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A New Approach to Customers

Relationships, solutions, and service at the core of Oracle's sales strategy

by Carol Hildebrand, May 2008
Keith Block, executive vice president of Oracle's North America sales and consulting organizations, credits a six-year effort to transform Oracle's sale force strategy for happier customers and healthy growth for Oracle. Instead of having a pure transaction selling focus, the company now specializes and focuses on solutions and long-term relationships.

 

According to Block, Oracle salespeople used to sell features and functions of the software and focused on the transaction as an isolated event. However, such a strategy missed huge opportunities to build relationships with customers and help them focus their long-term IT strategies.

Instead of just selling the technology itself, now salespeople take the time to understand a customer's industry and business problems and show them how to apply technology to solve specific problems. The emphasis is on customer problems around availability, security, business intelligence, and integration. The same is true for applications customers, where Oracle sales personnel take a true industry perspective.

Learn how Oracle has created service organizations and programs to support the relationships, solutions, and strategy directive. One of the most successful programs is Oracle Insight, which was launched five years ago in North America and has expanded globally. Oracle has also had great success with its Oracle Application Integration Architecture initiative to help customers simplify integration.

Books and movies are filled with images of hard-bitten salesmen whose sole aim is to get the commission and beat feet out the client's door—think Ricky Roma in Glengarry Glen Ross. But according to Keith Block, executive vice president of Oracle's North America sales and consulting organizations, fielding that sort of sales force not only hurts the customer, it also does long-term damage to any company that does it.

That's the thinking behind Block's six-year effort to transform Oracle's sales force strategy from a pure transaction selling focus to one that emphasizes relationships, solutions, and service.

"Historically, Oracle had been a bit rough on customers," says Block. "We needed to repair those relationships—if we didn't specialize and focus on long-term relationships, we would be in a lot of trouble." The result has been not only happier customers but also very healthy growth for Oracle. "If you look at our growth, it's been in double digits every quarter—not just merger-and-acquisition growth but organic growth as well," says Block. "Every line of business is doing exceptionally well."

 

In the Beginning

When Block took over in 2002, he found a sales force that focused on software features, speeds, and feeds. "They were selling features and functions of the software and focusing on the transaction as an isolated event," he says. But such a strategy missed huge opportunities to build relationships with customers and help them focus their long-term IT strategy. "We realized that we had to transform from transaction selling to solution selling—we weren't in the game of just selling software; we're in the value game of selling solutions."

 

What's the difference? Instead of selling the technology itself, Oracle salespeople take the time to understand a customer's industry and business problems and show them how to apply technology to solve specific problems. "Instead of selling the world's fastest database, we focus on customer problems around availability, security, business intelligence, and integration. The same is true for our applications customers, where we take a true industry perspective," says Block.

Like any major organizational shift, the change was not simple or quick. "Cultural change is always the hardest," says Block. He started with the management team. "We looked for people within the organization who understood the new model and had the potential to focus long-term on the customer, and put them in positions of leadership," he says.

He then retrained the sales team with a methodology that stressed the importance of value selling. "The organization responded incredibly well," he says. "I can't say enough about the management and sales teams' ability to adapt to this model. Those who didn't adapt aren't here."

 

Product and Industry Specialists

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison had long talked about the importance of deep product knowledge in sales, especially in light of his vision for expanding the breadth and depth of Oracle's portfolio, says Block. To this end, Block segmented the sales force from generalists with a thin but broad knowledgebase to specialists who can drill into the details of a specific technology or industry.

 

In the previous model, salespeople would have to talk to a customer about enterprise software one day, and then sell database technology the next. Being generalists put them at a disadvantage next to competitors who sold only one kind of software. "Our person was asked to do everything, but you can't do that and be effective. We were spread too thin," emphasizes Block.

With the new model, the sales force was segmented into specialty areas. Now solely focused on applications or technology, as well as industry verticals such as financial services and retail, the Oracle salesperson brings more product expertise and industry knowledge to the customer. "Even at the division level, we have folks who are focused on just one industry," says Block. "Many people came from that industry and have that background. Good sales reps will do their homework, pick up the trends, and understand the business issues in that industry. Specialization brings more value to the customer. Period."

Oracle has also created service organizations and programs to support the relationships, solutions, and strategy directive. One of the most successful programs is Oracle Insight, which was launched five years ago in North America and has since expanded globally. The Oracle Insight team will come to a customer's site, determine what capabilities the customer needs to realize its goals, analyze the solutions it has in place, and recommend methods to help the customer get the most value from its software. "They might find more-efficient ways to deploy, or find ways to use features better," says Block. "When you show a customer how to get from A to B and derive more value, you've got a relationship that will last a lifetime."

 

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