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Oracle updates CRM sales tools

Software maker promises that the sales force automation revamp will help sales processes by pulling in more data.

Oracle said Monday it will ship the next generation of its sales force automation software within the next two months, as part of its annual update of its customer relationship management tools.

The 11i.10 upgrades to Oracle's sales, marketing, partner relationship management and e-commerce applications promise to improve the integration of a company's sales process with all of its business operations. They will piece together the individual tasks that make up the sales process more effectively, specifically marketing and lead generation, Oracle said.

Marketing is currently considered a hot spot in the market for CRM software, of which sales force automation is a major category.

"We're trying to forward the idea of information-driven selling, where important data and business practices from across a company's enterprise can be brought directly into the selling process," said John Wookey, senior vice president of Oracle's applications development unit. "Simple administrative tools can help better align sales efforts."

Among the improvements in the business applications are a slew of tools that will provide sales staff with a greater amount of data, gathered at different points in the sales process, Oracle said.

One example of the emphasis on channeling data to staff is the new Audience Workbench tool in Marketing 11i.10, which reports on customers' buying patterns to help create marketing promotions. Another is Territory Manager, a component of Sales 11i.10, which gathers information on regional activities and partnerships to aid both internal and channel sales.

The updated software also reflects Oracle's aim of simplifying the interface of its analytical applications. The software maker's earlier efforts to provide powerful data research led to analytics tools that were too complicated for most sales professionals to use, Wookey said. In the 11i.10 set of programs, those applications will feed into a "Yahoo-like" portal that uses the same underlying querying technologies as before. That set-up will enable people who are less database-savvy to work with the analytics tools, Wookey said.

Earlier this month, Oracle released an overhaul of its supply chain software, which also included new tools for integrating information from business partners. Partner Dashboards, a portal-like tool meant to provide an up-to-date overview of a company's business relationships, is being touted as part of both its supply chain applications and its CRM tools.

While Wookey agreed that CRM--specifically sales force automation, or SFA--has undergone something of a boom-and-bust market over the last several years, he said new versions of the enterprise software are reinvigorating interest among businesses. For instance, he believes that applications that allow companies to directly track leads generated by marketing promotions through the sales process have executives ready to invest in CRM once again.

"Sales force automation is still a strong area. It's just defined more broadly, as it focuses on connecting sales figures to many other areas of a business," Wookey said. "Previously, salespeople were putting a lot of information into SFA systems and getting little help in return, but we think that is changing."