Putting Larry Ellison’s New Role at Oracle in Perspective

Larry Ellison announced his decision, on September 18, 2014, to step down from the position of CEO Oracle. A lot has been written about the significance of this announcement. But content volume doesn’t mean much when compared to relevance, not to mention accuracy.

The general consensus is Ellison’s change in roles marks the end of an era. Ellison is the last of a list of “first generation” entrepreneurs (including Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs). Regardless of the enormous success all three of these individuals achieved, both Ellison and Gates have been included in what the overall market considers a group of once successful, but, in 2014, out-of-touch business builders. The argument goes like this: Ellison and Gates were great in their time, but times have changed and, now, the massive organizations they built, Oracle and Microsoft, are losing enormous ground to much younger competitors, (Amazon, Facebook, Salesforce.com). This latter group includes Apple, which, despite being a business with the same longevity of serving consumer markets for technology as both Oracle and Microsoft, nevertheless, speaks a different tongue, learned from its radical founder, Steve Jobs.

This argument looks good on paper, but in reality is way off the market. Leaving aside the question of whether or not Microsoft has been eclipsed by Google, Salesforce, Amazon, and even Apple, Oracle does not fit the frame.

As this writer wrote earlier to this blog on a couple of occasions, a lot of the sales effort for Salesforce.com, Microsoft, and Google is now in the management hands of 3 former Oracle sales executives: Keith Block is now the President of Salesforce.com; Judson Althoff is now Corporate Vice President and President of Microsoft, NA; finally, Amit Singh is now the President of Google At Work.

All 3 of these executives held very high level positions at Oracle: when Block left Oracle he held the position of Executive Vice President, North America. Singh appears to have reported into Block as Vice President, North America. Althoff held the position of Vice President, head of channel sales for Oracle.

The importance of this point is to illustrate the actual enormous impact Ellison and Oracle have had on the whole software market for enterprise business customers. Oracle set the bar at a very high level. Their sales team, perhaps better than any other, understood how to implement a complex sales strategy, and had a better history of converting sales efforts into successful deals than any other.

The fact Block is now President of Salesforce.com should act as a reminder on the limitations of “hands-off” selling of cloud subscriptions, and the need for direct engagement (collaboration is a better word) with customers if further sales are to be made.

Ellison had an enormous impact on his peers. It is important to note his new role at Oracle: CTO and head of product marketing. As we have written all along in this blog, product marketing is truly the neighborhood where the real tech winners show their stuff. Perhaps Ellison has something further to show us all. We’ll see as Oracle moves forward.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved


It Pays to Spend Time in the North American Sales Team at Oracle

On Tuesday, September 2, 2014, Brian Womack, for Bloomberg, reported a Google announcement of a name change on one of its product lines. “Google Enterprise” became “Google for Work”. The executive quoted in Womack’s article, titled Google Renames Enterprise Unit to Target Growing Market, was Amit Singh, President of Google Enterprise. In this brief report, Singh is quoted as pointing to the market in front of the new product as “one of the big growth opportunities for Google”.

But, in this writer’s opinion, of even more importance than the announcement is the professional background of the announcer, himself, Amit Singh. Readers should note Singh joined Google back in 2010, when he left his position as a Vice President of Sales at Oracle, North America, to become the President of Google Enterprise. A quick review of his public profile on LinkedIn produces more detail about the roles Singh played for Oracle. He was part of the North American sales team, responsible for the Northeast.

So it is safe to assume Singh reported into Keith Block, President of Salesforce.com, when Block held the position of EVP North America for Oracle. Perhaps during his time at Oracle he had some opportunities to work with Judson Althoff, now President of Microsoft, North America, who, from 2002 to 2013 held the position of Senior Vice President at Oracle, Worldwide Alliances, Channels and Embedded sales.

What early stage ISVs should glean from all of this overlapping experience for individuals presently at the top of some prominent lines of business for 3 of the leading mature technology businesses in the United States, today, is the very narrow path, forward, of truly successful sales and marketing talent for the larger business market for software. It is no small fact each of these three executives spent a considerable amount of time in management positions at Oracle.

A successful experience set marketing and selling software solutions to these businesses is very distinct from a similarly successful experience set selling to SMBs, or to consumers. The present positions of each of these three individuals is a tribute to how well Oracle mastered the processes required to attain the position it has held as a premier supplier of software to these markets.

If a business model requires the type of sales and marketing expertise possessed by Messrs Singh, Block and Althoff, then limiting the scope of applicants to Oracle, SAP, EMC, and, perhaps, IBM may make the most sense. The best way of digging deeply into the backgrounds and personalities at hand, of course, would be retained search.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved


Has Salesforce Completed Its Transformation Into an Enterprise Sales Organization?

On May 20, 2014, Salesforce.com reported its results for Q1 2015. The speakers included Marc Benioff, CEO, Keith Block, President and Vice Chairman, and Grant Smith, Chief Financial Officer. It should be noted Mr. Block will complete his first year at Salesforce.com in June, 2014. He came to the company from Oracle® Corporation, where he spent 26 years, from 1988 to June, 2013, in a series of sales management roles, which culminated in a tenure of nearly 10 years as EVP North America where he had responsibility over a multi-billion dollar revenue generating effort.

As I wrote earlier in this blog, on April 2, 2014, in a post to this blog titled
Cloud SaaS ISVs Develop Sales Strategies for Enterprise Prospects, Mr Block is, perhaps, one of the strongest examples of a master of the Complex Sale, which is a sales concept championed by Jeff Thull. After all, Mark Murphy, a software analyst for Piper Jaffrey referred to Mr. Block’s tenure as EVP, North America for Oracle as an opportunity “to run, arguably, the largest and most profitable enterprise software business in the world.”

So, given this backdrop, the analyst questions Mr. Block fielded about just how long it will take before the sales teams at Salesforce.com produce a “9 figure deal” make a lot of sense, especially when one considers the ratio between Salesforce’s present market cap of $30.62B and a staggering forward price to earnings ratio, for its CRM public stock, of 149.25 to 1. Mr. Benioff’s reflections on the level of success the business has achieved are certainly admirable. The company sounds like a terrific place to work and a great contributor to its social surroundings. But the forward price to earnings ratio requires a sense of urgency, on the part of management, which was somehow lacking, in my opinion, in Mr. Benioff’s opening remarks.

Mr. Block cited a win at Manulife, an expanded relationship, where they leveraged “[Salesforce] Service Cloud to develop a customer engagement platform, with very personalized service across their life insurance, wealth management and investment products” (transcribed from remarks made by Mr. Block recorded on the audio webcast).

He went on to refer to several other enterprise-wide wins at other larger organizations, across several industries. But Rick Sherlund asked a very big question: “I think we’re all waiting for 9 figure deals. Is that realistic? Are there deals of that magnitude in the pipeline that we can look forward to over the balance of this year?” (transcribed from a recording of Mr. Sherlund’s question, which is included in the quarter’s webcast).

In my opinion, Mr. Block’s reply to the question signaled a much slower pace of change than, perhaps, the analysts in attendance would have wanted to hear. On the notion of whether there are any “9 figure deals” in the works, he merely referred to a “natural evolution” of relationships with important partners, which, over time, he argued, exhibit the potential required to support sales of this magnitude at some future date.

Disclaimer: I have no position in Salesforce.com whatsoever

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved


Repurposing Sales Teams as Products Change is Challenging, a Contentious Structure May Produce Better Results

Results for the business quarter ending May 31, 2013 at Oracle® weren’t well received by Wall Street. Don Clark and Nathalie Tadena summarized the results and investor reaction in an article published on June 20, 2013, Oracle Earnings: Shares Slide on Flat Revenue, Cloud-Software Challenges in the online edition of The Wall Street Journal. The authors wrote: “Oracle lifted its profit 10% in the fiscal fourth quarter ended May 31, doubled its quarterly dividend and authorized a stock buyback of up to $12 billion.”, but investors still took 9% off of the stock price in simply 1 day of trading.

Why? As the authors aptly note, revenue reflected zero growth from the prior year. Sure Oracle is making more money from its businesses, but the bottom line is not growing. We think an important reason for insignificant revenue growth is an effort to train an existing sales force, familiar and committed to enterprise markets, to sell multi tenant cloud alternatives. Oracle reported on sales difficulties in its Q3 2013 report. The Q4 report claims substantial improvement in the effectiveness of sales teams, but there are no results to substantiate the claim.

We don’t think efforts to retrain sales teams, like this one (there are other examples at Dell and HP) work very often. We think a better approach is to restructure sales teams into a contentious formation, where enterprise sales teams can compete with sales teams dedicated to selling multi tenant cloud products for the same business. A simple review of the history of efforts by Oracle’s peers and competitors–Microsoft®, and IBM® shows little success at extracting the gold from repurposing the same sales personnel onto new products.

In contrast, a review of how other industries, for example newspaper publishing, handled similar difficult challenges, shows management fostering healthy contention between sales teams. In the 1990s and the first decade of the new millennium, separate sales teams were dedicated to selling print vs. online editions. A healthier New York Times in 2013 is an example of how contention can be used to produce better results. We think Oracle®, Microsoft®, and IBM® should think about how to use internal contention methods to better manage sales to produce the revenue improvement they need.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved


It Helps to Carefully Read Analyst Reports Before Including Them in an Appeal to Authority

Carefully read analyst opinion before adding it to a sales presentation built around an appeal to authority. We almost made the mistake of pouring some comments published by Gartner, Inc. in its Highlights From Gartner’s Data-Driven Marketing Survey, 2013.

After a careful review of the material we decided the conclusions reached were not applicable to our target market — early stage Independent Software Vendors (ISVs). Here’s an example: “A majority of marketers that we interviewed, 54%, invest in digital marketing because they believe it’s key to their competitiveness. But they are not certain of the return on their investment. For that survey, which took place in April 2012, we interviewed 98 marketing executives in companies with revenue greater than $1 billion, and who had or were considering a digital marketing function.” (quoted from Gartner, Inc. A link to the full report has been provided above).

Our market is not characterized by ” . . . companies with revenue greater than $1 billion.” The companies in our market do not ” . . . invest in digital marketing because they believe it’s key to their competitiveness.” They invest in digital marketing because most of them sell software as a service (SaaS) solutions. Almost all of the revenue they produce is the result of online sales and marketing.

So what’s the big deal? The big deal is how we got to this report. We followed a link from an innocuous sentence on a web page on the IT World, Canada website: “Many organizations are plagued by disconnected analytic efforts, according to research firm Gartner Inc.”.

Note the hyperbole in the sentence. There are comparatively not ” . . . [m]any organizations . . . ” with revenue over $1Bil. The survey conducted by Gartner, Inc. speaks to a very small segment of businesses here in the United States.

Opting to include information actually unrelated to a subject at hand in an “appeal to authority” substantially diminishes the effectiveness of the appeal. Sad to say a lot of the argumentation we read today is hastily put together with information actually irrelevant to the discussion at hand.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved


Any Opportunity to Include Decision-Makers in a Sales Plan for Enterprise Software should be Acted Upon

Sales teams representing enterprise IT ISVs need to act on any opportunity to include decision-makers in their sales plan. It is is easy to be lulled into skipping this critically important step. Here’s an example: sales receives an incoming inquiry from a user at an enterprise organization. This user, as it turns out, is looking to implement a specific solution like our ISV’s product. The user has gone through a preliminary step of gaining management approval to purchase some solution to meet his/her requirement. Therefore, from this user’s perspective, the next step is simply to gather all of the information required to make an informed decision as to which product will best meet the objectives of the requirement.

In 2012, the user depicted in our example usually doesn’t even need to reach out to sales at any point prior to placing an order. In fact, our ISV, like all of its competitors, has exposed lots and lots of informative content about its products, clients, testimonials, etc on its web site. Even more, pricing information is included in this material. The result is that our user knows just about everything, without any required contact with sales.

Once the inquiry finally comes in, the purpose is generally to shop the product, or, often, to place an order. Our sales team may try to slow down the process, in order to collect a lot of information about the user, his/her application, why the purchase was likely approved, etc., but our user may have very little tolerance for the efforts of the sales team to slow things down. After all, our user already has all the answers to the qualification questions he/she required to determine the set of products that would likely meet the requirement, which, in turn, needed further review. Our sales team will likely back off of its requests and assume the role of order taker.

If our ISVs product is a cloud offering with an annual subscription, it may be literally “up for grabs” as to whether or not our user will renew the enterprise subscription in year two, or not. When our sales team makes the attempt to secure an approval to send an invoice for the renewal charge, the response may be something like “I love your content, but I’ve moved onto another set of tasks and management has turned down a request to renew even though the team that took over for me would certainly benefit from a renewal”.

In fact, our sales team laid the groundwork for this problem way back when our user placed the order. It would have been much more fortuitous to push our user prior to accepting the original order. In the next post to this blog we will present some of the technique that we exercise to get the actual decision-maker included in the discussion.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2012 All Rights Reserved


Buyer Skepticism must be an Underlying Assumption for Enterprise IT Sales in 2012

We read recently of a well publicized failure for a large scale ERP project for a publicly traded business that markets products to the United States Department of Defense. In fact, this failure was significant enough to negatively impact on the quarterly return, meaning profitability, for this business. As we read further about this misfortune, we noted the names of other publicly traded businesses that had sponsored similar failed projects.

We think this type of experience is quite common in the enterprise IT software market. Therefore, we advise that it is entirely mandatory that sales and marketing teams for innovative tech businesses looking to enter these markets assume that buyers will express, at some point during the sales cycle, a skepticism about products and related projects. Further, these same sales and marketing teams need to set reasonable expectations of product and project results. In 2012 we think it is much better to make a mistake by under estimating the final benefit to a customer than to over estimate in any way the end result of a purchase. Finally, any quantified ROI estimates need to be rigorously tested to ensure accuracy.

Maintaining a sales plan that assumes skepticism and related “environmental characteristics” ought to lead sales and marketing to look for opportunities to not only include purchase proponents, but likely opponents, as well, in a sales plan. It is far better to obtain advance notice of pending criticism than to be surprised after the fact. Of course, the question then becomes how to collect contrarian views on a purchase within a plan? We think it makes sense to either convince buyers of the necessity of gaining a preview of any objections (along with an identification of the source) or to work with contacts at competitors who may be privy to this information. The end result should be a much stronger sales plan, one that can withstand internal objections and scrutiny.

We hope that it is apparent that highly experienced sales and marketing staff need to be on hand to deliver a positive result for the type of sales activity that we have just sketched. Skeptical enterprise buyers who have experienced failed projects will be loathe to trust “just any” sales personnel. Rather, familiar personalities (potentially ex employees) will need to be included in the sales effort to provide a rationale for enterprise buyers to trust tech innovators enough to collaborate on designing a sales plan.

If your business can use the type of expertise required to put together a successful sales campaign for enterprise IT buyers, we would like to hear from you. Please telephone Ira Michael “Mike” Blonder at +1 631-673-2929 to further a discussion. You may also email Mike at imblonder@imbenterprises.com.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2012 All Rights Reserved


Selling Enterprise Software in a Down Economy

June of 2012 has opened on a pronounced somber economic note. What impact, if any, does the general economic condition here in the United States have on the job of selling enterprise software.

The method of selling enterprise software, as we have alluded to it here in this blog, remains entirely the same in a down economy. The same principles apply to complex sales as have always applied. What has changed, and will continue to change should the economy continue to worsen (which looks to be the case at least through the remainder of this year) is that fewer prospects will pursue purchases. Prospects who have been proceeding on purchases without a strong foundation of conviction built on the results of a thorough analysis of why products should be purchased will likely drop the pursuit. Therefore, it is crucial for sales teams to identify questionable prospects as early as possible in order to ensure minimal lost time that should be devoted to better opportunities.

We think that an excellent way of accelerating prospect identification is to strictly adhere to the steps that we have identified earlier in this blog. With the first prospect conversation sales teams must be able to answer an important question:

Does this prospect broadly agree with us that our solution may produce significant cost savings or not?

A “maybe” answer to the above question should not be taken as an indicator of anything that would inspire optimism about a likely sale. The answer to this question must be either a “yes”, or a “no”. If the answer is no, then move onto the next prospect right away. There are no fewer prospects in a down economy than there are in a booming economy. In fact, as companies feel the pain of economic contraction, more companies will express an active interest in opportunities to save money and reduce costs. Therefore, down economies will produce more prospects for complex sales campaigns properly built upon specific, quantified financial metrics that demonstrate, irrefutably that substantial cost savings will be produced as the result of purchasing enterprise software.

Time is better spent in a down economy carefully researching prospects feeling the specific pain that a solution is designed to solve than pursuing further engagement with marginally interested prospects. We have considerable current experience in these markets. We welcome opportunities to discuss the needs of innovative technology businesses for better sales team performance. Please contact us. You may telephone Ira Michael “Mike” Blonder at +1 631-673-2929 to further a discussion. You may also email Mike at imblonder@imbenterprises.com.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2012 All Rights Reserved


The importance of a decision to change to enterprise software purchases

One can argue that enterprise software sales prospects almost always decide to buy a solution as the result of a need to change something. Further, it can be argued that the final selection that this type of prospect will choose will constitute the most likely selection to facilitate the change(s) that must be made. In other words, the prospect will choose the option that inspires the most confidence among the stakeholders in the decision.

We subscribe to this argument. In fact, we think it makes sense to architect entire sales strategies for complex enterprise software solutions around change. As we see it, the best prospects for enterprise software are companies with related publicized problems that, in all likelihood, ought to be changed as quickly as possible. It makes little sense to waste precious sales development time on discovery conversations with companies that fail to display any of the earmarks of probable change, especially when, based upon a very clear picture of one’s prospect profile, many companies can be identified as better opportunities for sales prospecting.

For publicly traded companies, published problems can often be found in quarterly reports (webcasts are an even richer resource for this type of information. Lots of useful sales planning material can be gleaned from specifically noting the business areas chosen for further detail as well as the inflection of a speaker’s voice), or other SEC filings. Trade articles are also a rich resource for this type of information. Finally, public announcements of changes in senior management personnel are quite often a very good indicator of changes in procedures that will likely be forthcoming.

We should note that we do not find sales success stories or case studies to be very helpful as they are often about changes that have already been made by prospects. However, where the subject of a sales success story or case study is a complementary product to one’s own solution, or an indicator that a prospect is considering further changes that likely will produce directly relevant requirements, then, of course it makes sense to pursue contacts mentioned in the sales success story or case study.

Once prospects who are likely to change relevant computer procedures have been identified, it makes further sense to find out who “owns” the problematic procedures. An offer to engage should be extended first to the problem owner who has the most to gain should your solution lead to a remedy. The more confidence, at first pass, that this contact has that your solution might help, the greater the likelihood that he/she will provide the most useful and realistic set of contacts who should be included in your discussions as early into the opportunity as possible.

We deal with opportunities like the above on a daily basis. If you are looking for a method of better addressing market opportunities, please contact us. You may telephone Ira Michael “Mike” Blonder at +1 631-673-2929 to further a discussion. You may also email Mike at imblonder@imbenterprises.com.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2012 All Rights Reserved


Customer inaction can be a major impediment to complex sales

Very often the outcome of enterprise software sales campaigns is simply customer inertia. In these cases there is no outcome. Customers may profess an interest in learning further about a solution, but fail to move on one, regardless of how well the complex sales campaign has been put together. In our experience, selling efforts for new products, services and/or integrated solutions can, very often, produce this type of “let’s go on with the status quo” result. Of course, offerings that are new to enterprise markets are largely unproven; therefore, it is particularly difficult for enterprise prospects to muster much confidence that a new solution will solve an important problem.

Inactivity is also a frequent result of sales campaigns for solutions to problems that have not fully coalesced in the marketplace for enterprise software. In these cases prospects are incapable of clearly identifying what they need. There is a probable problem (for example the recent Bring Your Own Device, BYOD, phenomenon as a type of activity that can expose an organization’s data to malicious attack), but the specific, quantified cost of the problem is not yet clear. Prospects are still determining the impact of the problem on the bottom line. They are not ready to take action, yet, on a solution.

Finally, customer inaction can result from internal organizational issues. Often, in these cases, teams of contacts (ostensible owners of a process as well as any/all related problems) are finally found to lack the authority to act on a remedy. In fact, decision-making at enterprise businesses with this type organizational issue is proven to be the province of someone else at the organization, someone who the sales team has neglected to contact. Once authority has been properly determined (but at a very late stage in a developing opportunity) to reside elsewhere, the prospect, typically, decides to table any discussion and simply proceed as usual.

IMB Enterprises, Inc. has considerable experience addressing the need for enterprise software sales teams to learn to quickly determine the likelihood of prospect inactivity. Let’s face it, time is an irreplaceable commodity. Therefore, it behooves these software sales teams to spend as little time as possible on opportunities where intertia is the most likely outcome.

If you would like to hear how we generally address each of the above examples of prospect inertia, then please contact us. You may telephone Ira Michael “Mike” Blonder at +1 631-673-2929 to further a discussion. You may also email Mike at imblonder@imbenterprises.com.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2012 All Rights Reserved