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Why are we still using email for collaboration with external parties?

At Every Turn TakeTurns Blog
|  by
Christophe Barriolade
Christophe Barriolade
Co-founder & CEO
TakeTurns vs Email
Why are we still using email for collaboration with external parties?

I’ve worked in the software business for well over 20 years. As the founder and CEO of a successful enterprise software startup, I’ve done all the jobs at one point or another. But this is invariably what happens when you grow from a startup to a global organization.  

Among my many jobs? I worked in sales as our first major account executive and pre-sales resource.  I was our first head of finance, HR, legal, procurement, world-wide marketing—all individual contributor roles I might add. Mickael (TakeTurns co-founder) had similar experiences working as a professional services consultant, customer success engineer, business development lead, software engineer, and product manager. Quite frankly, this was the experience of everyone on Team TakeTurns and many in the startup community. Perhaps it’s something in the nature of startup people that drives us to get our hands dirty.

Some will claim that founders and CEOs should “stay focused!” on the critical areas of their business but it’s far easier said than done. After all, at some point, every area of the business ends up being critical. You often don’t have the luxury of resources when you’re just starting out. You end up focusing on the jobs that need to be done as opposed to your title on your business card.

Doing all these jobs is fun, exhausting, and (perhaps above all) a terrific education. You end up learning about how each of these functions work, how they intersect, and the things they have in common.

So what did we learn?  One of the biggest commonalities that Mickael and I noticed:

Every single role needed to collaborate with external parties on matters that were critical to the success of our business

Some examples of collaborations with external parties included:

  • As a major account executive, I collaborated closely with large enterprise customers from initial contact to close–exchanging MNDAs, RFxs, and Agreements
  • As a pre-sales resource, I frequently worked with customer vendor risk management teams to answer their cybersecurity questionnaires
  • As head of marketing, I coordinated on programs with multiple vendors and agencies
  • As a CFO, I worked with our auditors and accountants on financial statements, and with investors on financing and term sheets
  • As head of HR, I worked with external recruiters on job posting and sent offers to new staff  
  • As a member of professional services and customer success, Mickael iterated with customers on master services agreements, statements of work, deployment health checks, and project plans
  • As a key part of partnering and business development, Mickael exchanged teaming agreements, letters of intent, and partnership documents with services organizations and systems integrators

As the company grew, different teams adopted a range of tools to improve internal productivity and teamwork: messaging (Slack, Microsoft Teams), project management (Jira, Trello), co-authoring documents (Google Workspace / Google Docs, Confluence, Office 365), file sharing (Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, Microsoft OneDrive) …

But when it came to working with external parties all our internal collaboration tools didn’t really help

Why?  We believe there are three things that make collaboration with external parties unique.

Everyone uses different tools to get their job done (and they should!)

When you engage with an external party, there’s a good chance they use different tools. They chose those tools to best support their workflow.  Everyone wants to keep using their favorite tool and keep their current workflow, no one wants to adopt a new tool (or worse, a new workflow) for a “one off” collaboration.  

External collaborations have structure (they’re turn-by-turn)

The second, more profound issue is that collaboration with external parties is structured. This structure is hidden because everyone uses email. In most cases, the parties want to review and edit those important documents turn-by-turn. When one party is working (internally) the other waits for their turn, and so on.   Just look at how lawyers work on contracts, it’s the opposite of real-time collaboration.

Effective external collaborations rely on trust and respect  

Trust and respect is critical for successful collaborations.  Both parties need to work together in a shared space that is, not only, secure and neutral, but also, provides transparency–each party has to understand who did what during the entire collaboration.  Finally there’s a risk of sending a negative message if you force a customer or partner to adopt your internal tools just to do business with you.

Unfortunately, today external collaborations are still done in good old email

If you’re collaborating with one party, email can work. I send you my document by email and when you’re done you send it back to me. However the reality is that email creates a mess of message threads that are very difficult to track.  Where is the last version of the document? What has changed? Whose turn is it?  How do we manage multiple documents?

And then the problem gets much worse if you’re engaged with multiple parties at the same time. This is why some people end up spending more time on organizing their inbox than doing their actual job.

Mickael and I experienced all this during our years at a medium sized organization and then witnessed these challenges at scale when we were acquired by a larger company.  

Even in that more mature organization, with stronger processes and systems, the issue was the same: the lawyers had a great contract lifecycle management platform but keep emailing word agreements to counterparties; sales teams can generate quotes from the CRM but don’t have a formal review system with customers; procurement receives hundreds of vendor RFx responses across all open reqs by email and the list goes on.

Mickael and I asked ourselves: Is there a way to improve collaboration with the outside world? Something without the pain of email. Something that doesn’t force everyone to change their internal tools and workflows. This is how the idea of TakeTurns emerged.

Get started today

TakeTurns brings structure, security, and transparency to your collaborations. With TakeTurns, you and your external parties will know whose turn it is to work, track the full history, and maintain confidentiality. Learn more in our Help Center or follow us on LinkedIn and YouTube. If you're ready to see it in action check out our demo and sign up for free today!

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