Oracle announced today that it has agreed to purchase B2B marketing automation leader Eloqua for $23.50 per share, which comes to $871 million. This was a bit of a surprise, given that Eloqua just went public in August. The stock had been hovering around $17.50 recently, so $23.50 is a 34% premium: reasonable but not exciting. It suggests that neither Oracle nor Eloqua management felt the company was substantially undervalued.
The deal makes obvious sense, in that it gives Oracle a much stronger position in the fast-growing B2B marketing automation industry*. Oracle does have an existing B2B marketing automation product, based on the technology it acquired from Market2Lead in 2010. Market2Lead was very good system, but it lacked the huge market presence that Oracle gains from Eloqua. Oracle may also be gaining a more sophisticated “cloud native” platform, since other Oracle products grew largely from on-premise roots.**
So that’s all fine, but what industry observers really want to know is how Salesforce.com will react. Before addressing that, let’s acknowledge that it’s an “inside the Beltway” concern. Working marketers care more about how this affects the products and services they’ll get as current or potential Eloqua customers.
The jury on that is very much still out. Eloqua’s press release promises that Oracle will “significantly increase engineering investments in Eloqua products” and “make Eloqua the centerpiece of its Oracle Marketing Cloud”. But that’s what they all say, eh? It seems more likely that Oracle will slow down Eloqua enhancements as it evaluates the product’s direction and decides how to best integrate existing Oracle technologies. Indeed, the company says as much in its FAQ on the deal: “Oracle plans to integrate several of its key technology assets, such as Big Data and Business Intelligence, to deliver enhanced value to Eloqua’s products.” That may be the best for Eloqua’s customers in the long run, but the changes will take time to deliver and necessarily distract from near-term product enhancements.
The impact on customer service is likely to be even more negative. Eloqua’s culture is very focused on customer success, and it has been a clear leader in areas like marketer training. Oracle is less customer-focused and generally less nimble (I’m being polite here). It will be Oracle’s culture that dominates the combined organization.
Small businesses in particular can expect little love from an Oracle-ized Eloqua. The company had already been pulling away from that market and now will almost surely give it even less attention. One very specific reason is that B2B marketing automation vendors have always touted client counts as a competitive success metric, which encouraged them to sell to a lot of small clients to inflate that number. Oracle doesn’t report client counts, so that motivation will be gone.
What if you’re an enterprise marketer? In that case, this might well be a good thing. If you look back at my earlier post this week on the industry future, I argued that the major marketing automation systems will become platforms that support a range of independently developed applications, similar to the Apple and Android app stores or the Salesforce.com AppExchange. As part of the Oracle “Customer Experience Cloud”, Eloqua itself will plug into a larger platform: so it’s pretty much the same model but on a larger scale.
The advantage is that this platform (shown in Oracle’s diagram as the “Customer Experience Foundation”) is unequivocally designed to span all customer-facing activities in the company. A marketing automation platform can’t do this because it bumps up against the competing platform of CRM. A platform that truly includes all customer-facing activities can be more powerful than one limited to marketing automation. This applies especially to the data structures, which are limited for different reasons in both marketing automation and cloud-based CRM systems. (The reasons: marketing automation databases are constrained by the need to synchronize the CRM data structures; CRM databases are limited by the challenges of delivering adequate performance at reasonable cost for operational processing.)
Of course, a platform that serves all customer life stages also by definition contains all information about each customer. This is another Good Thing, since it provides a truly complete customer view and thus enables the best possible coordination of customer treatments across systems and throughout the relationship.
I’m not saying Oracle is guaranteed to fulfill this potential (see my earlier comments under “nimbleness, lack of”). But at least it’s possible. And, just maybe, Oracle managers will see the value of Eloqua’s “appcloud” marketplace and expand rather than kill it. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Okay, now we can talk about Salesforce.com. There’s a case to be made that this whole purchase is just a way for Oracle’s Larry Ellison to annoy Salesforce’s Marc Benioff: after all, Eloqua isn’t costing that much more than the Hawaiian island that Ellison bought himself not long ago and it might give Ellison greater pleasure. It’s certainly worth a chuckle at Oracle headquarters that Eloqua was recently selected as Salesforce’s own marketing automation tool.
More significantly, the Eloqua purchase poses an awkward dilemma for Salesforce, which wouldn’t let Market2Lead continue to integrate with Salesforce after Oracle bought it. Taking the same line with an Oracle-owned Elqoua isn’t quite as easy, and in fact is probably impossible. So now Salesforce finds itself forced to give Oracle access to prime customers, which cannot be a pleasant prospect. We’ll see how they handle it.
The Eloqua purchase certainly exposes the downside of relying on AppExchange partners to provide significant functionality needed by Salesforce clients. Yes, Salesforce.com gets to leverage those partners’ efforts, saving its own funds for other, more strategic investments. But if a big partner like Eloqua goes away, there’s some danger it could take Salesforce clients with it. This doesn’t matter when there are plenty of alternative partners to provide Salesforce clients with similar capabilities, which has been the case with marketing automation. The calculus changes when a few large vendors start to dominate the marketing automation space – especially among enterprise clients, who have special needs that only a few vendors can meet. More concretely, Salesforce now has to think long and hard about Marketo‘s future. The expectation has always been that Marketo would remain independent, eventually as a public company. But what if they get bought by potentially serious competitor like SAP or IBM, either before or after a public offering? Salesforce might well decide to buy them itself just as a defensive measure.
As I say, this is really just inside gossip that’s not terribly relevant to most working marketers. But who doesn’t like a good soap opera? Stay tuned…
* Raab Associates estimates the industry grew about 50% this year, to $525 million. I haven’t come up with a considered estimate for next year, but suspect the rate will fall a bit on a percentage basis, even though absolute dollar growth will be about the same or higher.
** In fact, Oracle has two B2B marketing automation products, the other being Oracle Fusion Marketing.