Skift Take

The $27 billion software deal creates a new melting pot of users for travel tech platforms to tap in to. The race is on.

A coming together of two software titans will not only impact the way most companies do business in the future, it could redefine how they manage and book their travel.

Salesforce, a customer relationship management platform, entered into an agreement last week to acquire messaging service Slack for $27 billion.

In essence this creates a new entity that brings together sales and marketing teams from its 150,000 client companies with Slack’s 10 million daily users under the same roof.

Both are platforms that encourage users to make their own tools. “Together, Salesforce and Slack will create the most extensive open ecosystem of apps and workflows for business and empower millions of developers to build the next generation of apps, with clicks and not code,” Salesforce said in its statement announcing the deal.

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The word to pick out here is “ecosystem” and the acquisition is a defining moment. While the purchase gives Salesforce the opportunity to cross-sell its sales and marketing products to Slack users, travel companies should take note of the much expanded, and data-rich, collective of hyper-connected employees that’s just been created.

As the ink dries, consider these three scenarios that could play out.

More Travel Platforms Pile In To Build Slack Apps

In June this year, Slack launched Slack Connect to let users integrate their own company’s channels with other companies so they’re not just chatting among themselves. So far there are 52,000 organizations working in Slack Connect.

Slack also integrates with 2,400 apps. But to date, there’s just a handful of travel companies with a presence.

“In most cases they are notification bots, or sub-optimal shopping bots,” said Alex Shchedrin, vice president of the travel and hospitality practice at DataArt. “I think that could be enhanced.”

The likes of Kayak for Business, expense platform Rydoo, TripActions and more recently TravelBank have built their own Slacks apps, as part of their aim to make travel planning and booking more frictionless.

TripActions, for example, enables notifications within Slack so its customers can be alerted to anything that needs their attention, such as hotel reservation updates, check-in reminders, flight delays and cancellations, or any travel approvals that need signing off.

Marc Benioff, Salesforce founder, chairman and CEO. Picture: Salesforce

TravelBank added a Slackbot last month so clients can connect with a TravelBank agent. “Our Slack integration makes us more accessible and allows us to serve our users where they’re already spending a significant portion of their time,” said CEO Duke Chung. “When it comes to deciding between travel and expense solutions, being on a platform like Slack where workflows are already so integrated could be the deciding factor for tech and financial decision-makers.”

Chung claims it’s the first solution that allows any employee to connect with a live consultant via Slack “but we won’t be the last,” he said. AmTrav recently unveiled plans to release a Slack chat function later this month.

DataArt’s Shczhedrin envisions a lot more being done with a newly widened pool of travelers.

“Imagine if we wanted to get 20 people from different locations to the same place, and we wanted to coordinate logistics in a transparent way, we wouldn’t need a separate tool.” he said. “If we were using Slack, and we had an external travel management company, we’d create a channel called ‘20 people get it together in this city on this date’ and the travel planner can see all the conversations in one place.”

In-Slack decisions about travel options could be made straight away, and if there are delays or issues, everyone sees them in the same channel.

“This already happens in the development world. In Chat Ops, when a support team has an incident, all actions are taken in one place. It’s auditable, transparent, clear and also real-time. You can do the same with travel requests, especially if there’s an urgent request with multiple parties involved,” he added. “You can further automate it, too. For example, if a manager requests a team building trip, that automatically triggers the channel creation and invites all the relevant people.”

Depending on how far Salesforce integrates Slack into its customer service and support platform Service Cloud, expect to see more corporate travel agencies jumping in.

Companies Get to Prove the Real Value of Travel

Like Slack, Salesforce was designed for users to build apps to connect with their customers. It has more than 3,400 on its AppExchange but just one travel management platform, SalesTrip.

SalesTrip’s model may become popular, as it taps into an organziation’s operational data. SalesTrip claims its advantage over other corporate travel platforms is this access to richer information about who the user is, and what they do. If an employee wanted to book a trip to visit a client, for example, it can see how valuable that client is, how much has been spent already, and determine the expense cap on any potential visit — or even decline the trip.

It’s the kind of insight that lends itself to the post-Covid vision of more collaborative business trips in the future.

SalesTrip was built natively on Salesforce in 2017, and last year scooped an “Appy Award for Innovation”, beating 5,000 other AppExchange partners at its annual customer conference Dreamforce last year.

All of the $27 billion headlines may end up putting Salesforce on more travel agencies’ radars. “Salesforce integration is certainly an imminent thing”, Manoj Ganapathy, SaleTrip’s founder and CEO, told Skift. “I’m sure other companies will be hopping on the bandwagon at a later stage, but for the next one or two years we are going to be the only company in the world providing this on Salesforce.”

On the other hand, the deal means SalesTrip has suddenly boosted the number of its own potential customers, according to Ganapathy, who once worked for Salesforce (he previously founded Invoice IT, which was subsequently acquired by Salesforce in 2015). “Slack has 10 million users; they now become prospects we can go and talk to and sell to,” he said.

Working From Home Becomes Serious Business — So Too Does Talent Mobility

A mega-deal like this also has much longer term implications. In just the space of nine months, the pandemic accelerated the work-from-home trend as millions of employees turned to platforms like Slack, alongside Zoom and Microsoft Teams, to cope with new working lifestyles.

“Remote work is here to stay, and this acquisition is testament to that,” said Steve Black, co-founder of talent mobility platform Topia. “If we’re honest about what remote work looked like in 2020, we took exactly what we used to do in the office, and put it on Zoom or Teams. We didn’t fundamentally change the way work was done.”

Black believes that with companies able to collaborate more effectively online, future workforces won’t be commuting to an office, but there will be new opportunities arising once Covid-19 vaccines are fully rolled out.

“You’ll see a big percentage of the employee population go from ‘I never travel to work’ to ‘I travel to work twice or three times a year.’ That’s easily enough to offset the couple dozen salespeople, or road warriors,” he said. “This kind of travel could be for kick-off meetings, or a two-week onboarding trip when you join… the Salesforce deal bodes well from a travel perspective.”

Salesforce’s announcement is barely a week old, and there will be many questions over the coming months.

Timing in particular is one, as well as its ultimate plans for the messaging tool. DataArt’s Shczhedrin recalls a previous acquisition. “I don’t think anything will change immediately, in the next 6-12 months,” he said. “And we don’t even know if Salesforce will integrate with Slack. They acquired Heroku how many years ago? Heroku hasn’t changed.”

However, Slack will be Salesforce’s biggest acquisition in its 21-year history, and comes at a point where the world of business has been turned upside down by the pandemic. At such a pivotal moment, it will inevitably touch upon corporate culture — travel included.

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Tags: concur, corporate travel management, salesforce, slack, travelbank, tripactions

Photo credit: Slack listed on the New York Stock Exchange in June 2019. Slack

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