capitalizing on the opportunity for growth.

Connecting across the enterprise

Slack supports that customer experience not only by connecting outwardly across the enterprise boundary, but also internally throughout the organization, enabling a faster response to customer issues, even when they involve people or functions who work in back-office or behind the scenes roles. Taylor gives an example:

Just take a typical customer service interaction, and you need to find a subject matter expert — that's not always in the customer service department. I think these tools that really go wall-to-wall like Slack, like, I do agree that they're areas that we hadn't been in before. I also think they really amplify our ability to really make our Customer 360 more successful, just recognizing that there's not a dark line between the employee experience and the customer experience anymore, in my opinion.

Slack therefore becomes the connective tissue that brings people and resources together to power the transformation of the customer experience. He sums up:

Our vision is, by bringing together this new way of working — what [Slack CEO] Stewart [Butterfield] calls this digital HQ for your company, and bringing together Customer 360, we can help our customers get to those digital sales, digital customer service, digital marketing, digital commerce experiences faster, because we can make the products work more seamlessly together and help them get value from this platform faster.

Enabling the new world of hybrid working

The employee experience is inevitably going to become more digital in a hybrid working environment, since digital tools like Slack will be needed to connect people when they're not in the same location. Everyone, Salesforce included, is still working out the guidelines for hybrid working and what that means for the role of offices, the shape of the working week, and how much freedom employees will have to define their own routines. While surveys show that the majority of Salesforce employees want to spend some time working from home, that sentiment is not evenly spread. Taylor points out:

If you're living in an apartment with four roommates, working from home is not quite as appealing as if you have a nice home office and you want to walk your kid to school every morning. So we're really seeing a wide disparity in preferences.

Taylor says that Salesforce will continue to invest in its major hubs including Dublin, London, Paris, where it has a lot of customers or, places like Tel Aviv and Hyderabad, where there's been a focus on engineering talent. But the shape of those offices will be "meaningfully different". He explains:

I think the shape of our office as a place where you go to work individually at your desk is less important. Really thinking of it as a place that you go to collaborate with your team is more important. That's changing the shape of our real estate, you know, more team spaces and fewer individual desks. It's also putting new demands on platforms like to say, how do you actually facilitate an environment — serendipity is something we need to formalize more in the future of work.

Extending the Salesforce platform

The final element is adding Slack into the Salesforce platform. There is already a healthy ecosystem of ISVs and partners building on Slack's own platform. Taylor hints that will become part of the AppExchange model, and sees significant potential to develop a thriving third-party ecosystem across the combined platform. He says:

I think people think of Slack as a communications tool. We really think of it as an open platform. And so our vision for it is really to invest in that ...

I've talked to three or four entrepreneurs over the past few months, who are really building into Slack as their main way of reaching their end users. And we really recognize the importance of that. We think that by investing in Slack and investing in this ecosystem, we have the opportunity to really help future entrepreneurs reach end users within the enterprise, and help facilitate entrepreneurs all around the world to create the next generation of enterprise companies.

My take

Taylor's comments confirm my original perception that Slack brings a great deal to Salesforce. Bringing Slack into the platform and encouraging AppExchange partners to build on it is a particularly intriguing direction, even more so in the light of Salesforce's recent intensification of its partnership with AWS, as I wrote at the time.

I specifically asked Taylor whether acquiring Slack and introducing was taking Salesforce into new terriority within the enterprise and perhaps broadening its focus. His response was that the focus is still very much on the customer experience and the mantra of Customer 360. I find that an interesting answer and it sets me thinking about several long-running trends in enterprise applications that perhaps are now coming together in our post-pandemic, Vaccine Economy world.

One of these trends is the concept of Frictionless Enterprise, in which connected digital technology breaks down barriers across the enterprise to enable faster, more responsive decisions and actions. If you see business as inherently customer-centric then that whole motion becomes all about the customer, but it's also about the entire enterprise, not just the front-office.

The second is Geoffrey Moore's concept of systems of engagement, coined a decade ago, and which forecast a shift to digitally enabled user experiences. I think the pandemic has finally brought that shift into the mainstream, in particular with the adoption of what people are calling hybrid working, but which is actually the advent of the digital future of work.

These trends are shifting the center of gravity of enterprise computing away from the back office and onto the experience layer, as digital transformation reinvents formerly analog patterns of work, engagement and commerce. If this analysis stacks up, then for Salesforce to intensify its focus on that layer with the acquisition of Slack makes perfect sense at this time.

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