Two years after erstwhile rivals Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff made the astounding announcement they would work together to better integrate their respective product lines, they are introducing joint product No. 11: Lightning for Outlook.
This new add-on, as the name suggests, integrates Salesforce's app building platform into Outlook.
As a brief tutorial, Salesforce's Lightning platform started out as a low-code, drag-and-drop internal app builder for its employees that it then relaunched for users based on the open source Aura Framework, which can be found on GitHub.
Today, Lightning has far more bells and whistles than its origins — Aura's specialty is developing dynamic web apps — and most importantly, it allows developers to build apps independent of the data in Salesforce.
In fact, Lightning for Outlook could be considered another milestone of sorts for the platform, Greg Gsell, director of Sales Cloud Product Marketing at Salesforce, told CMSWire.
"For first time Lightning components are available in a non-Salesforce application," he said.
Microsoft's Relentless March to Improve Outlook
As for Outlook, well, no primer is needed here — other than to say Microsoft has been relentless is in its improvement of the email app.
This week, just to name one example, it is also debuting along with the separate Lightning add-on a tweak to Outlook's event management function — namely, simplified summary cards for events that contain just the most important details.
They can be used to check in for flights, change hotel reservations and track packages. These are rolling out now to Outlook for Mac and Outlook on the web, with plans to launch soon for Windows, iOS and Android, as well as the Windows 10 Mail and Calendar apps.
If that's not sexy enough for you consider this example: Earlier this month, Microsoft rolled out, of all things, a Starbucks add-on for Outlook from which users are able to send gift cards and book meetings at, of course, a nearby Starbucks.
CRM + Email
As for Lightning for Outlook, what it brings to the table is another avenue to address that perennial source of frustration for sales, marketing and service professionals — a disconnect between email and CRM that just never seems to be completely resolved.
"Whether it's manually adding contacts or calendar events from email to CRM or having to move back and forth between email and CRM when looking up and updating a CRM entry based on an email thread, a lot of precious time and effort is spent on these administrative activities," the Outlook team wrote in a blog post introducing the add-on.
The add-on re-configures the inbox to focus on the sales experience — Salesforce's aptly-named Gsell notes that while any user can take advantage of Lightning for Outlook, the new user interface is designed to streamline the sales process. Insights and data about prospective sales and appointments are surfaced as the user scrolls through the inbox. Also, a new search feature makes it easy to access Salesforce records within Outlook.
The Lightning for Outlook add-on consists of two other components, only one of which is available today. That would be New Lightning Sync, which automatically syncs contacts and calendar events across Outlook and Salesforce. This fall Lightning Components in Outlook will be introduced, giving users the ability to snap custom functionality into their Outlook inbox. Salesforce gives the example of sales reps updating a price quote with Salesforce SteelBrick CPQ from within Outlook.
Lightning + Outlook + Voice Calling
That is when non-sales users will get a chance to test drive Lightning from their Outlook inbox too, Gsell says.
For instance, someone could integrate Lightning's new Click-to-Call feature that Salesforce quietly rolled out earlier this month called Lightning Voice in Sales Cloud.
Adam Blitzer, executive vice president and general manager of Sales Cloud, described how it works in this blog post.
Obviously, for starters, users can dial a customer or prospect by directly from Sales Cloud Lightning with a click. But it comes with other nice touches as well. For example, when a lead, contact or account is created in the field, salespeople will get a notification on their desktop with the new account record and number.
Calls can also be answered directly inside Sales Cloud with a click. And when a prospect calls, reps can view data about the prospect such as their sales history and company news. Outbound and inbound calls are automatically logged to the appropriate lead or contact. Also, users can take notes in Sales Cloud Lightning and log them against the call record. "Contextual account activities such as call notes and call history are not only available to the sales team, but to anyone engaging with that record across sales, service and marketing — enabling companies to deliver the best possible customer experience," Blitzer concluded.
And come fall, users will be able to install Lightning Voice in Sales Cloud in their Outlook inboxes as well. Indeed click-to-call functionality will probably be the least of the new features made available post Dreamforce.
See, that cooperative revolution Microsoft and Salesforce launched two years ago didn't end their competition. In other words, Microsoft isn't the only vendor in this partnership that has been updating its product line.