Oracle exec sits down to chat in the CRM suite

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Described as Oracle’s "CRM marketing guru," Rene Bonvanie is an authoritative voice on the company’s products and strategy, as well as the CRM marketplace in general.

Bonvanie, Oracle’s VP-CRM development, marketing and partnering products, recently discussed with BtoB why so many companies have been disappointed by their CRM investments to date. He also defended Oracle’s long-standing recommendation that customers are better off buying all their CRM components from the company, and offered a peek into the functionality of the forthcoming Oracle Customers Online, due out later this year.

BtoB: You’ve argued that customers should look to CRM as a cost-reduction tool. Yet the success rates of CRM deployments are pretty dismal.

Bonvanie: Companies spent a lot of money and effort to come to a clean customer master record, to get to the point where they can rely on that record being correct—not just from a historical perspective but also from the perspective of being able to project, target and collaborate with that customer.

A lot of CRM implementations have gone wrong because companies thought that CRM would bring them a clean customer master record, while most implementations actually have just aggravated the problem. They’ve gotten more information, but not necessarily a real approach to getting real customer data that’s clean and actionable.

BtoB: What’s the biggest obstacle companies face in achieving their CRM objectives?

Bonvanie: One is that many companies think that in order to do a CRM implementation they have to massively customize the software. As you start touching the software and getting to the point where you really don’t run the software that a vendor like Oracle has been providing, that gets you into a very lengthy process, a very error-prone process.

The other thing is, in a lot of installations, the CRM solution has been assembled by multiple vendors. That’s really hard. Very few have succeeded.

CRM is something a lot of companies think of as an IT project, getting a couple of databases and a couple of applications together to improve how they deal with customers. I think there’s a lot more to CRM than the software itself.

BtoB: Oracle CEO Larry Ellison once famously recommended that customers could ensure tight integration across all CRM modules by just buying everything from Oracle. Is that still the recommendation?

Bonvanie: This is almost a religious discussion, but as a "guru" of course I can make those points. Conventional wisdom teaches you to think best-of-breed for everything and cobble it together. Pragmatic wisdom tells you that if you buy something that is integrated out of the box, you not only improve the quality but the speed of implementation. Speed of implementation today is a very, very big argument for going integrated.

BtoB: That said, does Oracle believe it has the same sophistication, in, say, marketing analytics, that some of the specialized companies have?

Bonvanie: The question is: Are we able to be best-of-breed in every category? Probably not. But the question then becomes: What price are you willing to pay in terms of integration costs, quality issues, length of implementation for that best-of-breed?

BtoB: What’s been the impact of the recession on CRM deployments?

Bonvanie: We’re seeing a renewed focus on basic applications like sales and service, less on the fancy CRM things around them—core processes that build revenue very quickly. We’re looking at implementations in less than 90 days and an ROI within four to six months.

BtoB: Talk about Oracle Customers Online. It’s said to provide data import from legacy systems, as well as from data providers like D&B, allowing marketers to compare their customer records with external data sources in real time.

Bonvanie: The software has not yet been released. It really is a data quality management tool, and comes back to the first point I made earlier: You need not only a tool but an approach to keeping your data clean on an ongoing basis.

The temptation is to think that because you did a good job getting into CRM, stuff stays clean. But there are very many things that can create multiple instances of customer records and not as rich data as you would like.

BtoB: How important are those external sources going to be?

Bonvanie: The problem of doing everything in-house is the way data get stored and verified is very hard. Also, there may be much more known about a customer from a publicly available perspective than I can possibly capture with a dialogue with a customer.

BtoB: Oracle also announced Partners Online. What’s that?

Bonvanie: Most CRM tools today are very heavily focused on a direct sales force and a direct service organization, doing everything direct. With Partners Online we’ve created an extranet functionality with the CRM suite that partners can engage in the sales and service cycles. A very big trend today is the re-intermediation of those partners. [Partners Online was released in December.]

BtoB: You’ve said that you’ve never seen a marketing method that can’t be translated into a Web marketing solution. But isn’t that a dangerous worldview? Haven’t most online-only campaigns run aground?

Bonvanie: What I was trying to say is that I don’t believe in Web only. But I do believe in Web first. Traditional wisdom was that the Web was the last thing you tried to do, and then, "OK, I’ll throw it on the Web." What I see happening now is that people have a Web-first mentality, where we actually try things on the Web first, and we play around with creative ideas and brand management.

BtoB: Finally, what are the important forthcoming developments in marketing automation?

Bonvanie: For a long time, marketing has been a one-shot deal. You drop a direct mail; you drop an advertisement. I think marketing is now realizing that, in fact, [the objective] is maintaining a dialogue that is totally based on response management. So the customer drives more the process of what’s being communicated, and marketers respond in real-time to those changes.

That’s a very big trend—to really understand how to continuously engage with customers, and not necessarily shoot at everything that comes by and declare it a lead for the sales force.

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