Last Monday, I walked to Moscone Center to join 37,000 people attending Oracle’s annual conference. This is the first time I’ve attended Oracle OpenWorld since organizing the company’s first ever users’ event over twenty-five years ago as part of my job as an entry-level employee at Oracle. You may ask: why should a sales person attend such a conference? In the early days, it certainly would not have made sense, unless you sold for Oracle and your customers were attending. In the ’80’s, Oracle’s products were only used by techies – not business users – and the conference attendees were largely programmers, CIOs, and other members of the MIS department, as we called it then. These conference-goers – self-proclaimed nerds – looked forward to getting the latest information and inside scoop from the guys (all men at the time) who wrote the code. I vividly remember hosting the late Ted Codd, the inventor of the relational model for database management, as the keynote speaker, who was universally known and revered by the technical audience.
But things have changed. Oracle’s conference not only fills up all of San Francisco’s major hotels and shuts down a city street to automotive traffic but also its product suite has expanded to include business applications including Customer Relationship Management systems (CRM). Oracle has been working on some interesting additions and enhancements to its products in this area of late – ones that I would classify as Sales 2.0-enabling – under the direction of Anthony Lye. As a representative of the Sales 2.0 community, I thought it was time to check out the conference again, this time as a member of the analyst/press/blogging community. I was also curious to see whether the profile of conference attendees had changed with the company’s growth and expansion into new product areas, targeted to business users.
Well, it may have, but it wasn’t obvious. Given Oracle’s entry into Social CRM, I first tried to connect with others like me by sending out this update on Twitter the week before the conference:
Looking to meet up with customer-focused sales/marketing/social media types at #oracleopenworld. Anyone going? Which sessions (or parties!)?
I got one response.
In the hallway waiting for the CRM sessions to start, I looked around for people displaying the stereotypical signs of selling for a living: well-tailored suit, Rolex watch, leather briefcase in place of free Oracle OpenWorld logo, etc. Only the presenters fit the bill.
Don’t get me wrong; I liked the session content. In his presentation on Oracle’s CRM products, Anthony Lye did a great job describing how he is watching, listening, and learning from the transformation and innovation occurring in the sales landscape and presenting his “Three Game Changing Strategies for Transformation”:
1. Executing cross-channel customer experiences flawlessly
*buyers may use a mix and match of phone/Web, field, retail, and other channels in their selection process; sell in the way the customer wants to buy and give buyers a choice in ways to communicate with you
2. Tapping into the power of the Social Web
*social media can not only enable the buying process but also support collaboration and best-practices sharing among members of the sales team
3. Delivering CRM data when, how, and where users need it
*this includes providing information on mobile devices as well as desktops and allowing user-selected User Interfaces, using Microsoft Outlook and Lotus Notes
These key business themes were continued in the following panel session, moderated by Anthony Lye, that featured Paul Greenberg and Denis Pombriant. I would have attended OpenWorld just to listen to what Paul and Denis had to say. They are two of the greatest minds writing and speaking on the changes happening in the sales landscape today, due to the emergence of the “social customer”, their new communications preferences, and other market factors. Paul and Denis backed their assertions with compelling success stories of companies like Proctor and Gamble and Nabisco that are using social networks and customer communities in their sales and marketing strategies. Paul mentioned a Boston-based clothing company that is using “community retailing” and generating millions of dollars by engaging on-the-street teams of indie designers that buy and sell clothes and recruit additional young people into the community, now 800,000 strong. Anthony Lye reported that Oracle community customers’ sales cycles are 9 months shorter, they are the company’s best references, and they pay more for products than those outside the community.
All very interesting, but I’m still wondering, were any sales people there to hear these important messages? And if so, what did they think? Could users’ conferences such as Oracle’s inspire not just technical innovation but also Sales 2.0 initiatives – sales strategy and process innovation, supported by technology?