The Rise of Microsoft Teams

The Rise of Microsoft Teams

During the pandemic, Microsoft's communication app evolved from a widely loathed niche to become a corporate standard alongside Zoom. Why?

There have been drastic changes to the marketplace for video conferencing in the past few years. Microsoft Teams, Google Meet and Zoom are now ubiquitous across businesses of all sizes. These weren't the dominant platforms for online meetings before the pandemic. WebEx and GoToMeeting have been relegated to niche concerns after losing mind share and market share to newer players.

It's remarkable to think that Microsoft Teams launched less than five years ago. Teams has evolved rapidly since launch, changing from a poor Slack clone into the gold standard for online meetings. The app has its flaws, particularly when it comes to instant messaging. However, it is genuinely popular, unlike its widely loathed predecessors.

It's taken Microsoft a long time to get web conferencing right. Their first foray into this space was Office Communicator in 2007. Successive rebrands into Lync and then Skype failed to hide the fundamental flaws in the product. Neither Lync nor Skype for Business actually worked reliably.

The only organisations that had any real success with Lync were those who used it as a phone system. It required close management by dedicated network admins with experience in enterprise telephony. Phone systems have very different network requirements to computers, which hampered the usability of Lync across its various incarnations.

For IT departments, it was good enough to do the job despite the criticism from those forced to use it. Lync and Skype for Business were never the market leaders for either enterprise telephony or web conferencing, but they were successful enough to gain substantial market share among Microsoft shops.

Teams was launched as a brand new app in mid 2017, based on technology used in the Skype consumer network. Initially, it was pitched as an instant messaging service to compete with Slack. Over time, it became clear that Microsoft intended Teams to replace the telephony and video conferencing features of their previous applications. That wasn't popular among IT departments at the time, who resisted the transition for several years. In the end, they weren't given any choice. Skype for Business Online was retired in July 2021.

The success of Teams is down to multiple factors. Firstly, many companies use it as a one stop shop. It is a front end to the full array of Office 365 services. Teams channels are about more than just chat. They can be used to store files on SharePoint, assign tasks using To Do or take notes on OneNote. That has its downsides, but it leads to a centralisation of knowledge that is popular among many categories of workers.

As a video conferencing solution, it just works. Unlike its legacy competitors, the platform was able to accommodate the pandemic induced increase in usage. Only Zoom and Google Meet have been able to keep pace. Microsoft shops have switched to it throughout the pandemic due to better reliability and the fact it comes for free as part of Office 365. Google shops have done similarly with Google Meet, which replaced Google Hangouts around the same time as Teams.

The available usage numbers illustrate the growth of the Teams platform. Before the pandemic, Microsoft claimed that Teams had 32 million users. That jumped to 145 million users in the space of 13 months due to the explosion in video conferencing and remote working. Google Meet and Zoom have seen even bigger increases in usage due to widespread adoption among both consumers and businesses.

Now Microsoft have broader ambitions. In the spring, they added webinar capabilities to Teams. Once again, this is not a new area of business for Microsoft. Skype for Business had live events capabilities too. The better presenter experience means that Teams is a viable platform for hosting basic virtual events. There are even apps that allow for in-session polls and surveys.

The only thing lacking is the marketing features. Teams has the capability to create registration forms and manage attendance. It just doesn't integrate with anything. Enterprise-grade webinar platforms such as ON24 and BrightTalk achieved their market position by being easy for the marketer as well as the presenter.

The established webinar platforms reached their position by integrating with the Martech stack to drive registration and automate attendee follow up. Even Zoom does this, although it lacks the library management features of its competitors. Teams doesn't even integrate with marketing automation unless you're one of the few companies using Dynamics 365 Marketing.

There is plenty of time for this situation to change, but it requires a firm commitment from Microsoft to improve its offerings for marketers. Such an effort would go against history and would probably harm their strategic alliance with Adobe. Office 365 is full of "me too" copycat capabilities, which get launched with much fanfare before being left to rot.

The initial launch of Teams was very much the exception. Enterprise communication and web conferencing have been core capabilities within Office 365 since day one. However, the adoption of those features lagged behind the rest of the suite. The arrival of Slack turned this relative weakness into a strategic threat that Microsoft was eventually able to overcome. Virtual events will never be strategic for Microsoft. Don't expect a big push to improve them.

Banner Photo by Headway / Unsplash

Written by
Marketing Operations Consultant and Solutions Architect at CRMT Digital specialising in marketing technology architecture. Advisor on marketing effectiveness and martech optimisation.