A joint agreement by rivals Microsoft and Salesforce shows the two companies clearly believe in the old adage, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." Two years ago the software giants agreed to a strategic partnership to develop compatibility and integration features between their respective platforms, and Microsoft Office in particular. The latest announcement on June 28 relates specifically to Microsoft Outlook.
With the new Salesforce Lightning for Outlook add-in, users of the popular Microsoft email program will have access to customer and prospect records from within the email client without having to switch to Salesforce. This could prove especially useful to sales reps who communicate with customers from within Outlook.
"Every Outlook user can take advantage of this new capability, but we see sales as the most common use case because 70 percent of a rep's time is spent sending or responding to email," Greg Gsell, director of product marketing for Salesforce Sales Cloud, told eWEEK.
The Salesforce data is viewable in a third pane from within Outlook. Although salespeople aren't gaining access to new information, the convenience of not having to switch between apps is a clear time-saver, Gsell said.
"It does away with the old Alt Tab people have been dealing with for years," said Gsell, referring to the Windows keystroke combination that lets you switch between apps. Also, a Lightning Sync feature means any changes made to a contact from within Outlook is immediately updated to the user's mobile device and other departments the user may be working with, such as a support team and marketing.
In a demo Gsell also showed the Lightning for Outlook search feature. With search, users can, for example, search for someone they may not know but who is cc'd in an email and access that person's record from Salesforce.
Another new feature, Lightning Components in Outlook, lets customers and developers build custom components on the Salesforce platform that can be "snapped in" to Outlook to further personalize the inbox experience. This includes Salesforce's own Steelbrick CPQ Lightning component. Once added, sales reps could, for example, respond to a quote request by making changes right in Outlook that would ripple through to the main customer relationship management (CRM) record without leaving Outlook.
Lightning for Outlook is available now, but the new Lightning Components Framework for developers isn't slated to be available until this fall.
Analyst Joshua Greenbaum said the release of Lightning for Outlook is the proverbial win-win for both companies. While Microsoft Dynamics competes with Salesforce CRM, it hasn't made headway dislodging Salesforce customers. Conversely, Microsoft Outlook is an entrenched email app used by the same wide swath of corporate customers Salesforce wants to reach.
"This is coopetition and a very intelligent strategy by both companies that helps make users more productive," Greenbaum, principal with Enterprise Applications Consulting, told eWEEK. "If you're Salesforce you recognize you can't replace Outlook, but you can make those users more productive. If I was Salesforce I would have paid Microsoft to be able to do this."
In fact, no money is believed to have been paid by either company. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has promoted compatibility and integration with rivals and others since taking over as CEO from Steve Ballmer, including a much-publicized move to bring Office 365 to the iPhone and iPad.
Salesforce Lightning for Outlook is available now at the Microsoft Office App Store and also is available for Mac and Web users. According to Salesforce, a version for Outlook Mobile is "coming soon."
The Microsoft-Salesforce strategic relationship earlier led to the release of 10 other programs designed to provide better integration between the two platforms:
- Salesforce1 Office Edition
- Salesforce Files Connect integration with SharePoint and OneDrive for Business
- Skype for Business Integration
- SalesforceIQ Inbox
- Salesforce Wave Connector for Excel
- Salesforce integration with Power Query for Excel
- Salesforce Mobile SDK for Windows
- Salesforce and Windows integration
- Power BI for Office 365 integration with Salesforce
- Single sign on integration between Salesforce, Office 365 and Azure AD