Business

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

Oracle VP Mike Betzer: The Mainstream Is Waking Up to CRM

Mike Betzer was working for MCI several years ago when he realized that if the company could use the Internet as a front end, it could leverage the software in the data center and develop a network-based application that could be sold to other companies doing essentially the same thing that MCI did in-house.

As it happened MCI, in the midst of being acquired at the time, was in no position to develop such a new business strategy. Betzer though, for his part, went on to launch Ineto Services, a firm that provided hosted telephony infrastructure. He jumped into, in short, a trend that would come to dominate the CRM space in a few short years.

Later Ineto was folded into Siebel as the then-CRM giant began its push to develop its own on-demand strategy, of which Ineto would play a key part. Siebel, in turn, was acquired by Oracle a few years later.

Betzer’s view of CRM has since evolved. For one — not surprisingly — he embraces Oracle’s hybrid approach to CRM deployment, which includes both the on demand and on presence models. Betzer’s prescience on trends in the CRM space, meanwhile, appear to be as sharp as ever. CRM Buyer caught up with Betzer to talk about where he sees CRM heading next, and how Oracle intends to stay on top of the trends.

Competition Ahead

CRM Buyer: Let’s start with 2008. What do you think will be the big CRM story for the year?

Betzer:

I think it will be a continuation of what has been quietly happening over the last several months and few years: a resurgence of CRM. More companies are realizing it is more than ever before relevant to their businesses. There is more competition than ever before, and companies are trying to figure out how to make customer loyal. They know they need a good CRM foundation to do that.

CRM Buyer: They didn’t know this before?

Betzer:

Of course they always knew that, but it is becoming easier all the time for a customer to switch from one service provider to another, from Verizon, say, to AT&T or from Home Depot, for example, to Lowes.

CRM Buyer: I have to tell you, I am not sure how CRM can stop a consumer from switching from one service provider to another in a lot of situations. Most people, myself included, switch providers for a lot of reasons no matter how long they have been there, usually either because they are annoyed at the service or they like a phone offered by a competitor. And the Lowes versus Home Depot decision? Those stores are so commoditized now that people shop at the most convenient one.

Betzer:

What you say is [about product commodization] true, which is why CRM is being viewed as the factor that can push a consumer from just shopping at the most convenient site to seeking out a company where he or she has had a good experience.

For instance, consider Dell. It developed a supply chain model that it thought it could ride to dominate the PC space — until HP copied that model. So consumers can buy from either Dell or HP, they don’t care which one. But they will care which firm knows the consumer better and serves the consumer better. The way to do that is tie all the channels together and develop a master database of customer records. Developing a single source of truth on the consumer. Analytics as well is becoming increasingly important.

Oracle’s Acquisitions

CRM Buyer: Can we talk about what is happening at Oracle and its strategy for CRM? How is it leveraging its acquisitions, PeopleSoft, Siebel namely, to build a better product?

Betzer:

We are pulling the best from the different applications. PeopleSoft, for instance, cracked the code for the higher education vertical and figured out the right way to deploy and deliver software in that space. It did a fantastic job so we are leveraging that vertical instead of Siebel’s.

In other cases we are blending the products. Siebel’s field service application was focused on a service person in a truck. Oracle’s was about moving products through a supply chain. We are leveraging both and blending them together.

CRM Buyer: What can we expect to see from Oracle next year, in terms of CRM that is?

Betzer:

More blending of sales, service and analytics to allow companies to make smart decisions faster and sell better. For instance, you own a Mac and several iPods. Conceivably an Apple salesperson should have you on his radar, reaching out to you about new devices or related products that you might want. That is what we are focusing on — allowing that sales person to leverage the knowledge about the customer that sits somewhere within the organization.

We also will be bringing more self-service capabilities to the application. Also, loyalty is another focus area for us. Up until recently most in the industry have gotten loyalty wrong — they think of it only as a marketing campaign. But it is not so one dimensional — you have to leverage sales and service as well, just like the airlines have done with their loyalty campaigns. Airline miles, in fact, is one of the greatest loyalty campaign examples of all time. We want to apply those lessons in other areas now.

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