close up shot of Salesforce Tower in San Francisco
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Salesforce recently announced the availability of Quip for Salesforce as part of its Spring '19 release, in a move which finally brings some clarity to the company's acquisition of Quip almost three years ago.

The announcement means the Quip business productivity platform, which combines documents, spreadsheets, chat and presentations, will be embedded in Salesforce business applications, starting with Sales Cloud (Quip for Sales) and Service Cloud (Quip for Service). Quip is now positioned as the strategic productivity layer for all of Salesforce's applications.

Quip: Home of Living Documents

This is the most important announcement for Quip since Salesforce acquired it in August 2016 for $750 million in cash and shares. Quip entered the market in July 2013, sweeping aside many of the preconceptions about how office productivity applications should work, and embracing a mobile-first, cloud-based and highly collaborative approach to creating documents. Spreadsheets were added in October 2014, with the Slides presentations component added in September 2018.

At the core of Quip's positioning and market differentiation is its concept of "living documents," which are created collaboratively by a team and brought to life through the conversation and activity that takes place in and around the document.

All changes, comments, actions and requests related to the document are viewable within a single document thread, overcoming the problem of version control that besets traditional productivity tools. Real-time co-editing, offline support and an experience that makes mobile devices first-class citizens all help to challenge established assumptions about document creation. Quip's approach to spreadsheets is also very different, allowing the sheet to be an extension of a text-based document, rather than a separate file type created in a separate application.

Related Article: Salesforce Buys Quip for $582M and 'Additional Consideration' 

Embedding Quip in Salesforce Applications

With the announcement of Quip for Salesforce, customers will be able to take advantage of Quip functionality natively within their Salesforce applications, including the ability to create, view and edit documents, spreadsheets and presentations, as well as create chat rooms within the context of a particular Salesforce record.

Administrators can also specify types of documents or templates that are associated with each record, applying rules based on the record's attributes if required (for example, based on the value of an opportunity or client). As in standalone Quip, documents can incorporate live business data, with document fields pre-filled with a record's properties.

Quip documents are fully searchable within Salesforce, with integration with the Salesforce Files API to allow Quip documents to be posted on Chatter, Salesforce's embedded enterprise social network.

To use Quip for Salesforce, customers must be using the Salesforce Lightning Experience, and must also have a Quip Enterprise license.

It's important to note that while Quip is being embedded in the Salesforce applications, this isn't a separate application from the standalone Quip service; it's purely a deeper integration that takes advantage of Quip features natively within Salesforce. This means that Quip for Salesforce users can still collaborate on documents with people who don't use Salesforce, provided the latter use the standalone application.

Related Article: Salesforce's Quip Acquires Unity&Variety, Reuniting Facebook Designers

Quip for Salesforce: A Sign of Things to Come

While having a team productivity application in its portfolio provided some interesting breadth for the company, keeping it as a standalone service that integrated with Salesforce only as much as third-party products raised the question of why Salesforce needed to own Quip.

With this announcement, we're now starting to see the potential of this acquisition: enriching the Salesforce business apps portfolio by enabling co-workers to create and manage the documents that relate to a particular customer, case or other record without leaving the Salesforce application.

This has several benefits for Salesforce Sales Cloud and Service Cloud customers: it reduces the number of applications that an individual has to switch between to get work done; it keeps all the unstructured content, conversations and actions that relate to a particular record in one place, alongside the transactional data; and it provides a much richer, collaborative environment for authoring documents that is always in context.

For Salesforce, the benefits are twofold: the move helps to increase the "stickiness" of the Salesforce business applications, because users don't need to leave the application as frequently, and it helps to increase the stickiness and overall adoption of Quip, as Salesforce users become increasingly familiar with it as their default productivity tool within the applications.

Integration also helps to broaden and strengthen the Salesforce brand, showcasing the company's capabilities and portfolio beyond the customer relationship management (CRM) space for which it is best-known. With Microsoft increasing its investment in the business applications space, as seen in the flurry of updates and announcements around Dynamics 365 in February, it's important for Salesforce to reinforce the breadth and depth of its offerings, and demonstrate its differentiation more clearly.

Related Article: Microsoft Takes a Swipe at Salesforce With Dynamics 365 Release

A Promising Start, But More to Prove

While this will undoubtedly help the take-up of Quip, questions remain about whether Salesforce can translate this into greater usage of Quip across the whole enterprise, and into opportunities beyond its CRM heartland. Both Salesforce Chatter, its enterprise social networking platform, and Salesforce Community Cloud, its online community product which embeds Chatter functionality, have tried and largely failed to extend Salesforce's reach.

Although it is being embedded in Salesforce applications, Quip remains a standalone product and can therefore continue to forge its own path in organizational productivity and collaboration. It's unclear how much Quip's customer numbers have grown since its acquisition, despite the strength of Salesforce's sales teams. The company has not shared customer numbers for Quip since before the acquisition, when co-founder Bret Taylor said it had 30,000 business customers and "millions" of users.

Salesforce is clearly ramping up its investment in Quip, but the online productivity space remains as challenging as ever, with Microsoft Office 365 remaining the dominant player and Google's G Suite the most well-known alternative. Quip's got a lot of catching up to do, and still struggles to differentiate itself against Microsoft and Google in a way that's easily understood by business users and decision-makers.

Quip for Salesforce will help to raise its profile, but it also risks tying the Quip brand too closely to CRM, and thus masking its capabilities as a cross-organizational productivity solution. For this, we believe Quip needs to maintain and build a viral adoption path, capitalizing on its team collaboration capabilities and strong user experience.

As organizations embrace new ways of working and more cloud-based solutions, there's an opportunity for a slick, collaborative productivity tool to shake up the status quo. Combining productivity and document creation with Salesforce's business applications breathes much-needed new life into Quip, but if Salesforce wants to become a leader in this area, it still has work to do.