% fortune -ae paul murphy

Creating a sales infrastructure for Sun

Three excerpts from a blog by Sun employee Tim Bray - speaking on his own, with no company policy support:

Sun is going through a lousy spell right now. Well, so is the world's economy in general and the IT business in particular, but this is about Sun. This is my opinion about what my employer should do about it.


The Strategy To my ears, these [Sun's advanced] technologies scream "Deployment time!" In particular server-side deployment, in particular of Web applications.

Therefore, Sun should adopt a laser focus on building a Sun Web Suite and becoming the Web application deployment platform of choice. It's a large space, a growing space, and one where we can win.

The rest of this piece assumes this strategy and considers how to get from here to there.

The Suite At the center of everything should be the Sun Web Suite, and everything we produce should have a crisp, easy-to-explain role in driving the Web Suite?s quality, performance, or ease of adoption.

It's easy to understand how our servers, CMT and x86, and the Solaris OS, fit into the Web Suite. All the software, including the HotSpot, GlassFish, and MySQL runtimes, needs to be obsessively tuned and optimized to run best in the context of the Suite. Obviously, the Suite will also include Ruby and Python and PHP runtimes, similarly tuned.

All of Sun's software tooling should have a laser focus on usability, performance, and ease of adoption for the Web Suite.


The Field Sales Organization My belief is that our field organization is somewhere between competent and excellent at taking care of the few hundred largest customers who represent Sun's largest revenue stream. They do a good job, first of understanding those customers' concerns, and second, finding ways to match the products that Sun Engineering gives them to those concerns.

It is also my belief that the current organization is entirely unsuited to addressing the needs of small businesses and startups, which have two ways of buying infrastructure:

  1. Getting hardware specs from a Web site, filling in their credit card number, and waiting for delivery.

  2. Buying it in the form of services from a hosting or ?cloud? provider, which involves getting the specs from a Web site, filling in their credit card number, and waiting for deployment.

More on the cloud below, but we need a sales organization, probably independent of the current large-account teams, that knows how to move product and services through a Web-only presence with low friction and high customer satisfaction.

As regular readers know he's singing a couple of verses of my favorite song here - there are hundreds of thousands of customers for whom the combination of open source with Solaris on SPARC is the right answer, but to whom Sun can't be bothered to sell.

(The missing verses deal, of course, with the financial attacks being directed against the company - attacks I think can now best be answered by temporarily refinancing the company through a private equity, public debt, combination)

It's one thing, however, to argue that Sun needs to create a sales organization that can efficiently serve large numbers of smaller customers - and quite something else to suggest a method for doing it.

To do that we need first to know what we're selling and who to. As I see it, the right thing is a complete working system - inclusive of hardware, software, and support - sold to small and medium businesses.

To provide that Sun needs to prepackage everything needed on the hardware/software side: i.e. provide systems with the customer's software pre-configured and ready to run - including all needed storage, redundancy, networking, and power continuity gear.

More importantly, however, Sun needs to provide the people who will unpack, install, and support the things on the customer's premises.

A few years ago, I suggested an approach that I think would work - then in a Linux marketing context - and here with a few very minor modifications to make it fit Sun's situation.

A few years ago I suggested to an American colleague that we start a new business using the Telearb name I'd invented for a potential client in the call center business who didn't follow through. The new business would focus, I suggested, on providing Linux community support.

He didn't want to play, and I haven't pursued it since, but Sun could act on this idea now - so here's the 4-1-1:

Telearb means "work at a distance", the goal would be to combine some of the best practices in the temporary staffing industry with some of the best ideas applied by ebay to grow, serve, and police a market for local, person to person, Solaris support.

From a customer perspective here's how it would work: contact the Telearb dispatch center and get whatever level of help is needed - from finding documentation to having a person arrive at your door with the expertise, tools, and backing needed to help. The fine print says you pay Telearb $5.00 for fielding the question, Telearb bills you for the service at the rate applicable to the provider, keeps a small percentage of it, and passes the rest to the provider. You then grade the service you receive and Telearb makes that rating available to others on the ebay community model and also uses it to determine the hourly rate paid the provider - with more effective people getting higher rates.

There's a bit more to it - Telearb provides some professional insurance coverage, takes responsibility for botched jobs, maintains suggested billings schedules, uses auctions to staff jobs, reports to the tax man, and provides training and related community opportunities for staffers- but that's the essence of the customer deal: the customer pays, Telearb gets a living, breathing, person with proven credentials in place to help.

Telearb responds to the basic problem Joe average has with systems support - it's never there when you need it, and you pretty much have to understand the problem well enough to fix it yourself before you can communicate it clearly enough to get actual help from a call center support geek.

The single most important factor in explaining why Windows has it all over Linux for home and small business adoption is the public's belief that there's always somebody willing to take a few bucks per hour to futz with Windows - and whether that's competent support or not matters less than the idea that a few bucks can make their problem someone else's.

With Telearb we can develop a community of user rated Sun specialists who show up, charge a fair rate, fix the problem, and go away - no fuss, no contracts, no accounts, no miscommunication: a clear, simple, person to person deal whose risks are under written by a national organization.

Oh yeah, and in that process we put working with Sun on a commercially competitive basis with working on Wintel, reduce the customer's perception of the support risk he undertakes by stepping out from under the Microsoft umbrella, and raise the ante for the unskilled ninny willing to take twenty bucks an hour to futz with Windows.

So, how would this work? getting it off the ground means recruiting both customers and support people in seed locations across the United States, but because Sun really does have better products at lower costs of ownership, the thing will snowball into an avalange just as soon people start to understand the benefits - benefits Sun doesn't bother telling either end user customers or support sellers about today.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.