Hello Oracle

Here’s a slightly edited version of a post I put up on my Sun blog and then took down, nervous that I was violating the new social media policy.

Well, we can finally comment on the Oracle acquisition.

The webcast last night contained pretty much everything Sun people wanted to hear – investment in people and Sun products.

It’s still not clear what will happen to me, exactly, but I am pretty optimistic.

The last few months have been fairly miserable for all of us – I can’t wait to be up and at it, working hard as part of Oracle. Critically, I want to be empowered to get on with things, through improved processes and a different approach to management.

Larry Ellison’s comment hit the nail on the head – he said, more or less, that Sun had great engineers and engineering, but they didn’t seem to like selling much. I’m looking forward to being part of a company that has great products, but also knows how to go out and sell them.

Lots of commentary on Sun’s ‘demise’ has focused on Sun not quite having the right product set, or being behind the times for a while and then struggling to catch up. That’s certainly true when it comes to Solaris on x86 and Sun’s slow to arrive x64 kit, but we’ve had a fantastic range of products and solutions for ages now. Every year I have been back at Sun has seen the best line up we’ve ever had, with constant improvements, year on year.

The main problem I always experienced, from my position in the field, was a lack of empowerment for sales teams to go out and sell as well as they could. It wasn’t constant reorganisations that were needed – the core problems needed to be addressed from the top.

These core problems, in my experience, were not who was in what team or practice or business unit, or what our long term strategy was. The problems were poor sales tools, such as CRM, quoting and discount processes. These things meant we were much less agile than our competitors, despite often having better solutions. Equally, there was a lack of basic sales content – whitepapers, references and suchlike.

There was also no clear story coming from Sun any more. Yes, it was right to talk about open source, Web 2.0, etc, etc. There was a need however, for some clear, simple messages about what we had today and what we were selling, because that was the sort of thing customers wanted to buy. Look at us – we’ve got some great kit that’s fast and that gets the job done better than anyone else! Talk about what you have today, as well as musing on the long term route IT is following. Get people excited. By all means burble about concepts and trends, but don’t forget to promote the stuff that’s actually making you money today.

Creating a great product is obviously essential, but it’s only part of the process. For your employees and partners to sell that product, you have to make it as easy as possible. Chucking a great box over the fence with some technical documentation attached does not empower your guys to go out and sell it. You need datasheets, whitepapers, aggressive reference programmes, easy ways to create well written proposals, sizing guides, easy ‘how tos’ when it comes to setting up demos and the like. You need to make it easier to sell than anything else your partners have in their portfolio of products. You need your own sales guys to be able to walk into a meeting with a full arsenal of sales material. When they walk out of the meeting at midday, you need to have them be able to give the customer a well written proposal and pricing by five o’clock that same afternoon.

Sun made an excellent decision, in my opinion, to focus on the so-called emerging markets. So much so, that we had a region that was called Emerging Markets and which, whilst geographically separate, was experiencing the same kind of growth, with similar challenges.

If you see a region as being key to your success, however, you have to make sure that you are selling in a way that suits that region. If you look at the Middle East, for example, you will find, in general, that skilled technical resources are scarce compared Europe or the US. Whereas an IT manager, sys admin or partner engineer in Germany might be happy to fiddle around with things to get them working, take a risk in being the first to use a solution and put up with complex technical documentation, that sort of thing won’t fly elsewhere. It has to be easy to set up and install and easy to understand, size, architect, etc, etc. These principles apply everywhere, obviously, but you can get away with things in the UK, for example, that you can’t get away with in Yemen, or Uruguay or Uganda. I don’t mean this to sound condescending in any way. I am simply stating that selling complex computer solutions differs from region to region depending on the availability of skilled resources at customers and partners and at your own offices. If you don’t account for that in the way you approach the market, you will not be as successful as you should be. All of the knowledge needed to make things easier existed in the company – it just needed to be properly distributed.

Yes, the price has to be right as well – but looking at the IT industry it’s clear that having ‘best price’ is not always what’s needed. Every one of the regions I visit will be filled with Sun and partner people saying the product you represent is too expensive, despite ample evidence all around that customers don’t always buy the cheapest solution or piece of hardware. You need people in customers’ faces convincing them you have the best solution, that the price is worth paying and that going with you rather than with someone else is going to be the least risky option. Arm the guys to be able to do that and you will sell. Oracle will goal us on margin too, which will be an interesting change.

My product set is definitely a hard sell if you focus on price. Where we’ve been successful selling it, there’s been one consistent factor – providing the teams with as much helpful and practical information as possible and then watching them go out and talk to as many of our target customers as possible. Noone picks up the phone and asks Sun or Sun partners for some Sun Rays. You have to get out there. In every country where people have done that, we have sold (supported by me, naturally – that part of the equation is obviously key to anyone’s success 🙂 ).

The Sun teams I’ve worked with have sold despite all these obstacles. Imagine how successful we can be with those obstacles removed.

ps Can I have a pay rise please, Larry?


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