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A Meaningful Conversation

Oracle sales and consulting leader Keith Block focuses on customers to help them survive the present without sacrificing the future.

by Carol Hildebrand, February 2009

Over the past six years, Oracle has transformed its sales force, evolving from a bottom-line culture to one highly focused on building customer relationships that drive value far beyond the initial software investment. Although nobody could have predicted today’s economic climate six years ago, that reinvention is proving a valuable survival tool for customers grappling with market volatility.

“Our focus has been on building meaningful conversations with our customers around business challenges. Because our sales executives are knowledge specialists, they have the expertise to build a high-content conversation that translates into solution or value selling,” says Keith Block, executive vice president of Oracle’s North America sales and consulting organizations. “One of the reasons we changed to this value model is that it pays off for customers in both good times and bad. They know we are in this with them for the long term.”

Today, that means helping customers survive slashed budgets and reduced workforces while ensuring that their strategic vision is not impaired. “More than ever before, our clients are being asked to do more with less,” says Block. “They have to make very smart decisions and pick the tools and technologies to support those decisions without compromising their growth strategy coming out of the recession.”

Oracle’s ability to work with customers to pick the high-value investments that reduce cost and complexity can really pay off. “If you listen to Larry Ellison, he has very consistently said that the key to everything is simplification—reducing risk, complexity, and cost,” says Block.

That consistent focus means that customers can get help now, through programs designed to maximize return on existing investments, as well as identifying the areas where incremental investments can quickly return tangible benefits— all without making it difficult to move forward once financial constraints ease.

Mining Value

The critical importance of simplification and cost reduction is being amplified as customers are asked to innovate within the confines of existing resources. “The great news is that we have a lot of assets we can bring forward to help customers who may not have the financial means to do anything big,” says Block.

For example, the Oracle Insight program helps customers understand how technology can transform their businesses and impact their bottom lines. Companies work with the Oracle Insight team to prioritize initiatives with the most immediate impact to their bottom lines. “Say a customer didn’t feel as though they were getting the most from their CRM [customer relationship management] software—we could send a CRM architect to look at how it was deployed, show them best practices for CRM within their industry, and provide a solid business case with a blueprint for change,” says Block.

Mining value from existing resources is not the only path to low-cost innovation. Many customers have started investing in what Block calls “edge applications”—relatively low-cost, rapid deployments that add incremental value to the existing application stack. “Our customers can still use technology as a transformative business tool—they just have to prioritize correctly,” says Block. “We’re finding that customers are continuing to invest in edge applications—they are very low risk and yield a quick ROI [return on investment].” Areas such as supply chain management and transportation planning are sweet spots for a quick-impact project, due in part to Oracle’s broad portfolio of applications. “The flexibility of our architecture differentiates us,” says Block. “It allows our customers to deploy software in a modular fashion. We have so many best-in-class applications, such as Demantra and G-Log [now Oracle Transportation Management], that adding them on doesn’t require a massive transformation.”

Customers are applying the same line of thinking—using a quick deployment to gain immediate value—to the area of analytics. Finding an efficient method of plucking real business insight from the reams of data stored in corporate databases can make a huge difference in an economic climate that allows no margin of error. “If you are a senior executive today, you have to react quickly to changing market trends—you need to be nimble and ahead of the curve, and for that, you must be able to make smart, informed decisions,” says Block. “If you have the right tools and data, you can avoid a mistake that in this environment can kill you—or make a decision that will help you survive.”

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