Talk with Sun's Michael May for any period of time and you will hear the word 'engage' often. As the vendor's channel boss, the man is trying to do just that. A modern day Heracles, he is tasked with focusing a channel that looks more like a many-headed Hydra than a band of Argonauts in search of the Golden Fleece.
Since taking up the role in July, May's mission has been to align Sun's direct and channel sales forces, create new partner opportunities, grow reseller numbers and haul the channel behind the vendor's push for its new client services division.
And all this against a background in which Sun is trying to explore the Elysian Fields of grid and utility computing, RFID, NAS and a new venture into the volume space.
What is managing Sun's channel like?
Michael May (MM): It's like standing in front of a fire hose. My key focus for this year has been to improve the channel's engagement with the direct team. Most vendors struggle with doing that as you have two different sales forces with different egos and agenda. However, my experience is in both channel and direct businesses, so I am a good fit to bring the two teams closer together.
How difficult is that to do?
MM: I think we have a really good structure in place in terms of our contractual obligations with our partners. For example, we provide incentives for our direct sales force to put sales through the partner channel. As there is an element of trust involved, we also like to have an account plan with our channel partners. That way we can clearly say 'this is what we will do, and we would like to do this'.
Why did you take up this role?
MM: For me, this role gives a far better understanding of the other side of the business - I was previously working on the direct side as Sun's national sales director. Where I sit, the channel falls into four eclectic businesses - integrators, value-added resellers (VARs), independent software vendors (ISVs) and distribution - and they all have their own challenges. It's not good enough just to generate more revenue. You have to help the partner grow their business and create additional value so they can differentiate themselves in their customer base.
How you have been working to improve overall communication levels?
MM: That is an ongoing thing. Currently, we have partner forums where we receive input from the partners on what we are doing right or wrong and how we can improve. For example, in trying to get a better level of engagement in our client solutions and managed service businesses. What we want to do is take away the perception that we are competing with our partners. These days the sale is complex, it's a longer cycle and you don't necessarily have all the skills and resources in the one company to achieve your objective. So you really need your partners to help the process and give you better coverage.
Is Sun looking to recruit partners, then?
MM: We are, and at a time when I think a lot of other companies are moving more to a direct model and don't want to take on additional partners. Sun is very much moving into the volume space and we need the channel to grow that end of the business for us. As part of our recruitment we have an extensive program aimed at matching up ISVs with some of our VARs to take solutions to market in specific verticals.
Why do you think other vendors are retracting their channels?
MM: I think we have a model which is a good balance in that we don't spread ourselves across every partner. Other vendors have hundreds of partners and just don't have the resources to support them. It is also extremely competitive in the volume end of the market so I think you need to have a true value-add to be able to grow and be successful.
What do you feel you've achieved so far in the role?
MM: The first has been to really focus on an improved engagement model with our partners, particularly in our software business and managed services. We have also done some extensive business planning aimed at moving partners into more targeted areas and have put programs in place to take more demand generation for our partners.
Is there a point where partners have to take responsibility for generating their own opportunities?
MM: Some partners are purely in the role of channel fulfilment and that is their value-add. You have other scenarios where partners have their own solutions and I think when they take those to market they should be looking for a technology partner to take with them.
What would you like to see within Sun's channel within the next year?
MM: We really want to focus on improved partner certification and training as well as implementing a telesales model that will give us total coverage across our customer base and act as a lead generation tool for our partners. I'd like to see more joint marketing plans as well as improved engagement with our client solutions group. We will not be successful with that business unless we can engage partners.