This time a little more serious. Ok?
I am a software and CRM guy so that’s the focus of this piece. Much of Oracle Open World (OOW) was table setting. It was all interesting and valuable but it was also a lot of independent data points. There was lots of cool CRM introduced for sure but it all lacked a certain coherence until the Fusion announcements. That’s not a bad thing by the way, just a reflection of the maturity level of so many products. Some interesting stuff:
Support for retailers and anyone who wants to support employees who are directly involved with customers. For example, handheld applications that bring customer information to devices in support of sales clerks. Not just the customer’s size and account numbers but things like intelligent offers and any loyalty points accumulated so that a pricing negotiation can happen on the spot. The same technology supports users on their mobile devices to do things like buy train tickets and other self-service purchases. This was not really new for Oracle but it has been improved and it looks better with each iteration.
I have several problems with the self-service example though. The demo was from the Swedish Rail Service and it showed how customers can buy travel packages and trade in frequency travel points — you get the idea. But there’s no infrastructure for this in the U.S. of A. For this application to work we need a high-speed rail infrastructure and that will take about ten years (LOL). Good thing Oracle is looking at foreign markets.
I attended the afternoon half of a Chief Sales Officer Executive Summit or some such thing on Wednesday afternoon. It was very good. Lots of high-octane sales executives from billion-dollar (or equivalent) companies talking about their success with Oracle-Siebel and Oracle CRM On-Demand and their successes. They had an economist give a quick analysis of the world economy and for a practitioner of the dismal science, he sounded upbeat. I regard this as a contra indicator of something, just not sure what.
No surprises there in the following sense. CRM and SFA are pretty mature, the biggest gains we are likely to see going forward will likely be in more enlightened use of the products by the high-octane talent. I am not optimistic in the short term for the following reasons.
Anthony Lye did a good job presenting the state of the union in SFA mediated selling today. Most people still use spreadsheets to make forecasts — letting error and unpredictability enter every time a sales manager decides to spiff up the data or apply a fudge factor. Lye’s slides showed only a tiny fraction of users had forecasts that were worth anything (i.e. accuracy rating of 90% or better) yet we keep messing with the data.
I have an idea. Rather than futzing with the data in spreadsheets, let the forecasts stand as they are and make accuracy a criterion for sales compensation. Then stand back and watch things improve. Short-term pain for long-term gain.
Ok, Oracle showed plenty of good technology (including Fusion apps as part of some demos) like that described above, for B2C segments and even more for B2B but the thing you come away with is that Oracle is really focused on the enterprise. Oracle has a lot for the mid-market user – it’s more about what you don’t buy in that case – but they really groove on the sophisticated and complex selling that goes on in billion dollar companies. They have apps that solve problems that mid-market companies might not even encounter.
For example, the Oracle deal management application takes a lot of data about what a customer has bought already, their price tolerance, the value of a deal, what other companies might be paying for similar deals and derives a statistically relevant price for the deal. This happens automagically after the sales representative has fed a few data items into the system. Management, meanwhile, had set a few parameters in the system and out pops a price that the boss will, if not love, then certainly tolerate.
Smaller companies don’t do this kind of thing much. They’re focused on closing as much business as they can at the end of the quarter. Too bad, because Lye’s slide deck included one chart that showed the 30% of companies knew they were leaving money on the table – but they were not sure how much they were leaving. Maybe there is broad applicability for deal management. Ya think?
My impression of the related sales applications is that they were best for companies that sell to managed accounts. You know what I mean, two companies have long term relationships and sell parts, components, raw food and the like to a large group of repeat customers. That’s not the only kind of business they do but it’s significant and the Oracle apps work well in that large environment.
Oracle also has some apps that I find more interesting for things like territory planning and while they got some attention in the executive summit I could have used to see more. My favorite is something that helps find the “white space” in a territory. I wasn’t familiar with the term white space until this week but now I can use it almost as much as the Governator says technology.
What white space refers to is the knowledge that a territory acts like a buffer. It can absorb only so much before it gets saturated (think of a kitchen sponge here). Once the buffer is saturated it won’t absorb more so it’s smart to know at the start of a year how full your territory is – especially if you plan to assign quotas that your people have a realistic shot at making. Ok, the white space application helps the manager figure this out by taking account of things like the target density in the territory, what’s already been sold, the average sales cycle, price points and other relevant information. That’s cool and my only critique of this and other cool stuff is that Oracle didn’t show it off enough for my taste.
These are some of the applications that separate Oracle from other SFA vendors and they represent some true differentiation. I hope they do more with these apps.
I was going to write about Fusion now but this post is getting long so the next post will be about Fusion.