Deals

Eloqua may become Oracle’s Autonomy, its Achilles’ heel

This is a guest post by technology executive Roman Stanek

Oracle, the most-acquisitive company in the software industry, just bought Eloqua. Personally, I’m fascinated by this acquisition. With Eloqua, Oracle gets a truly great maker of cloud-based apps geared to chief marketing officers. Along with its earlier purchases of RightNow and Taleo, Oracle is buying itself a solid lineup of cloud-based apps.

I couldn’t help but wonder, could Eloqua become Oracle’s Autonomy — a failed acquisition that undermines its entire foundation? Don’t get me wrong. I’m absolutely not suggesting that Eloqua has engaged in any creative bookkeeping (as HP alleges with Autonomy). I am questioning whether Oracle’s sales organization — fluent in the language of IT — can learn the “Eloquese” spoken by marketers and other business people.

And as I see it, marketing speak is a completely different language because it describes a unique set of concerns and world views. I imagine Oracle’s sales folks — with their blue shirts and chinos — suddenly plunked down in an exotic land of color and spice. Where the Eloquese speak of beauty, Oracle’s minions talk of middleware. It’s like mixing oil and water. Or as Strother Martin so famously put it in Cool Hand Luke: “What we’ve got here, is failure to communicate.”

It’s a fundamental difference that has its roots in Oracle’s acquisition strategy and has become ingrained in its 18-month sales cycle, famous hostility to customers, and addiction to support fees. Here’s what I mean: Back in 2003, Larry Ellison looked at Oracle’s sales and decided his company was too much of a one-trick company, with its reliance on database software. So he hit on PeopleSoft —  then the biggest maker of enterprise apps — as the best source of new revenue and new customers. 18 months later, Oracle had the prize — and kicked off a $45 billion buying spree that swallowed almost 100 companies.

And with each new acquisition, Oracle gained a larger base of customers that its sales force could hit up for new database software, middleware programs and complex applications that customers’ IT organization would install and run. In the process, Oracle’s sales organization became adept at selling to that same IT audience, understanding its needs and concerns and — yes — speaking the same language.

It’s obvious to any industry observer that Oracle has Salesforce.com in its sights with its purchases of RightNow, Taleo and Eloqua. On the face of it, people might suppose that Oracle and its deeper pockets can slow or even stop Salesforce’s momentum. Those people would be wrong. The reason comes down to the each company’s sales team. Because while Oracle has made a science of selling to IT, Salesforce’s team has perfected the art of selling front-office apps to business people. And I believe that, when it comes to selling cloud-based apps to business people — especially to people in sales and marketing — no-one comes close to Salesforce.

That’s why I believe Eloqua could become Oracle’s Autonomy. Oracle doesn’t realize it yet, but they’ve joined in a game with new rules and a new language they don’t and can’t understand. Unfortunately, its chief competitor just happens to be fluent.

Roman Stanek headshotRoman Stanek is the founder and CEO of GoodData, a company that offers a range of business intelligence software and reporting tools to help companies monetize big data. Prior to this, he was the founder of NetBeans.org, sold to Sun Microsystems, and Systinet, which was acquired by HP.

Follow him on Twitter @RomanStanek

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