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Oracle spruces up its sales software

The updates released today include a commission calculator, a console for improved partner visibility and tools to better align sales and marketing.

Some sales reps are about to better understand how giving out customer discounts will affect their own paychecks.

Today, Oracle Corp. is rolling out new enhancements to the latest version of its sales-side customer relationship management (CRM) applications. Among the new features in the 11i10 release is an Incentive Compensation tool, which allows sales reps to more accurately estimate their commission for a particular sale.

The tool will calculate how much commission the sales rep will net, taking into consideration any discounts the rep offers the customer.

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The challenge for Oracle -- and most CRM vendors, for that matter -- has been to develop software that sales reps find valuable and easy to use.

"If the software takes too much time to use and doesn't speed up their processes, then we've found that they'll drop it immediately," said John Wookey, senior vice president of application development at Oracle. "Once we lose them on a particular technology, it's very difficult to get them back."

In addition to the Incentive Compensation tool, Oracle is offering a new Audience Workbench console, which will help bridge the gap between sales and marketing departments, Wookey said.

Audience Workbench allows sales managers to tap into existing customer information and identify the best up-sell targets based on company goals. The component also provides tools to create marketing campaigns and sales kits.

Harrisonburg, Va.-based Fairfield Language Technologies, a publisher of online language learning tools, replaced 30 legacy systems with the Oracle E-Business Suite in May. The company is four weeks away from going live with the Oracle Marketing and Oracle Sales components of Oracle CRM, said Robert W. Bland, the company's vice president of operations, finance and IT.

"We're replacing a smorgasbord of third-party tools," Bland said. "We choose Oracle CRM components because they could easily integrate with our supply chain and financials applications."

Bland said he expects the 11i10 software will help improve sales and call center operations and efficiency.

In 2002 Oracle combined its CRM offerings with its E-Business Suite, embedding components and delivering features to every customer, regardless of industry, said Sheryl Kingstone, CRM program manager with Boston-based Yankee Group. The features can be turned on or off by individual companies based on their needs.

CRM vendors like market leader Siebel Systems Inc., PeopleSoft Inc. and SAP AG have vertical-specific flavors of their software bundled separately.

"Oracle has built out a lot of sales functionality," Kingstone said. "They're emerging to take a firm hold on second place in the market behind Siebel, but they don't have a lot of customers right now."

Kingstone said Oracle's lack of customers has a lot more to do with the state of the CRM market then with the functionality of its CRM software.

"Companies today are still in IT consolidation mode, but I think companies will see Oracle as a great value add-on because it affords easier integration with both the front- and financial back-end where Oracle has a strong customer base," she said.

In the 11i10 release, Oracle is adding several other sales components that it rolled out to existing customers over the last year, Wookey said.

Oracle Territory Manager enables sales managers to plan territory alignment for both direct and indirect sales forces and analyze the effectiveness against corporate goals. Oracle Sales Coach outlines corporate methodology for winning deals. The component automatically captures information about each step of a sales cycle for easy analysis and reporting at the close of a deal. In short, it aims to make it simpler for salespeople to follow an individual company's guidelines for landing deals.

Oracle Proposals gives sales reps a central repository of proposal information. Oracle Quoting arms reps with a library of contract templates that can be filled out based on current quote, order and negotiation information.

Also included is a Channel Manager Dashboard that gives users insight into partner activity. A console breaks down information for each partner, such as total year-to-date sales, opportunity close rates, available and committed funds and open claims.

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