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Diary of a Workaholic Sun Partners Program Manager

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During the first week in July 2001, Sun Microsystems told most of its employees to stay at home, in a worldwide cost cutting measure. This spoof article, purporting to be from deep within Sun's marketing skunkworks was first serialized on a daily basis during that week on our SPARC News page.

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Monday (day #1 of shutdown) - got into work 15 minutes late this morning. Can't understand it. Cars everywhere. Assume other drivers haven't heard about Sun shutdown. But when I get into office, it's empty.

Have decided this week to concentrate on outgoing activities with partners and potential allies in new marketing programs. Waste several hours emailing technical support, and eventually learn how to access incoming voicemail.

Get error message:- buffer full.

Spend rest of day dealing with email, as usual.

Tuesday (day #2 of shutdown) - get into work 15 minutes early to make up for yesterday. Check voicemail, no messages. Check email. Just one message from another Sun workaholic in Camberley office asking how he can add a UK company to the website for a marketing program we canned a few years ago. In the spirit of international co-operation, send him a reply saying I don't deal with Ireland, but I thought the application form is somewhere on the web site, and Happy Holiday tomorrow.

Unbelievably, no other emails today. Decide to plan ahead and email technical support to ask if it's possible to reset my email preferences so that it doesn't automatically delete incoming emails from outside Sun. Spend rest of day doing market research on Sun web site. Check shareprice. Still not a good time to sell options.

Do some in depth competitive market research. All the focus group reports say that Dell, and not HP or IBM, is most often cited as our competitor in the mid-range market.

Search for "Dell" on - get "198 Results Found".

Repeat the same search, using the term "Sun". Get "31,069 Results Found"

Decide that the focus group research must be flawed. I can't see how Dell can be real a threat to us when they're barely visible on the web. I also noticed that the market research report made no mention at all of DEC. That suggests to me:- either we've got the wrong company doing the research, or maybe we're getting the wrong people coming in to the focus groups. I make a note to raise this question next week, when things are back to normal.

Tomorrow, I'm going to plan our strategy for the new killer partner program, but I might just work a half day.

Wednesday (day #3 of shutdown) - 4th of July, so roads empty. Got into work 30 minutes early. Had to attract attention of security guard and persuade him it really was worth opening up the office, switching on all the lights etc. Big day today. I've been tasked with creating a new partner program to re-energise system sales. My plan is to get this done a week early, which is why I've been coming into office. Log-in and get down to making some notes...

  • Avoid negatively charged words like "dot-com"
  • Include positively charged words like "Sun" - but, and here's the tricky part, the legal people said that the new program name must consist of more than just one word. Although it can be two words which are concatenated, like:- StorageArray.

Check SUNW price. No change. Think first, that Java applet has failed. Then remember that stock market is closed today. Even CNBC is showing football games. Decide to review notes I made earlier about previous successful marketing programs.

Sun's oldest partner program was Catalyst. My research assistant looked into that, and it seems like it was a very successful program.. The best part was the numbers. Over 14,000 Sun compatible products. Unfortunately, thousands of Catalyst products never saw the light of day, and were only invented by other companies who wanted to get listed in the catalog. Nobody knows which ones are real or relevant today. My plan for the new program is to beat the numbers on Catalyst. That's a must-have. Also the web means we don't have to filter out products. Decide that 100,000 products or 10,000 companies is a good target to aim at.

Next, take a look at another historic program, called "SPARC-compatible." When I first saw it in the research notes, I looked up "SPARC" in a dictionary, but unlike "Catalyst", it wasn't there. Guessed it might be foreign, and tried a German online dictionary. No luck there either. Asked researcher. She told me it was a pre-Solaris, pre-Java, pre-Jiro legal term, like a copyright symbol, and never used in marketing communications in any font size larger than 6pt in print or 20 pixels high on the web. I looked at the program details and was horrified to find that it included a lot of our competitors in the Solaris Compatible and Sun Ready markets. As including direct competitors is one of the no-no's for the new program, decided not to read any more about it.

Spent rest of morning looking at web sites for current partner marketing programs. End up being completely confused and get headache. But persist because I think I'm starting to see a pattern. All the companies in the newer programs are companies which we like, and want to be associated with Sun. Otherwise there is no logical connection. I'm starting to feel hungry. The cafetteria is closed this week, so I've been bringing in sandwiches. They're a bit dry, because I haven't had time to pick up groceries.

Ping! My brain goes back to the vacation I had in Australia, just after doing my MBA, but before joing Sun. A loaf of soft springy, fresh tasting white bread. Much better than what I'm eating right now... Why am I thinking of it? The label! Yes. That's it. My friend said "Hey is that the new company you're going to work for?" - That was before Sun Microsystems became a household name.

I do a quick check on the whois part of the Network Solutions site... Not even the cybersquatters have thought of this one, and the domain is not in use, even though it's a registered trademark in a completely unrelated industry. I throw the rest of my sandwiches away. Mission accomplished, I'm going to eat Mexican for lunch, and take the rest of the day off.

After logging out of the system, I pause. What if the server crashes and they haven't backed it up? What if I get killed in an auto accident? My brilliant inspiration will be lost to the company. The shares I leave to my family may not recover so quickly. Just to be sure, I take out my gold nibbed Parker pen and write on the back of my business card, and then place it carefully on my researcher's desk where she can see it next week when she gets back. The name of the new program which will change all our lives in the months to come. Unfamiliar today, but soon to be universally recognised wherever computers are bought and sold... the SunBlest partner program.

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Thursday (day #4 of shutdown) - didn't get a wink of sleep last night due to excitement and thinking about details for the new SunBlest partner program.. Got into work 2 hours early. Nasdaq has only been running a few hours, but it looks like SUNW is a whole dollar down since Friday. I don't run the spreadsheet which tells me my net worth in real-time, because I need to have a positive outlook. But after drinking coffee, I start to feel very tired and can't remember any of the ideas which were buzzing around my brain last night.

Check email. Got a reply from the Sun guy in Camberely saying thanks very much for the info. He tried the web site, and entered all his partners data, which was very extensive. But when he clicked enter, he got the following message:

"Sorry! We couldn't find your document. The file that you requested could not be found on this server. If you provided the URL, please check to ensure that it is correct or try a search above."

Did I have any other bright ideas?

Fired up with enthusiasm, I drafted a reply saying not to worry, because his partner company would almost certainly be eligible to join the new SunBlest program, which would be starting in the US September, and would roll out to Europe sometime around May 2002, and would have the different name of :- SunBlest (Europe).

I explained that the delay was due to language issues, because the Sun marketing people in Sweden and Germany wanted all new European programs delayed until they had been translated into local languages. (Actually the real reason for the delay was that most European marketers took the entire summer off for their vacations, and didn't start working again until about October. Then, in November, the skiing season started, and the long slowdown in the run up to Christmas.)

I didn't put that, in the email. I actually wrote - "I know that the translation won't take so long for you guys in Ireland. So you might be able to do a local launch on a non-disclosure basis, maybe as early as March, timed to coincide with St Patrick's Day."

That got me thinking again about the important elements of the new program. The key thing was to be as inclusive as possible, while excluding any companies which competed with Sun in any other element of their business.

Spent rest of day researching Came to the depressing conclusion, that even the best partners in our current programs develop products which work for the enemy:- Microsoft and Intel. We may have to rule out 99% of software companies, and 99% of hardware companies (especially if they had divisions which also sold storage). That would make it difficult to make the ambitious recruitment targets, because it narrowed the field to companies which were actually owned by Sun, and a handful of start-ups.

Then I had another brilliant idea!!!

What if we restricted the SunBlest partner program to just end-users?

Decide that will be the focus of my research tomorrow.

Friday (day #5 of shutdown) - Got into work 5 minutes later than usual. Depressed to see what looks like an expensive car convention in a tight bunch in the car park, and am therefore not surprised to see that dozens of other marketers have arrived in the office before me. I reply to everyone's friendly greetings and smile sweetly, but realise this doesn't look so good, as I am the last one into the office. Make a mental note to email everyone later, and copy my boss, just so they all know I was here on my own earlier in the week. See that emails from other Sun marketers have already started to fill up my in box.

At the coffee machine, find a way to mention my SunBlest idea to one of the younger marketers. She's only been with Sun less than a year, and doesn't have to worry about the stock price, because she hasn't got any. She was recruited to do partner programs with IHVARSP's. Don't know what that means, but think it may have something to do with Sun Integrators who sell to ASP's who run Jiro on Linux appliances which connect to Sun servers via iSCSI, but not wireless.. It's a hot new market, in which Sun has over 90% market share. She likes the name of my program which she says is very cool. But can see one slight snag. I ask what it is.

"I could be wrong" she says "but I thought Sun policy was not to publish lists which are in any way useful to our competitors. That's why we don't publish a Sun VAR list, except in Europe, where our policy is always to make sure it's out of date and as misleading as possible. I don't think the Big Mac" - which is how she refers to - "would let us publish a list of end-users. In fact I almost blew my chances at my interview by asking if I would be able to have access to our list of end-users. I was told that if I wanted to see a list of end-users I should apply for a job in the accounting department, and forget about a career in marketing."

I nod gravely, and make a mental note never to mention end-users if I ever have to apply for another marketing job.

"What happened?" I asked sympathetically.

"I said, that's how we did it at my last company... And my interviewer said, not to worry, I was still young and would learn how to do marketing properly at Sun. That's why we had partner programs, so we didn't need to get cluttered up with details. Anyway, tell me more about your new program. Can't wait to hear more about it."

I prevaricate, and say that I haven't got much beyond thinking about the name yet. She nods sympathetically and says that she knows case studies of companies which took years to think of a new name, so all in all, I've had a very productive week.

Go back to my desk and consider how lucky it was that I came into work today, and how close I had been to making an absolute fool of myself with the end-user idea. Better start with a clean sheet again next week. No time for thinking now. The inbox is filling up at a furious rate.

Check SUNW price. Set graph for maximum magnification and see signs of a definite upwards blip at the leading edge of the down curve. Am relieved to think that this whole week has been so worthwhile, and can't wait to get back to work properly next week.

Disclaimer:- this spoof article is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to marketing people living or dead is purely coincidental.


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