Oracle announced today that it will acquire Eloqua, a SaaS marketing automation provider. Oracle’s stated motives address, head-on, the zeitgeist facing the 21st century marketer.   Today’s buyer definitely controls the buying process more than today’s seller controls the selling process. Digitally active and socially connected, buyers demand consistent, seamless, and seemingly sentient engagement across multiple (online, offline, digital, physical, social) channels and touch points.  I agree with the assessment of my colleague Rob Brosnan, in his blog that this is a move that has large ramifications for the future of all customer relationship marketers and marketing vendors. In this blog, I wanted to ponder some of the near term implications, the WIM – What it Means – as we like to say at Forrester, especially for the B-2-B marketer.  I see some clear winners, but it gets a little hazy after that.

Winner: Oracle

Oracle presented a grand vision — a comprehensive customer experience cloud that enables business to create an integrated, end-to-end process of marketing, sales, service, and support with the goal of delivering a delightful customer experience.  Oracle made a big bold move to deliver on that vision. They have picked up a company with a robust product, happy customers, and (arguably) the best brand in the B2B marketing automation space.  For B2B marketers, Oracle is now the first vendor to actually have a shot at providing a unified automation platform for the end-to-end lead to revenue process. 

Winner: Eloqua

Eloqua hardly needed any more financial approbation after a successful IPO followed by some steadily increasing love from Wall Street.Still a 30% premium over yesterday’s market cap has got to feel pretty good.  But, it’s more than that. The Eloqua I know is made up of a lot of smart and energetic people with a surfeit of vision and passion. The collected team that is Eloqua is now in the position to bring that vision to reality faster on a broader scale.

The Jury’s Still Out: Eloqua

The software industry is simply rife with the acquisition zombies—once lively innovative entities that are decidedly undead, but not quite alive either.  Will Oracle, with an IT-centric sales strategy, misfire on Eloqua sales efforts?  Will internal politics make Oracle stop short of killing off products that have been on life support for years?   Will Oracle decide (despite protestations to the contrary) that there’s more upside in not having seamless integration into than there is in having it?  Will Oracle overly complicate Eloqua’s offering with its social marketing, business intelligence, and content management portfolio?  It’s possible. 

Winner:  The heart and soul of the 21st century B-2-B marketer.

The CMOs and marketing leaders I talk to all seriously get it.  They know they need to completely change their engagement model (what they used to call marketing) to be audience/buyer/customer centric.They know that driving sustained, predictable, profitable revenue growth means that lead value, velocity, and volumes are maximized; and that this has to be done more efficiently and effectively.  They get that this complex set of interrelated goals requires an integrated, holistic process automation approach that spans the marketing, sales, and service organizations of a B2B enterprise.   And they know they don’t have that.  They know they need to meet this tough challenge with a mixed automation toolkit that only makes a challenging job harder.  Hurray!   A knight in shining armor riding a white charger with bright red livery is coming to the rescue.

The Jury’s Still Out:  The flesh and blood of the 21st century B-2-B marketer.

Anyone with 30 days in the software business (let alone my 30 years) knows that there is no guarantee that a bunch of software products  that were standalone systems yesterday are integrated today (or in two years) because they have the same logo.  

The Jury’s Still Out: Current Eloqua customers

You have a front row seat to see the resolution of the “Jury’s still out” issues.   But, that’s tomorrow. If I were an Eloqua customer, here’s what I’d be thinking about today.   

If I were also a user:  Well, I’d tell myself that it’s simply inconceivable that Oracle would just de-commit on Eloqua/SFDC integration.   And we got assurances of that today.  But, I would surely discuss this with Eloqua, as it’s also unlikely that making the integration between Eloqua and SFDC even more seamless will be the top development priority.

If I weren’t already an Oracle customer: I’d pay real close attention to the near term development roadmap.  There’s likely to be a lot of development time spent integrating Eloqua with Oracle tools that will not benefit me.   

If I weren’t heavily invested in Oracle's business intelligence infrastructure: I’d ask a lot of questions about the plan for improved marketing analytics.  As a marketing exec, I might not want to buy into Oracle’s big data BI strategy.  I might just want ongoing improvement to the self-contained reporting dashboards inside Eloqua.

I’d keep a critical eye and ear, but I wouldn’t totally freak out.

The Losers:  The other guys

It might be temporary, but let’s face it, Oracle trumped you today.