Oracle's Top Priority: Channel Repair

By Lisa Vaas  |  Print this article Print


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Updated: Despite Oracle's success in getting PeopleSoft shareholders to tender stock, many say the company must lavish more care on customers and partners to prosper.

Now that Oracle has made its midnight announcement, it's possible to regain some perspective. In the end, the most important thing for Oracle customers is not necessarily that PeopleSoft shareholders voted with their shares, deciding by close of business day Friday that a majority wanted to see their company engage in a proxy battle with Oracle.

What matters more is that the uncertainty is over—uncertainty being something the marketplace emphatically does not like.

Some blame Oracle's dogged pursuit of PeopleSoft for its weak applications sales, comparing the situation to the scenario that would have played out had John Kerry challenged the election results and dragged the country through the courts or demanded recounts. As goes the nation's economy, so goes the technology economy: both are extremely adverse to uncertainty.

Others say that Oracle must pay closer attention to customers' and partners' needs, regardless of the outcome of the PeopleSoft battle, if the company is going to push forward in the marketplace.

Indeed, one Oracle value-added reseller said that the biggest challenge now facing Oracle is to figure out how to be more channel-friendly.

The VAR is in the business of negotiating Oracle licensing on behalf of customers. It claims it is one of Oracle's largest VARs, overshadowed only by Dell Inc.—a surprising yet telling fact, given that it has only 10 employees.

Why is such a small company one of Oracle's largest VARs? Because Oracle has a history of being extremely difficult to work with, the president of the VAR said. "They don't have an abundance of good partners who focus on Oracle, because Oracle's such a challenge to deal with."

Oracle is known to be difficult to deal with for two reasons: First, the company's sales compensation plan is not neutral to source of sales. Second, Oracle's rules of engagement don't rule out competition with partners.

Read more here about Oracle's call to PeopleSoft management following the midnight deadline for PeopleSoft shareholders to tender stock.

Whereas companies such as IBM and Cisco Systems compensate their sales staff by the same amount whether a sale goes through a partner or whether it goes direct, Oracle sales staff work on commission—and they take this seriously.

"It costs [Oracle] sales reps money if a deal goes down other than direct [sales from Oracle]," the VAR said. "It often pits us against each other in the marketplace. As much as we're partners, we're competitors. In that, way too much time is being spent by Oracle reps and by partners, convincing customers who to buy from rather than what to buy."

Rather than spending time to understand customer needs and fulfilling requirements, the VAR's reps spend time ensuring that customers will buy from them. "Over the past week and a half, every [one of our reps] said, 'I spend most of my time negotiating and dealing with Oracle rather than selling to customers. It's not finding the customers and the needs and selling Oracle—it's the time I have to spend dealing with Oracle. It's just not worth it.'

"That's a problem to Oracle if they don't recognize that it's all about the number of feet on the street, the number of phone dials to the customer," the VAR said.

Oracle is now working to change the situation. In August, Rauline Ochs, group vice president of Oracle's North America Alliances and Channels, unveiled a program called "Cover the Subsidiaries." The program was designed to allow Oracle's 2,800 North American partners to sell their goods and services to subsidiaries of Oracle's biggest, most strategic accounts.

Has it worked? It's better than nothing, but it doesn't fix the problem.

"If you're in a major accident with a vein that's cut and bleeding profusely and someone puts a little Band-Aid on your hand, you say, 'Thanks for that, but I need priority for where I'm gushing blood,'" said the VAR president. "Until someone puts their foot down and says, 'This is costing us in the marketplace. Look at our customer satisfaction, look at what they're saying about the sales experience,'" Oracle will still suffer in the market, he said.

"I'm not bashing Oracle," he said. "I just don't know how to make that change. I don't know how to make that organization and those executives understand the cost to the marketplace, the cost to me when I can't make my reps productive because they're constantly channel-conflicted."

Editor's Note: This story was updated to correctly identify the quoted source as a VAR.

Write to me at lisa_vaas@ziffdavis.com.

eWEEK.com Associate Editor Lisa Vaas has written about enterprise applications since 1997.

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Lisa Vaas is News Editor/Operations for eWEEK.com and also serves as editor of the Database topic center. Since 1995, she has also been a Webcast news show anchorperson and a reporter covering the IT industry. She has focused on customer relationship management technology, IT salaries and careers, effects of the H1-B visa on the technology workforce, wireless technology, security, and, most recently, databases and the technologies that touch upon them. Her articles have appeared in eWEEK's print edition, on eWEEK.com, and in the startup IT magazine PC Connection. Prior to becoming a journalist, Vaas experienced an array of eye-opening careers, including driving a cab in Boston, photographing cranky babies in shopping malls, selling cameras, typography and computer training. She stopped a hair short of finishing an M.A. in English at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. She earned a B.S. in Communications from Emerson College. She runs two open-mic reading series in Boston and currently keeps bees in her home in Mashpee, Mass.

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