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Oracle draws CRM product road map

Oracle is putting the finishing touches on new marketing analytics, service and sales technology. Here's a sneak peek.

REDWOOD SHORES, Calif. -- Developers at Oracle Corp. will play up some of the themes delivered in earlier product releases, such as appealing more to individual salespeople and less to sales managers, and apply them to the new CRM apps it plans on making available in roughly six months. got a strategy overview of Oracle's next round of software during a recent visit to the company's headquarters.

On the marketing front, Oracle is planning two new modules designed to help business-to-business firms better tap their installed bases, particularly during tough economic times, when it's difficult to drum up new business.

Audience Workbench will enable marketing executives to identify products that current customers have already bought and, with a simple user interface, determine cross- and up-sell opportunities. Its counterpart, Campaign Workbench, will let managers quickly develop campaigns to pitch those products.

The two Workbench modules will be integrated with Oracle Sales to give field sales reps insight into the newly identified leads, Oracle executives said.

"Everybody is trying to maximize their current resources, including their customer base," said Lawrence Lindsey, senior director of marketing and partnering products.

Oracle is also working on delivering cost revenue-based analytics to determine ROI for potential marketing initiatives so, according to Lindsey, "you only execute the most profitable campaigns."

The products will build on the "analytics you can use" mantra that the company touted in its Oracle 11.5.9 release in June. That's when Oracle issued analytics capabilities for non-statisticians and delivered them in an easy-to-use HTML interface. Its focus then was on analyzing past campaigns to identify potential future prospects.

On the service side, look for improved integration across Oracle's self-service portfolio, including closer ties between iStore and iSupport. Oracle is aiming to let companies deliver to their customers a complete view of their business through a single Web site. Upshot: Customers will be able to visit the same site to resolve service, support and billing matters.

Oracle will deliver greater configurability, allowing firms to have one support site with a look and feel that varies depending on the user. For instance, partner sites could look different than those for end users, and outsourced support vendors could run individual sites that reflect their customers' unique branding.

Other planned developments include template-driven question-and-answer logs to solve support questions. Also on tap are new personal productivity metrics delivered to service personnel, such as contact center or field service agents, to give them an idea of how they're measuring up -- before it's too late.

"The poor guys who are doing the work have no idea how well they're doing their jobs," said Andrew Kass, vice president of CRM development. "Wouldn't you want to know two months before getting fired if your re-open rates, say, are higher than average?"

Also look for enhancements in quoting and pricing in forthcoming Oracle sales releases. Srinivas Tallapragada, senior director of software development, said special attention will be paid to the lead-to-conversion process. Specifically, salespeople will gain the ability to see the effect discounting would have on their own compensation. That visibility would encourage them to determine when competitive pricing is a viable option.

Those changes further Oracle's position that effective CRM needs to appeal more to individual salespeople and less to sales managers.

Sheryl Kingstone, CRM program manager at Boston-based Yankee Group, said Oracle's functionality is on track, but the way in which it markets its CRM products still falls short.

"[Oracle] still doesn't have the visibility that Siebel has, because it's known as a database company and not known for selling applications," she said. "It needs to highlight customer successes."

Kingstone said that, if Oracle is successful in its takeover attempt of rival PeopleSoft Inc., it will benefit from more than merely a new set of business applications customers. She said Oracle would also gain "sales reps who understand how to sell applications."


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