co-founder diginomica
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The month in CRM: Was Ellison right to elope from OpenWorld?

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2nd Oct 2013
co-founder diginomica
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After the relative calm of August, September burst into life with a flurry of conference activity, ranging from the energetic youthful enthusiasm of BoxWorks through to the patrician establishmentarianism that is Oracle OpenWorld.

Let's get the elephant in the room out of the way first. Yup, Larry Ellison didn't turn up for his own keynote, preferring instead to have an afternoon down by San Francisco Bay watching the America's Cup.

Put like that, it sounds terrible, doesn't it? A CEO who doesn't turn up to address 60,000 of his most loyal clients. It's surely a living breathing example of lack of respect for customers? And deeply ironic at an event with an entire 3 day track dedicated to customer experience...

But it's not quite that simple. Without intending to be an apologist for Mr E - not an accusation that many inside Oracle have thrown at me over the past 20 years or so - this wasn't just any old America's Cup race that he'd chosen to bunk off and watch.

Team Oracle - into which Ellison has pumped millions of dollars of his own money and perhaps more importantly so much emotional commitment - had staged one of the most remarkable comebacks in yachting history, racing from behind to even the score on that fateful keynote afternoon before seizing victory the following day.

So where was a man as competitive and driven as Ellison ever likely to be given that the dice had rolled in such a way as to create this clash?

Now before anyone who paid up to attend OpenWorld jumps in and protests here, that's not to say what he did was right - but I'm just saying it was understandable within his personal frame of reference.

Conned?

What was unfortunate was that he had no presence in the keynote session at all. As we all know, a critical element of customer management is knowing when to apologise. A heartfelt 'sorry' can go a long way to calming emotions.

Had Larry been beamed in - Big Brother-like - to the OpenWorld keynote audience, explained briefly what was happening, apologised for not being there in person and asked the audience to understand and forgive on this unique occasion, then he might just have got away with it.

Instead, after they had lined up for up to an hour to get into the keynote and sat through another hour of a Microsoft warm-up presentation, Ellison's non-attendance was dropped on conference attendees as a fait accompli.

This was the really big mistake to my mind. One delegate I spoke to afterwards was particularly angry at having been - in this words - "conned" into sitting through the Microsoft keynote when "they must have known by then" that Ellison was a no-show.

And so the conference hall mass exit began and the only headline that anyone was going to read about Oracle OpenWorld on that third day was written: Larry skips his own keynote.

Elsewhere the CX track at the conference was well-attended and if we learned little that was new, there was at least a sense of a coherent strategy in place. Eloqua was happily name-checked left, right and centre with the Marketing Cloud concept high on the agenda.

Deafeningly silent however was any reference to Salesforce.com, supposedly Oracle's BFF since peace broke out between the two firms in June. At that time we were told that Oracle would be using Salesforce.com internally (and vice versa) and an invitation was extended to Ellison to appear at Dreamforce. (Wouldn't it be ironic if he showed up at Marc Benioff's keynote in November but not at his own? Don't hold your breath!)

Closer inspection revealed that what this meant in practice was that if an Oracle acquisition was using Salesforce.com when absorbed into the Oracle collective, then that acquired firm wouldn't be bounced onto a Siebel solution in the first instance. But Oracle qua Oracle would be sticking with its own Siebel solution.

So while there had been much speculation that Benioff would turn up at OpenWorld - for the first time since being dramatically ousted from his speaking slot there two years ago - to celebrate the new rapprochment, more cynical minds had long cast doubt on this prospect.

The non-appearance was guaranteed once Salesforce.com announced it would not be using Oracle Fusion HCM after all, despite this being part of the June announcement, and to top it off would instead be cosying up to its other BFF, Workday, AKA Oracle's current bete noir. 

As for when this new chumming up was revealed, well, timing is everything - and an hour or so before Oracle turned in some less-than-sparkling quarterly financials was certainly, well, let's call it interesting timing.

Boxing clever

Amid all these non-appearances, it's a relief to note that Box CEO Aaron Levie did make his gig, BoxWorks, and kicked off a two day event that reminded me greatly of the early days of Salesforce.com's Dreamforce, the days when it too could be hosted in a hotel rather than taking over the whole of downtown San Francisco.

Perhaps unsurprisingly Benioff is a big fan of Levie and it's easy to see similarities between the two. Levie's presentational style is off-beat and highly engaging, but still authoritative.

Literally leaping onto the stage in his Google Glasses, he describes them as "Go Pro for nerds" before dismissing them because he lost the charger six months ago. This kicks off a stream of one liners - which unusually for tech conference keynotes actually make the audience laugh! - before getting down to business.

Salesforce.com is also an investor in Box with the two platforms being tightly integrated. I caught up with Roger Murff, Box's VP of Business Development, Salesforce Integration, who explained that Box's emphasis on content and collaboration was highly complementary to CRM and SFA tools used by sales teams in organisations.

He emphasised that one of Box's core objective is to develop what he called "a vibrant ecosystem" made up of "the leading Cloud solutions out there".

As for Salesforce.com's recent release of Salesforce Files - once to be known as ChatterBox - if this is perceived as competitive, then the party line is to play nicely: "We think we're building a great platform. We want people to be able to share. Salesforce.com is clearly going to want to continue to make investments in their applications. It's important for us to remain focused on the end users."

So that was September. October kicks off with the more prosaic Call Centre Expo. Such is life. One minute sipping champagne by San Francisco Bay watching the America's Cup; the next, stuck on the underground trying to get to ruddy Olympia!

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