Sun poised for channel-led growth in 2010

Sun admits FY09 was a tough year but says it's re-grouped and looking for growth

After a fiscal 2009 that Sun Microsystems executives admit was very challenging for the vendor and its channel partners, the vendor is optimistic about what's in store for 2010.

Speaking at distributor Avnet Technology Solutions annual conference for its Sun partners, Kim Jones, vice-president of the sales organization with Sun, said she truly believes fiscal 2010 will be a road to growth for Sun and its partners.

"FY2009 was a very tough year, but I do think some good things come out of tough times," said Jones. "We've re-grouped, we've re-evaluated, and we've thought about how to do things better. Partners have given Sun good input on how to create improved profitability. Partners that are looking to invest more in Sun, we're clearly going to invest in you."

In 2009, Sun's partner priorities were around greater investment reward, more consistent sales engagement and increased business opportunities, said Jones. Sun continued to invest in reward and incentive programs, along with new business rebate and specialty programs.

"The real emphasis in 2009 was on new business and new accounts," said Jones. "We provided more up-front money for partners and more back-end rebates. In North America, we broke into 2000 new accounts in FY2009."

Improvements have also been made to deal registration, and strong emphasis has been places on partner specialization.

"We wanted to get partners to specialize in areas where Sun needed help and partners could make money, such as software and virtualization, so we launched a specializations program," said Jones. "Investing in specializations has a huge payoff, and it's another area where you'll continue to see strong investments from Sun."

Jones also pointed to a new organizational structure announced in April that brings partner sales together under one unified global structure. In addition to making it easier to replicate global best practices, Jones said it means a stronger partner voice within Sun.

"For the first time on a number of years we have a seat at the table. Partner sales is now represented by one person dedicated to partners so our voice can get heard, which is important," said Jones.

Looking ahead to fiscal 2010 and Sun's plans for growth, Jones said winning new business and going deeper with current clients will be critical, and Sun will be helping partners to do just that.

"Sun didn't grow its business in 2009, but many of our partners did," said Jones, noting those partners that were successful differentiated themselves in the market, generated new business, and leveraged Avnet programs to do solution-based selling.

"If we keep selling the same things to the same customers year-in, year-out we're going to eat ourselves," said Jones. "We need to go deeper with customers with new products, go to new departments, and new customers."

While Sun executives have been careful on their comments around the vendor's pending acquisition by Oracle, Jones did paint a picture of strong greenfield opportunities for Sun and its partners.

"We have 50,000 customers. I'd like to have 350,000 customers," said Jones. "How did I come up with that number? Oracle has 350,000 customers."

One area Sun has already revamped going into 2010 revolves around partner marketing. Wendy Wheeler holds the position of vice-president of global product marketing with Sun, a new position within Sun that brings together global program training and competency tracking, North American channel marketing and lead generation, and joint partner marketing under one global umbrella.

Wheeler acknowledged she has some work to do from a partner marketing and support perspective.

"We haven't had the best record for online tools and the partner portal," said Wheeler. "I know we've got a ways to go there, but we've made a lot of progress too."

Wheeler's team is focused on improving availability, streamlining content, and enhancing search. The Achilles heel, she admitted, is the configuration and quoting tool, and that's an area they're really working on improving.

For fiscal 2010, go to market focus areas will include enterprise business applications, web infrastructure and open storage. On the product side, x86, storage/Amber Road and archive and tape are among the priorities.

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