Why I'm uneasy about the Salesforce Slack acquisition
Most of the coverage on the Salesforce acquisition of Slack has focused on the industry perspective. Analysts and pundits have majored on Mark Benioff’s world domination plans, whether the threat to Microsoft is real, and the broader impact on the overall SaaS landscape.
However, when I first heard the news, my reaction wasn’t as an industry analyst, but as a small business owner – and it wasn’t positive.
My company, Freeform Dynamics, has never owned a server. Since starting out in 2005, all our core systems have lived in the public cloud. And over those 15 years, we – like most other early adopters – have made mistakes and learned along the way.
One of the lessons we’ve learned is that it’s critical to look beyond user and business functionality when considering a SaaS solution. It’s important to understand what’s going on behind the scenes and to consider the nature of the provider that’s delivering the service. In particular, it’s essential to make sure there’s a good cultural match and to confirm that the provider prioritises the stuff that’s important to you.
How much do simplicity, flexibility, user experience, and ease and speed of support matter to you, for example? In our business, we value such things very much. We have a high level of user influence and empowerment, limited resources for systems support, and little need for elaborate management and control mechanisms.
Different adoption factors drive Salesforce & Slack
It’s different if you’re in a large enterprise environment with an IT department, specialist application teams and a culture in which users have little say over the systems they use. You can cope with more complex and difficult-to-administer solutions, you don’t need to worry as much about user experience, and you can work around support shortcomings using your internal resources as a buffer. It’s not that you actively seek these things, but you can tolerate them in return for the depth and breadth of functionality and control you need.
And there are all sorts of other things we could also talk about here, from the frequency of updates and how updates are rolled out, through the relative influence of customer needs vs the provider’s interests when setting R&D priorities, to the flexibility of contracts and commercial terms.
In our case, it’s for reasons such as these that we actively moved away from ‘big iron’ SaaS solutions. We switched from Salesforce CRM and Office 365, for example, once we realised they were taking a lot of time to manage and were distracting us from getting on with business.
The potential for company culture clash is real
Our adoption of Slack was part of a move to simplify our environment and make it more user-friendly. Slack originally gained popularity in large part because individual users and teams simply liked it and found it useful in their everyday activities. The ethos has always been that it was designed for them, not for the corporation. It’s a totally different mindset to most enterprise-level offerings. This is why I was uneasy about the acquisition.
To be clear, though, none of this about whether any particular solution or provider is good or bad in an absolute sense – there are many contented Salesforce and Office 365 customers out there, for example. The point is that the SaaS services and providers you use have to be compatible with the nature of your business and its culture, and sometimes less is more.
With this in mind, it’s hard not to flag the hugely different spirits of Salesforce and Slack as representing a possible future distraction and risk for at least some Slack customers.