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Top Alternatives to Email When Working with External Stakeholders

January 25, 2024

The success of your business depends on how well you collaborate with your clients, partners, vendors, and other critical external stakeholders. Largely because of its ubiquity, email is the most widely used communication tool in business. But email has limitations when it comes to collaborating with external stakeholders on business-critical documents. Choosing to work in alternative tools that better support your work with external stakeholders can help you engage more confidently, maintain integrity and transparency, keep organized, and know the state of your collaborative work at all times. Use the “Jobs to be Done” framework to help assess tools that best support the work you most frequently do with external stakeholders.

What is the “Jobs to be Done” framework?

The "Jobs to be Done" framework was originally developed by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen who came up with the idea in his 1997 book "The Innovator's Dilemma." He delved deeper into it in "The Innovator's Solution," a book he co-authored with Michael E. Raynor in 2003.  The model has been expanded by Tony Ulwick with his Outcome-Driven Innovation process ("What Customers Want,” 2005), and Bob Moesta who has been particularly effective in applying the "Jobs to be Done" framework in the real world, especially in shaping products to fit customer needs.

The essence of this theory is that people don’t just buy products or services; they "hire" them to accomplish something. There’s a purpose to their purchase. It's a shift from focusing on the product's bells and whistles–aka “features”--to really getting into the heads of customers. The product management team should understand what customers need and why.

We can use this approach to unpack the jobs to be done when collaborating with external parties.   And then use those “jobs” to think about alternatives to email. 

What are the “Jobs to be Done” When Working with External Stakeholders?

Below are some of the most common “Jobs to be Done” when working with external stakeholders:

  • Communicate (synchronously and asynchronously): With teams and stakeholders spread across different locations and time zones, synchronous communication allows for real-time interactions, while asynchronous communication enables collaboration without the constraint of simultaneous participation.
  • Share Files: File sharing technologies allow businesses to share files with external stakeholders securely, enabling organizations to monitor and control access to shared files.
  • Collect/Request Documents3: Request fulfillment tracking is crucial for ensuring that requests between parties are handled efficiently, transparently, and in a well-organized manner.
  • Collaborate on Documents: Versioning ensures that everyone is working on the most up-to-date version of any given document or file and that the integrity of documents is maintained, allowing stakeholders to track changes and revert to previous versions if needed.
  • Maintain security: High security standards protect data, build trust, comply with regulations, and manage risks. The tool you use to collaborate with external stakeholders must meet your security standards and your stakeholders, and comply with the regulatory requirements of your industry. 
  • Allow parties to use the tools of their choice: Your organization's preferred internal tools likely differ from those of your external stakeholders; the collaboration solution you choose should allow both parties to use the internal tools of their choice.

What jobs is email good at? 

Email lacks several key capabilities that are required for working with external stakeholders. And, many of the functions email does support are performed better with other tools. 

  • Communicate (synchronously and asynchronously): Email excels at asynchronous messaging but does not support real time communication. 
  • Share Files: Email allows for file sharing via attachments but restricts file size and lacks security and other important features. 
  • Collect/Request Documents: It is possible to make collection requests via email, but the lack of structure and tracking makes it challenging to keep a large volume of documents organized, or manage documents collected over multiple messages or long periods of time.
  • Collaborate on Documents: There is no version control, and no ability to manage contributors.
  • Maintain security: Security in email is notoriously poor. Added security measures are vulnerable to user error. 

Allow parties to use the tools of their choice: Email has limited interoperability with specialized tools.

Best Alternatives to Email for Working With External Stakeholders

If email is a poor tool for most jobs that are essential for collaborative work with external stakeholders, what should you use instead? Consider the jobs you most frequently need to accomplish with your external stakeholders and choose the most supportive solution. 

Pure-play External Collaboration Tools (TakeTurns)

Overall Assessment:

Strong in most collaboration aspects, though may need supplementary tools for certain tasks.

Jobs to be Done Analysis:

  • Communicate (synchronously and asynchronously): Good (Efficient in both real-time and asynchronous communication, though may require additional tools for optimal synchronous communication)
  • Share Files: Good (Robust and secure file sharing capabilities)
  • Collect/Request Documents: Good (Structured approach ensures efficient and transparent request fulfillment)
  • Collaborate on Documents: Good (Effective version control, maintaining document integrity and facilitating collaboration)
  • Maintain Security: Good (High emphasis on security, meeting industry standards and regulatory requirements)
  • Allow parties to use the tools of their choice: Good ( integrates well with a variety of enterprise applications)
TakeTurns is one of the best alternatives to email when working with external stakeholders.

Messaging/Chat Software (Slack, Microsoft Teams)

Overall Assessment:

Highly effective for real-time communication, but less so for structured document management and versioning.

Jobs to be Done Analysis:

  • Communicate (synchronously and asynchronously): Good (Strong real-time communication capabilities, less effective for asynchronous)
  • Share Files: Limited (Supports file sharing but with size and format limitations)
  • Collect/Request Documents: Limited (Can handle basic requests but lacks structured management features)
  • Collaborate on Documents: Limited (Allows for basic document sharing but lacks comprehensive versioning and collaboration features)
  • Maintain Security: Good (Generally robust security, dependent on user settings and usage)
  • Allow parties to use the tools of their choice: Good (Often integrates well with a variety of tools, enhancing collaborative workflows)

Project Management Tools (ClickUp, Trello)

Overall Assessment:

Exceptional for task management but not primarily designed for direct communication or document collaboration.

Jobs to be Done Analysis:

  • Communicate (synchronously and asynchronously): Limited (Not designed for extensive communication, often requiring integration with communication tools)
  • Share Files: Limited (Basic file sharing capabilities, not a central feature)
  • Collect/Request Documents: Limited (Can adapt for this purpose but lacks specialized features)
  • Collaborate on Documents: Poor (More focused on task tracking than direct document collaboration)
  • Maintain Security: Limited (While generally secure, security is not the primary focus)
  • Allow parties to use the tools of their choice: Good (Designed to integrate with a range of business tools, supporting varied workflows)

File Sharing Platforms (Dropbox, Google Drive)

Overall Assessment:

Strong in file sharing and security, weaker in communication and collaboration tracking.

Jobs to be Done Analysis:

  • Communicate (synchronously and asynchronously): Poor (Not designed for communication, focusing on storage and sharing)
  • Share Files: Good (Core functionality is robust file sharing with various access controls)
  • Collect/Request Documents: Limited (Can be used for collection but lack structured request systems)
  • Collaborate on Documents: Limited (Some platforms offer basic collaboration features but are not comprehensive)
  • Maintain Security: Good (Strong focus on security, especially for sensitive documents)
  • Allow parties to use the tools of their choice: Limited (Generally compatible with other tools but may not fully integrate)

Document Collection Tools (DocCollect)

Overall Assessment:

Optimized for document collection and security, but limited in communication, collaboration, and interoperability.

Jobs to be Done Analysis:

  • Communicate (synchronously and asynchronously): Poor (Not designed for communication, focuses on document management)
  • Share Files: Limited (Primarily focused on structured document collection rather than general file sharing)
  • Collect/Request Documents: Good (Specializes in organizing and facilitating document collection efficiently)
  • Collaborate on Documents: Poor (Lacks capabilities for collaborative document editing or version control)
  • Maintain Security: Good (Typically strong in security measures for handling sensitive documents)
  • Allow parties to use the tools of their choice: Poor (May not integrate easily with a wide range of other business tools)

Document Collaboration Tools (Google Docs, Microsoft Office 365)

Overall Assessment:

Excellent for collaborative document editing but less adept in other areas such as document collection and broader project tracking.

Jobs to be Done Analysis:

  • Communicate (synchronously and asynchronously): Limited (Supports some communication within the document, but not a primary feature)
  • Share Files: Limited (Focused on document sharing with some limitations in broader file sharing)
  • Collect/Request Documents: Poor (Not designed for structured document collection or requests)
  • Collaborate on Documents: Good (Excel in allowing multiple users to collaboratively edit documents)
  • Maintain Security: Good (Often robust, especially in enterprise versions)
  • Allow parties to use the tools of their choice: Limited (Integrate well within their ecosystems but may have limitations with external tools)

Video Conferencing Software (Zoom, Google Meet)

Overall Assessment:

Strong in real-time communication but lacks comprehensive features in other collaboration areas.

Jobs to be Done Analysis:

  • Communicate (synchronously and asynchronously): Good (Excellent for real-time discussions, but lack asynchronous communication features)
  • Share Files: Poor (Not designed for file sharing, with minimal or no support for this function)
  • Collect/Request Documents: Poor (Lacks features for organized document collection or request handling)
  • Collaborate on Documents: Poor (Do not provide functionalities for document collaboration or version control)
  • Maintain Security: Good (Security varies by platform, often focused on meeting encryption)
  • Allow parties to use the tools of their choice: Limited (Generally used as standalone tools with limited integration capabilities)

This comprehensive analysis should provide a clear view of how each tool category measures up against the specific "Jobs to be Done" in external collaboration.


Effective collaboration with external stakeholders is vital for the success of any business. While email is the most widely used tool for external collaboration, it has significant limitations when it comes to working on business-critical documents with external parties. To address this, organizations should consider alternative tools that better support the jobs they most regularly need to accomplish with external stakeholders. When selecting a tool, it is essential to consider the most common "Jobs to be Done," such as communication, file sharing, document collection/requests, document collaboration/versioning, security, and interoperability. By understanding these key requirements, organizations can make informed decisions about the tools they use to collaborate with external parties, ensuring that they are equipped to engage confidently, maintain integrity and transparency, and remain organized at all times.


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