Last week, Microsoft stunned the tech world with the largest ever software acquisition – the purchase of LinkedIn for $26.2 billion. While early news coverage has addressed plans to keep LinkedIn independent, there’s been little discussion about what exactly the two companies will do together. As someone who’s entrenched in the LinkedIn and Microsoft ecosystems, I thought I’d share four exciting products this acquisition makes possible:
1. Redefined business email
The quickest and broadest impact Microsoft can make with LinkedIn is to redesign its Outlook interface. The companies could easily bring LinkedIn insights, profile photos, etc. into the email experience (similar to what Rapportive offers today but with a seamless, actionable approach). Outlook could even show recent updates and thought leadership pieces from a particular profile as talking point suggestions to automatically populate in an email when selected.
Microsoft could also add automated email filtering and prioritization features with folder recommendations that improve email productivity. Imagine if you could get emails that meet certain criteria — say they come from a particular job title and are second-degree connections with at least 500 connections themselves — to stick in the top of your inbox until they receive your attention.
2. Universal identity
There’s no doubt that LinkedIn’s biggest asset is its social graph with data about virtually everyone in the business-to-business (B2B) world. Ask any salesperson — it’s the business data they trust the most. Social proofing goes a long way. More importantly, when someone moves from one company to another, their LinkedIn identity remains intact. By rethinking the sense of a “user” in the Microsoft Graph (a focus at the company’s Build 2016 developer conference a few months ago) around their LinkedIn profile, Microsoft could capture more activities about that individual from before and after they joined their current company.
As a result, the Microsoft Graph would become richer, blending LinkedIn information and updates with corporate activities like emails, calendar events, etc. Companies could also leverage LinkedIn credentials for single sign on (albeit there are enterprise security challenges here). This would ultimately be a better experience, because rather than needing new credentials every time you start a new job, you could use the login you already remember (and won’t forget, as LinkedIn will always be a key part of your career). We might even see an evolution in messaging, and the approach of sending emails to corporate addresses that may no longer be valid will become old school. Instead, Outlook integration could make sending messages to each other’s LinkedIn accounts feel seamless.
LinkedIn’s social graph could also spruce up Microsoft’s bot framework, which got a lot of attention at the Build conference as well. More apps that enable personalized, compelling conversations on top of Microsoft platforms would help accelerate the company’s “conversation-as-a-platform” strategy and boost adoption and lock-in for Microsoft’s cloud platform. If the social graph was hosted in the Azure Marketplace and offered convenient API hooks that played nicer with Microsoft’s platforms, developers would want to host their apps on Azure.
For example, a developer could build a bot that analyzes email activity (via the Microsoft Graph), as well as which employees in the company are updating their LinkedIn profiles, and then models that data with Azure Machine Learning to notify managers which of their employees are likely to churn. Of course, this raises major privacy issues that Microsoft and LinkedIn would need to address. Protecting users’ privacy is paramount for a consumer service like LinkedIn that touts “members first,” and this will get more challenging as it moves into the enterprise space.
3. CRM 2.0
The third product category is the one that I think presents the most compelling opportunity – customer relationship management (CRM). Microsoft has clearly been looking to grow its presence in this space, and tried to acquire Salesforce for a cool $55 billion last year. LinkedIn has also run a course bringing it closer and closer to Salesforce’s bread-and-butter. By joining forces and tightly integrating Microsoft Dynamics with LinkedIn, the two companies could finally pose a real threat to the CRM front-runner.
No other vendor has access to such high quality B2B data, and now Microsoft can potentially append every record in a company’s CRM system with valuable, current LinkedIn insights. This has two major impacts. First, it means that when you buy a Microsoft Dynamics CRM database, it would start full out of the gate, and there’d be no need to push a bunch of contacts in. You could immediately start to filter over the set of leads you want to go after. Secondly, by actually appending the data vs. just making it visible using a view-only iframe, Microsoft can bring each key signal into its own native field in the CRM system, which enables users to build actionable workflows and reports off of LinkedIn information.
This could take Dynamics (and CRM in general) beyond being basically a data entry system and make it exponentially more actionable. For example, you could build a workflow that sends the sales rep owner an alert every time one of his or her assigned contacts changed their job title, or posted a relevant job listing, thought leadership article, or news item. Microsoft Dynamics could even weave LinkedIn Sales Navigator shortcuts as links with iframe previews into each record, so that users can move between the CRM interface and custom Sales Navigator screens to seamlessly complete tasks like sending InMails or searching for similar contacts.
In addition, the combined company can now build on its already solid data science DNA (a la Bing) to bring very powerful predictive capabilities into Microsoft and LinkedIn products. Predictions like telling you who your next best customer is can result in huge rewards – speeding sales cycles, boosting average deal sizes, and increasing overall revenues. This is especially true when you use external data about your prospects and customers, and Microsoft can potentially build a walled garden around LinkedIn’s data to deliver the best predictions. Pushing the predictive envelope could become a major differentiator for Dynamics against Salesforce, which lags in this area.
4. Bundling to increase sales wallet share
Companies like mine are paying around $200-225 per month to support each sales rep with the primary business applications they need to be productive at their jobs. That includes a seat into Salesforce for around $115/mo, a premium LinkedIn account for $95/mo, and a Microsoft Office install for $5/mo (assuming a two-year period). What this means is that Microsoft immediately attains almost 50% wallet share by owning LinkedIn and Office and could start chipping away at Salesforce dollars if it bundles and discounts Dynamics. For many Salesforce customers, a competitively priced offer for Dynamics with LinkedIn and Office – along with the product innovations I described above – would be a great reason to negotiate for lower renewal pricing or switch CRM systems completely.
Microsoft bought LinkedIn for less than half of what it proposed for Salesforce. Now it has control over the best B2B data and can revolutionize Outlook, identity across companies, and CRM. This is the ultimate trump card for Satya Nadella and Microsoft, giving them much more to work with in order to drive a big vision and bold product endeavors, which is huge for retention, maneuverability, and flexibility.
LinkedIn and Microsoft are very different companies, so how they combine forces while maintaining a “members first” strategy with privacy and trust will be interesting to watch. However, there’s no denying that the upside potential is significant for both Microsoft and the industry at large.
Vik Singh is CEO and cofounder of Infer. He was previously Entrepreneur in Residence at Sutter Hill Ventures (SHV), where he helped the firm identify new ideas as well as evaluate early stage investments. Before SHV, he helped create and architect Yahoo BOSS, an open search platform that runs over 1 billion queries a month. In 2009, MIT’s Technology Review listed him as one of the Top 35 under 35 Innovators for his contributions to search. He has filed 13 patents in the areas of search, social networking, systems infrastructure, and content optimization