Oracle wants to be easier to work with, Mark Hurd says

Co-President Mark Hurd pledged that Oracle will work more closely with user groups

Oracle's sales force isn't usually seen as the easiest to work with, with customers bombarded by multiple account representatives from different product areas.

But changes are in store, according to Oracle co-President Mark Hurd, who spoke this week in Denver at the Collaborate conference, which is put on by three Oracle user groups.

Oracle's sales force is going to get bigger, Hurd said, but it will also get more competent. Sales people that used to hawk multiple products will now hawk just one, giving them more specialized knowledge, he said.

"In my core, I believe salespeople that don't know their products are frankly worthless to you," he said.

But there's a problem Oracle must work on, Hurd said. The company doesn't do as good a job as it should integrating all those sales activities into a cohesive plan for the customer.

"We do not want to be hard to work with," Hurd said. "We have no strategy where we sit in a room and say we want to be harder to work with."

Oracle also has a reputation for having some of the more aggressive salespeople in the IT business, though Hurd didn't address that in his keynote speech.

Oracle wants to align more closely with user groups like the ones that put on Collaborate each year, he said.

"I look at the user groups as an extension of Oracle," Hurd said. "We want your input. What I've instructed our team to do is put more energy into this, and not less."

Ultimately, Oracle wants its customers to be "thrilled and happy" to the point where they act like an extension of Oracle's sales force, he said. "My objective is to turn you into zealots, to help us ... sell."

Skeptics might say Hurd was telling users what they wanted to hear. And while as head of Oracle's sales operations Hurd has the clout to make the changes, his decisions may not be welcomed by all in his organization.

Last year, Oracle's North American sales chief, Keith Block, left the company. While Oracle didn't say publicly why Block was leaving, it's widely believed his departure was related to a series of instant messages in which he was critical of Hurd's leadership. The messages became public as evidence in the lawsuit between Oracle and Hewlett-Packard over Oracle's support of Itanium.

But Oracle Applications Users Group President Margaret Wright, who met with Hurd at the conference, believes he is sincere and that positive changes are already afoot.

The notion of more specialized salespeople is "a win," she said, because customers will be getting more than just "a name and a price."

As for user group involvement, "I absolutely believe Oracle is making a commitment," Wright said. "For this past year, since I've been president [of the user group], I've seen it increase."

Oracle sent some of its product managers to this year's Collaborate, and attendees could book time with them to ask questions, air grievances and request new features. That was a direct result of discussions that user groups had with Oracle, Wright said.

She hopes a better working relationship with Oracle will help educate user group members about how to get new features added to products, she said.

User groups sometimes find themselves fiercely at odds with their vendor, as when SAP user groups fought against maintenance fee hikes.

For Wright, the key is to have an "open, candid dialogue with Oracle," she said. "Everything Oracle says we may not agree with, everything we may want, we may not get. But that's OK. It's not realistic to get everything you want. That's not the real world."

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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