Oracle set to ramp up marketing software battle with Salesforce.com

In a webcast, top Oracle executives lay out the company's plan for the marketing software it gained by acquiring Eloqua

Oracle has laid in out in detail how it intends to compete with the likes of Salesforce.com in the highly competitive arena for next-generation marketing software.

The vendor spent $871 million in December to acquire marketing automation vendor Eloqua, and during a webcast event on Thursday, executives described how the software will fit into Oracle's broader portfolio of "customer experience" software.

"Great customer experiences come from the sum of all interactions with a vendor," from the initial research before making a purchase to ongoing customer service well after the sale, Oracle co-president Mark Hurd said during the event. In addition, "customers today "are always connected, always aware and always sharing," Hurd said.

Moreover, customers are better informed, have more control over how they want to interact with sellers, have higher expectations and have more influence, thanks substantially to the rise of social media, according to Oracle's executive vice president of product development, Thomas Kurian.

But Eloqua's software can "create modern marketers," who "know exactly what their customers want," allowing them to deliver a better experience and ultimately, increase sales, Kurian said.

Companies that benefit most from Eloqua's technology are those that sell mostly with a direct sales force, said Eloqua CEO Joe Payne . That's because customers today "don't call salespeople," he said. "We do online research, we download white papers, we go on social media. Buyers are eliminating 50% of vendors without even talking to a salesperson."

Eloqua's technology manages "the up-front part of the process," helping companies "see who wants to buy today and [then] prioritize those folks for your sales organization," Payne said.

In addition, Eloqua has analytic capabilities that measure which marketing campaigns run via it are the most effective, solving a long-standing problem, according to Payne. "The old CEO joke is, 'I waste half my money in marketing, I just don't know what half.'"

Eloqua's other strengths compared to its competition include broad globalization, with the ability to handle complex privacy and security requirements that tend to vary across geographies, Payne said.

Kurian also explained how Eloqua will be integrated with Oracle's related software.

For example, Oracle Social Engagement and Monitoring will classify and aggregate social data and feed it into Eloqua's segmentation model, Kurian added. Sales and marketing teams will be able to collaborate using Oracle Social Network. Finally, Oracle's core CRM (customer relationship management) software will provide lead management, sales automation and contact management as well as feed customer profile data into Eloqua for campaign targeting and other purposes, he said.

Kurian didn't provide estimated dates of availability for the various integrations with Eloqua, or any details about pricing and bundling options that may be in the offing.

He made it clear, however, that although Oracle can sell Eloqua as part of a broader suite, customers will still be able to purchase and use it separately, including with rival CRM systems.

Oracle will continue to support and enhance existing two-way integrations between Eloqua and the likes of Salesforce.com and Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Kurian said. This will be part of an "open integration strategy" that will also give customers the choice of what social collaboration tool they'd like to use in conjunction with Eloqua, such as Salesforce.com's Chatter, he added.

Part of Oracle's rationale here may be to calm any jangly nerves existing Eloqua customers may have, particularly ones that aren't Oracle shops. But another consideration may come down to the fact that many Salesforce.com customers use Eloqua for marketing automation, since Salesforce.com itself doesn't have something comparable, and Oracle is happy to continue receiving their business.

This week, Salesforce.com launched a Twitter-powered marketing platform, which is now in private beta, but it doesn't appear that offering will fill Salesforce.com's functional gaps.

To that end, it has long been speculated that Salesforce.com will acquire a marketing automation vendor rather than continue to rely on partners such as Eloqua and Marketo, but that hasn't happened so far. Salesforce.com also made an investment in Infor, which has a marketing automation product called Epiphany.

"They have too many small investments that create a conflict of interest if they get into marketing," said analyst Ray Wang, CEO of Constellation Research. "So they have to create a place for marketing products to fit in the ecosystem without cannibalizing it. Hence the confusion."

"In Oracle's case, they bought one of the best cloud-based marketing platforms, and they will keep buying their way into innovation in the cloud," Wang added.

There's substance to the broader customer experience strategy like that described by Hurd on the webcast, Wang said.

Core CRM software "has been a failure at most companies," Wang said. "It succeeded at managing sales folks and automation, it barely touched the customer, it sucked at building relationships. The shift away from CRM is about front office and supporting customer experiences. The emphasis is about engagement and building relationships. We're now focusing on the more important aspects at which CRM failed."

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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