A streamlined and consolidated reseller program is the aim of Sun's recently appointed national manager for partner sales, Noel Pettitt. Formerly head of Sun's Melbourne sales operation, Pettitt says he hopes to clear up much of the confusion felt both by partner companies and by Sun itself.
"We need a structure whereby we understand what they do, and how that falls into our business model. And we need a method of articulating that, such that they understand what their role is from our perspective. We need to take that confusion out," he said. "If we boiled it all down, the one single question resellers would like to ask Sun is: 'What would you like us to do?' And we need to be better able to answer that question."
Pettitt says this mostly applies to those resellers who are dependent on Sun's infrastructure, such as its products and marketing, to create an opportunity to play in the marketplace. He added that these issues differ for resellers who aren't dependent on Sun's infrastructure, such as Amdahl and Fujitsu. "They have their own identity, business plan, sales model and brand name. The question for those people is how do we fit into their model, not how do they fit into ours."
Pettitt hopes to have achieved part of his aim in the next three months, with Sun currently consolidating its business partners into a single group. "In the past we've had marketing and channels within one group, and independent software vendors and integrators as a separate. We ended up differentiating between two groups who don't want to be differentiated between." Pettitt says the new approach takes into account the high degree of flexibility in Sun's partner's business, such as ISVs that sometimes sell hardware.
One thing Pettitt says Sun will not be doing is using the word "leverage" when talking about its partners. "We've used the word 'leverage' quite often, and that we want to leverage partners. One of the issues that most partners have with that terminology is that the word 'leverage' and the word 'use' are the same. We need to change that terminology around, to the point that we're saying that we want to create a model in which they can leverage us."
A recurring issue in Sun's sales model in the past has been channel conflict. Pettitt says while Sun is not likely to move away from this, certain things can be done to lessen its impact. "We are trying to become more aligned in vertical industries and horizontal technologies. That would tend to dictate that we would be more solution-oriented by nature, and that we would be more supportive of a cooperative selling model than a direct selling model.
"But we don't have a set of metrics that we're working to that says we want to do the business 50-50, and that we want to build it to 60-40 and so on. Ultimately, if we're doing it right the market will sort it out for us, and hopefully our model will be flexible enough to be able to move when the market changes.
"We would rather be an account management organisation than an order-taking organisation, but if order taking is what the customer wants, then order taking is what they will get."
While Pettitt believes channel conflict is inevitable when a company has a direct and indirect sales force, this is not entirely a bad thing. "Channel conflict can happen in a number of ways. It can happen between the reseller channel and the direct sales force or it can happen between elements of the reseller channel. If you haven't got any, then the elements of the reseller channel must be a long way removed from each other in the market. The only thing that leaves is gaps - what we want is a good coverage model. We want through our direct sales force and our business alliances to have a very wide range of coverage models across essentially the whole market.
"But it's a double-edged sword. The other side is that you will have channel conflict, and the organisation needs to address that particularly well. We need to ensure that we anticipate channel conflict and when it can occur. We need to always have an eye on the potential areas where channel conflict can occur."
Pettitt is also working to streamline Sun's channel communications. "What we have at the moment I would say is fairly primitive, and we need to update that. My initial goal will be to make sure that we start to deliver information as opposed to starting to develop a plan to deliver information." Pettitt says he is more likely to take advantage of Australia Post rather than the Internet initially, but says once a number of internal issues are resolved this will become the delivery mechanism of choice.