Once upon a time, Slack was a sort of Switzerland of workplace productivity—a central collaborative hub that offered an array of integrations with other business tools rather than competing with them or treating one third-party offering differently than another. But the company entered a new era in December 2020, when it agreed to sell itself to software-as-a-service giant Salesforce for $27.7 billion. And today, at Salesforce’s TrailblazerDX ’22 conference, Slack and Salesforce are announcing Salesforce Platform for Slack, a joint project that is most definitely a result of their unified ownership.
The new platform allows Salesforce developers—there are more than 11 million of them—to create functionality that shuttles data from Salesforce’s Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, and Marketing Cloud services into Slack. Along with leveraging a Salesforce automation system called Flow, the platform supports the company’s Apex programming language. But it’s designed for low-code projects, reducing the amount of time and expertise required to build something useful.
Along with giving developers the ability to use Salesforce Platform to glue together its services, Salesforce is rolling out some of its own Slack apps built with the platform. They include tools for such tasks as sending updates to sales teams, assigning customer service cases to reps, and collaborating on marketing campaigns.
Slack cofounder and CTO Cal Henderson emphasizes that it’s important that the service work well with other mainstays of business computing, regardless of who owns them. That includes products that compete directly with Salesforce’s core offerings, such as Microsoft Dynamics and Zendesk. But he adds that it’s only natural that working with its corporate siblings permits more ambitious collaborations.
“Because we’re part of Salesforce, the best possible examples of those integrations should be with Sales Cloud and Service Cloud and Marketing Cloud,” he explains. “Hopefully, the Salesforce team really understands Sales Cloud and their customers, and we really understand Slack and Slack’s customers.”
Even if the features being announced today are about maximizing the potential of the Salesforce/Slack combo, they aren’t arriving out of left field. Slack has a long-standing interest in tools that allow its users to automate everyday tasks: Back in 2019, I wrote about one such feature, Workflow Builder. Today, says Henderson, the goal is that “it doesn’t matter if you build a workflow in Flow in Sales Cloud or in Workflow Builder in Slack. It should be able to operate on Sales Cloud data. There is that level of interoperability that is pretty important that we would have wanted to do anyway, but can actually do a really good job of now.”
Slack inside Salesforce
Slack being part of Salesforce may have helped with these integrations, but what larger impact has it had on life at Slack since the deal closed last July? Rather than unhesitatingly toeing a corporate line that it’s an improvement on Slack’s independent days in every imaginable way, Henderson offers a more nuanced take: “I don’t know if it’s better or worse—I think it’s just different.” He does know what it’s like to have your startup be swallowed up by a tech giant and have it not go so well. Along with Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield, he was one of the people who brought us photo-sharing pioneer Flickr, which eventually floundered after being acquired by Yahoo. That Salesforce is thriving rather than engaged in a Yahoo-like gambit to reinvent itself has made for a smoother merger, he says.
Then there’s the fact that the Salesforce deal happened in the midst of a pandemic, giving the experience—so far—a virtual element that’s hard to separate from the overall fact that Slack now has a parent company. “My experience . . . of Salesforce is the digital tools and how I talk to people and relate to people using those tools,” says Henderson. “It’s not like I go into the office in the morning and see all the people around me.”
Still, Henderson says that Slack has been able to preserve its own culture rather than be unwillingly assimilated into its new mother ship. And he pays Salesforce what sounds like a cautious compliment.
“Salesforce,” he says, “seems like Slack, but with a lot more people.”