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Chris Bucholtz Oracle OpenWorld '11 Recap and Review

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By Chris Bucholtz, Editor-in-Chief of CRM Outsiders

Three Ways the Benioff-Ellison Feud Impedes CRM Users

Oh, the hand-wringing and angst that resulted from Marc Benioff's ejection from Larry Ellison's sandbox at Oracle OpenWorld last week. Denis Pombriant delivered a terrific summary of the kerfluffle at the post titled Marc Benioff Dissed From Oracle Open World, and many more gallons of virtual ink have been spilled describing this clash of the egos. I've heard more conspiratorial theories around the cancellation – if Oracle was going to position as their enemy, why not give them extra attention so people could understand the comparison between the two? But really: Occam's razor suggests a more obvious and personal reason for the Benioff bump.

Denis was right in calling it "bush league." It may have been conceived as a way to dis Benioff, but really dissed the event attendees by chopping a big event out of their schedule without warning.

But the Ellison-Benioff feud has other detriments to the CRM customer base, especially in the SMB and midmarket spaces. These may be waning as areas of interest for Oracle and Salesforce, but today's midmarket layer could be tomorrow's enterprise – and impeding their understanding of their CRM choices is not a great way to position your brand for that eventuality.

Here are three ways that Marc vs. Larry is really vendors vs. customers.

1. What the heck is the cloud?

Over the course of two OpenWorlds and three Dreamforces, these two leaders have repeatedly tried to plant their flags in the cloud with increasing vigor. Oracle's "cloud in a box" hardware announcements fuelled Benioff's "the cloud's not a box, Larry!" cries; meanwhile, Salesforce asserted that it was the cloud until earlier this year, when they laudably made a clear declaration that they were not the cloud.

But what is the cloud? Both Marc and Larry are great at defining it in terms of what they sell, but the cloud by its nature is not about its individual component parts. I define it as a distributed, virtualized computing infrastructure and the software optimized to use it, which simplifies IT and provides rapid and easy deployment and scalability at a monthly fee. That's it – it's not a piece of hardware, and it's not a piece of software. Calling any product "the cloud" is like throwing down a catcher's mitt and saying it's "baseball." Sure, playing baseball's a lot easier with a catcher's mitt, but you also need a ball, a bat, some bases and other gear, plus a set of rules, plus a bunch of players.

The Benioff-Ellison back-and-forth has almost legitimized the marketing misuse of the term "cloud." It was good news when Salesforce stepped away from assertions about itself in May; now, the two are just fighting loudly about Oracle's assertions.

2. Customer-centricty is important! (Except when a CEO wants attention)

At any big vendor-driven confab, the emphasis needs to be on the people in the seats and how technology can make their lives easier and their businesses more lucrative. At CRM events (and OpenWorld is at least nominally a CRM-related event), that's just a good behavior to model, since vendors preach the idea of CRM as a catalyst to make their customers more customer-centric.

A CEO feud shows exactly how much attention is being paid to the customers. It happens in technology keynotes all the time – a CEO diverts from a talk about how his own products can help users to take a gratuitous and needless swipe at another vendor. Microsoft and IBM seem to be popular targets, but every vendor seems to be fair game (save perhaps Apple, which may get a bye for a while for obvious reasons). Sitting in the crowd, you can feel just how little regard show attendees have for the bashing of other vendors, especially in an age when it's likely they use those other vendors' products to run their operations.

If CRM's about customer focus, it's high time that that behavior was modeled from the top down. Stop focusing on scoring points against other CEOs. Start focusing on your customers.

3. Your publicity stunt destroyed my networking opportunity

The great part about big shows is that they draw many like-minded people together. The discussions that result far outstrip the shows' content in value – the sessions and keynotes get people thinking, and then hundreds or even thousands of small, epiphanies take place, are shared, discussed and become the ideas that return to businesses around the world.

Want to displace that discussion with useless blather? Stage a CEO-level publicity stunt. I'm sure no one ever considered how bumping Benioff would also bump a significant number of important discussions out of the time allotted for the show. For better or worse, human nature is to talk about such gossipy things and to fixate on exceptional occurrences (like one CEO trying to upstage another CEO). Doing this ultimately eroded the value of OpenWorld for many attendees (and, for that matter, many observers who weren't at the show). It's hard to quantify, but there's a real value to the lost discussions the cancellation and subsequent replacement keynote caused. It's a bad idea to get in the way of people having good ideas (especially if those ideas might mean the additional purchase of your products and services). End

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Author  Author: Chris Bucholtz, Editor-in-Chief of CRM Outsiders
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The sessions and keynotes get people thinking, and then hundreds or even thousands of small, epiphanies take place, are shared, discussed and become the ideas that return to businesses around the world."


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