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Oracle Corp. has finally begun to file down the teeth of its rambunctious direct sales force.

On Monday, the Redwood Shores, Calif., database behemoth began the process of releasing its first-ever set of guidelines to instruct its sales staff in North America on how to play nice with partners, including channels, ISVs, resellers, integrators and VARs.

The simplified set of six guiding principles instruct sales staff to, among other things, identify and work with partners in accounts and to respect a given partner’s “position and value-add” in those accounts.

“Oracle values its relationships with partners,” the guidelines read, “as they are an important part of Oracle’s overall sales strategy to reach the largest number of customers for Oracle products and services.”

It sounds simple enough, but such a sentiment actually represents a quantum leap for Oracle’s aggressive, commission-driven, “coin-operated” sales staff, which has long had the reputation of scooping business deals out of the hands of partners, according to Marilyn Carr, research director for IDC’s Global Software Partnering and Alliances Software division, in Toronto.

“They had a very bad reputation,” Carr said. “There were conflicts happening at the field level between partners and the direct sales force.”

IDC has been working with Oracle for about six months to develop the guidelines by interviewing both Oracle staffers and select partners.

Click here to read about Oracle’s efforts last year to reorganize its sales force.

Rauline Ochs, group vice president for North America Alliance and Channels, said partner feedback has been that Oracle can and should be more predictable and reliable—two words that have become a mantra in the push to improve.

“Feedback from partners was that [Oracle] can be more predictable and reliable,” said Ochs, in Costa Mesa, Calif. “[They said that] sometimes your reps really understand, and sometimes they don’t. It became clear to us that by using the intellectual property these partners brought to the table, everyone at the table would be on the same page.”

The push to improve Oracle’s rocky partner relationships stems from three industry trends, IDC’s Carr said. The first motivation, common to most big software vendors, is to tap the SMB (small and midsized business) market, which represents billions of dollars in untapped revenue.

“There’s a huge amount of potential revenue there,” Carr said. “Enterprise customers haven’t quite necessarily used 100 percent of the huge investments in technology they’ve already made. The SMB market is open as a market that everybody wants.”

Another motivation is the current trend of selling “solutions,” as opposed to technologies, Carr said. That notion of “solutions” to a potential customer’s problems has implications of complexity—in other words, of needing more than one software and/or hardware vendor to piece together a coherent answer to the customer’s problem.

Finally, Oracle is being motivated by the push to specialize in vertical industries, Carr said, where potential revenue is ripe for the plucking.

Oracle has about 2,800 partners in North America. The guidelines, now being rolled out to Oracle’s sales organization, will be released to partners next week, Ochs said.

The Liberty Alliance, a consortium devoted to developing an open, federated identity standard, now can count Oracle and Intel among its members. Click here to read more.

The initiative incorporates a seven-point plan that includes steps such as holding up and rewarding role models. Oracle will regularly select a “Channel Hero” from its sales organization—someone who’s “growing the Oracle economy better and faster by leveraging channel partners,” Ochs said.

Oracle will give these role models cash awards. Each Channel Hero will then host a Webcast to detail his or her partner strategy as a way of seeding the sales organization with ideas on how to leverage, and cooperate with, its partners.

Ochs declined to detail how much cash Oracle will bestow on such role models. “Considering this is a commission-driven place, and we believe all reps are coin-operated, [the awards] are not insignificant, but they’re not buying homes off them,” she said.

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