Slack, a messaging platform recently acquired by Salesforce and used by millions of people to collaborate with customers, partners and fellow employees, recently held their annual Frontiers user conference. And having a chance to check out the virtual event there were a number of interesting themes that resonated with me, but the most important is how different the way we work and collaborate has and will continue to change as we (hopefully) move closer to a post-pandemic world. And to dig in deeper on that theme my CRM Playaz co-host Paul Greenberg and I recently had a LinkedIn Live conversation with Brad Mattick, SVP of Slack Marketing at Salesforce.
Below is an edited transcript of a portion of our conversation. Click the embedded SoundCloud player to hear the full conversation.
Setting the tone for collaborating openly and transparently
Brad Mattick: Slack is, in the history of B2B software, the fastest company to get to a billion in revenue, full stop. Faster than Workday, faster than Salesforce and so on, and a lot of the reason that happened was because developers organically and virally adopted Slack because it made them more productive. They got work done faster, they were able to check in their code, they were able to resolve issues. That’s a place of honor where we started, and we still have lots of opportunity as a business to serve developers, but along the way, what the company figured out is, “Hey, this isn’t great for developers, it’s actually great for everybody. Everybody can and does use Slack.
We have sales teams that live in Slack and work with their prospects. We have engineering teams that out on the factory floor, they’re actually doing manufacturing, connecting back to engineering. Everyone’s using Slack. We have customers that have talked about this. We have customers doing service and supporting their customers in Slack, and so we started with engineering, but we pretty quickly realized that Slack changes how you work.
Changing How You Work
Most people work in email; we’ve been using email for over 50 years. It wasn’t really designed for the world we live in today, certainly not the pandemic and how things have gotten very different in the translate versus transform conversation which, happy to touch on that, but even before we all started working from our homes, and even before all the change in the world, we were already finding a tipping point where customers were seeing that if they could change how they work and spend their time collaborating in Slack, both with people but also with the content that they share, and the systems that they integrate, Slack kind of is this nexus that connects all that. Fundamentally they get more work done, it’s simpler and it’s more productive, and it has a lot of positive cultural side effects that we can talk about, around transparency and openness as well.
Sales finds success changing how they work
Kind of funny, before I knew that we were going to be acquired by Salesforce, we learned that some of the customer groups that had the most success changing how their teamwork and helping them achieve their goals, were things like pre-sales teams closing deals faster, using Slack with their prospects, and I’m going to take a step back and you think about it. So I used to run Sales Cloud. Sales Cloud is all the people at your company entering information about the customer. The customer’s not there with you, this is your team, you’re there working in this system, and that’s great. It has a lot of benefits around deal velocity, forecast accuracy, team selling, all that, but what if you can pull the customer into that and the customer is now in system with you and collaborating with you. So we saw that before the acquisition. In fact, if you’re familiar with Splunk, great technology company here in the Bay area. Splunk spoke at our conference couple years back talking about how they really transformed their pre-sales process to close deals faster, do better team selling, because they could connect in this new way.
Customer service isn’t left out
Similarly with service, it’s fun to be at Salesforce and say that this is true of Zendesk, our friends across the way. Zendesk supports all their big customers directly by pulling them into Slack, so they don’t keep a separate internal system. They work directly with the customer and communicate and support them more transparently and openly in Slack. So it’s funny we do serve everyone, but we definitely think a lot about where’s there the most value, and when I found out we were getting acquired, what made just so much sense to me is where we were already seeing success, I mean, it’s basically the big parts of what Salesforce brings to market, their Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud, and so on. So that’s been, it’s been great to see the teams coming together and how we’re pursuing those opportunities together.
Brent Leary: But what were the things that you really wanted folks to walk away with understanding, coming out of the conference?
Brad Mattick: With all the change that’s happened in the last year, year and a half, we’ve seen so many organizations are just basically translating what they did in an office, to the world we’re all working in now, and that doesn’t work super well because when everyone goes into an office at the same time, you can assume they’re free, you can assume you’re going to schedule lots of meetings and take people’s time synchronously. What we’ve seen as people are working remote, is maybe you’ve got to care for a child, or you’ve got to take care of your home, or a parent, or whatever, it’s hard for people to assume that they’re going to be synchronous in their working pattern.
Creating the Digital HQ
We’ve been on this concept of defining Slack as a digital HQ. So what we’ve all seen in the last year and a half is, the foundation of how people work has gone from being the physical HQ was the required part, to the physical HQ is nice, it’s useful, it’s a tool when we need to go in and use that whiteboard, but the digital tools have become the actual foundation. The challenge though, is most of those digital tools weren’t built for the world as it is today, and so our platform announcements and the things we talked about there, one of the things we’re trying to do is make it so that regular human beings, what we call knowledge workers, can in this world we’re working in today, automate their own work without having to go to an IT team or a developer and say, “Hey, can you create a workflow to automate an approval for me?”, or to create a reminder when something is due.
One of the big things we’ve been working on, as we’ve all gone through the pandemic, is how can we make it easier for a regular person to increase their own productivity with technology? How do we democratize how a regular person can go in and say, “I could save three hours a week if I just automated this one step here”, and it turns out people have been doing that.
The history was a couple years ago we introduced our first version of the Workflow Builder, and 400,000 people have gone and built workflows, and 80% of those folks, they’re not developers, they’re not technologists, they’re just regular people. My E-A built a workflow to keep me on point about making sure I’m good with the schedule going forward. So she automated me, which I think is a great idea.
Using Legos to democratize work
So a big part of what we announced is in the platform. We’ve actually rebuilt our entire platform behind the scenes at Slack. It’s taken us almost two years to do this. We’ve reorganized the entire platform around this concept, that you can think of like Lego blocks. Most of us can figure out how to build something out of Legos, we might not design the kit where you see that glossy picture on the box, you’re like, “Oh yeah, I’m going to go do better than that”, but most of us can build something that shows what we’re trying to do. So that was our inspiration for what we’ve done in the platform, which is two things really. The first is we’ve given developers new tools to make modular blocks, all in service of them and made that a lot easier, made it so people can run their own code in Slack, manage all the skill and security and all that in the way they like.
But what we’re really excited about is the next phase where we democratize and open this up, where then you can find prebuilt Lego components and you can assemble your own automation for your work. I’ll give you an example, because that’s probably pretty abstract. So let’s say you have a job working with customers and you need to send them a proposal, get approval, and then route that through a system internally, which happens all day long in pre-sales and post-sales teams. The way that that can work on Slack’s platform, is you’re already working with that prospect or customer in Slack, you’re sharing the information. You can route them the contract directly pulling from, let’s say CRM, you can add a block that will automatically take that to DocuSign for their approval, and another block will know when that’s been approved, it will then take that back, put it in channel where everyone can see it and say, “Yeah, there it is”, and push it all the way through to Salesforce, without having to go manually update information and carry that record over.
And then that kicks off the automation to basically provision or give the customer access to what they’ve gone forward with. Each step in that chain normally requires a lot of manual work, back and forth email conversation, but it’s kind of the same thing every time, and so you can take those blocks and automate end to end, that process. So things like that where literally an account team could choose to do that, are what we’re trying to empower folks to do.
Digital HQ for Digital Natives
Paul Greenberg: From a thought leadership standpoint, how do you think of that movement that’s going on now with the generational shift?
Brad Mattick: I think there’s a real shift in business culture, I would say, where if you think about it, in the past it was hierarchical, it was top down, it was very much private communication, control the information flow. I think the digital natives have grown up in this very agile, fast paced, public, transparent, I will consume the information I need and filter out the noise model, and so that’s a lot of how people find Slack to change their work life. If you think, if your primary collaboration is through email, if you’re not on email, you’re not on the email. When you start as a new employee, you have nothing, you have an empty inbox. When you leave, everything you ever had is gone. In Slack, Slack is this nexus point where people are working transparently and publicly in channels.
A more open and transparent way to work and collaborate
So if you want to know what’s happening in a project, you could just go find it, you can literally search, and the whole thing is transparent and you’ll see what’s happening. What we find with that different way of working, it actually creates cultural benefits where companies or customers, they find that they’re more open because information is shared. They find that it helps younger people adapt to an enterprise type of role, because it feels like their consumer life has felt their whole life. You can go out and find things. I mean, how many of us might have kids or teens who live in Discord all day? It’s very much like Slack for kids playing video games. But from that, we feel a tremendous responsibility, I will say also, to innovate in ways that help that transformation, and not to assume the right thing is to focus on video meetings for example, but we’ve spent a lot of our time working with customers and doing research on what do they want and how do we keep this new mode of working, working for our customers.
For example, as we were finding that people were not having synchronous schedules, we announced some new capabilities around asynchronous conversation. So we call Clips, where you can just record a video message, it’s capped at three minutes, and share it with your team. A lot of times that’ll do in lieu of a meeting, that’ll be better. And that video is public, if it’s posted in a channel, anyone can see your update, and it’s transcribed so anyone can find what you were talking about. So just that small move, like “Oh, you weren’t in the meeting”, versus “Here’s this public update”, so everyone knows what is happening. We’ve replicated also the ability for people just to have ad hoc audio conversations. Sounds simple, it’s kind of like a phone call, but it’s all organized around the way people work in Slack, and that’s brought back that, “I was walking through the row of desks or cubes and I just wanted to chat with you”.
So these are things that we had to think of and invent with our customers, and the reason we’re doing that is because we’ve done a lot of research with the Future Forum, which is an organization that we spun out, to understand what does the future of work really look like? And if you follow that research the punchline is, most employees want flexibility, they don’t want to go back to an office five days a week. We’re not saying that’s our position at Slack, but that’s what the research is showing. So we feel very beholden to keep creating tools and capabilities that help people when they are working, wherever they’re working, where digital is that common ground, to match their lifestyle and what actually works, and not assume that eight hours of 30 minute video meetings back to back, and an email inbox, is the way forward.
A typical user of Slack spends eight hours a day working in Slack, like it is the headquarters that they’re checking into digitally, so if you want to see that work product, if you want to see that output across all the people that you have, and all the teams, it’s all in there. Which sounds really abstract, and when we talk about it, but once you work that way, it’s almost impossible to work any other way, because we were made for the work, and most of the systems we’ve used have just evolved over time. But they weren’t designed with intent, so its pretty different.
This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.