Sun To Require Sales Team To Build Partner Business Plans

The new model is part of Sun's overall plan to align its sales and partner resources more closely than it has in the past, part of a channel message it will present to VARs when it kicks off its iForce Grow America Tour in Santa Clara, Calif., on Tuesday.

"What we're rolling out is a comprehensive sales strategy aligning the technical community with partners and our sales force so the frontline sales managers and sales force will be directly involved in the business planning with the partner community," said Tom Lieto, senior vice president of U.S. sales for Sun.

Sun, Santa Clara, Calif., also plans to stress its determination to align existing sales and partner resources to ensure customers purchase products from every sector of Sun's broad portfolio, said Rich Napolitano, president of U.S. sales for Sun.

Currently, many customers still tend to buy tried-and-true offerings that have traditionally comprised the bulk of Sun's revenue, he said. Sun is aiming to work with partners and its own sales team to diversify the types of products they are selling, as well as broaden Sun's existing customer base.

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"We're going to be a little boring," Napolitano said. "[Our message] is basically [about] blocking and tacklingselling more with the same number of people. But what we have to say can help grow this company and that's what we need to do. We want to sell more of what we have to existing customers, as well as garner new customers. We call that selling everything on the truck."

Sun currently has five geographic sales territories in the United States--Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Southwest and West--in addition to four vertical sectors, each with its own sales team. The verticals are financial services, government, education and communications, Lieto said.

Several VARs told CRN that Sun is considering reducing the number of territories it has in the United States when it implements its annual sales reorganization in July at the beginning of its new fiscal year. Napolitano offered no comment Monday, saying only that Sun is finalizing changes that will be enacted in July.

The Grow America tour is the first of its kind for Sun, implemented this year to replace the vendor's traditional annual partner summit. The day-long events--slated for Los Angeles, Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, New York and Boston in addition to Santa Clara--also give partners the chance to meet Sun's new U.S. sales management team, Napolitano and Lieto, for the first time. Both were appointed in January in a sales organization shake-up.

Though Sun canceled its annual partner summit, the vendor did hold its VAR Council meeting as scheduled in April. At the meeting, Sun presented to partners a third-party report by Gartner that assessed its partner strategy, showing what aspects of it are working and what could use some tweaking, said Greg Stroud, vice president of U.S. alliances.

Stroud said there was a lot of positive feedback in the report, which Sun commissioned to "make sure we have the right partner programs and the right partners to execute in the marketplace."

"When I saw the Gartner report six weeks into the job I said, 'Wow, this is all the stuff we're going to work on,'" Napolitano said. "We're going to work on aligning our resources. We don't want [partners and salespeople] just selling servers or software or storage; we want them to sell all of those things."

One partner who attended the VAR Council meeting had a slightly different take on the Gartner report. The source, who asked not to be named, said the overall assessment was that Sun's program was "extremely dysfunctional" in contrast to programs from competitors such as IBM and Microsoft.

Stroud admitted that the report did point out flaws in the areas of field-level sales engagement, demand generation and marketing for partners, areas that Sun's renewed commitment to aligning its existing resources and ensuring customers are buying a more diversified set of products should help.

"Our strategy is not boring in terms of clarity," Stroud said. "We understand that partnership and channels are developed on a full-fledged value chain, [which includes] business proposition, engagement strategy, demand creation and go-to-market strategies."

Solution providers who attended Sun's VAR Council meeting also cited partner marketing efforts as a sore spot for Sun.

"The channel is up in arms about the lack of air cover," said an East Coast-based VAR, who asked not to be named. "We would love to see more brand awareness and tactical and strategic marketing with the channel."

Stroud said Sun has invested $1 million in partner marketing and demand creation since the beginning of the year and will continue to put money into these efforts to support its partner community.