I was with a big potential customer yesterday – in the Fortune 100. After a day of briefings from our technical folks, I joined the meeting to see how we were doing. I asked him and his team how much of what they’d seen was new to them.
He said, “about 70% was a complete surprise.”
Ouch. That’s not good.
To test, I asked, “before today, did you know that Solaris was open source, or ran on Dell, HP and IBM hardware, not just Sun’s?” “Nope.”
And like I said, this was a Fortune 100 opportunity.
Despite the ample advice I receive, getting through the din, especially in the world of IT, doesn’t happen with a superbowl ad (can you remember a single one?), or buying every billboard in every town, or every ad word on-line. We know, we measure their effectiveness.
We know the most valued information travels by word of mouth. Through blogs, on-line reviews, or other on-line conversations. Or “kneecap to kneecap,” as we sit across the table from customers in our briefing centers. And frankly, the most valuable information about Sun doesn’t come from Sun, it comes from other customers.
So how do you get the word out if you don’t have a $500M ad budget? To me, it’s not so much about getting the word out, as letting the eyes and ears in. You can tell I’m a big fan of transparency – that’s why I write a blog (with comments on, and yes, I read every one, as do a host of others at Sun). It’s why I encourage others to drive the conversation in the market, as well. Transparency’s at least a part of the solution. If not an outright competitive weapon.
A very wise man once said, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant” – and in my view, exposing our internals to the outside world also helps us respond to problems more rapidly. True, we have to expose the occasional unhappy customer (I hear this one, in particular, recently became happy), but we expose them to people who can help, too – from within Sun, or within the community. We can’t solve problems we don’t know about. Like the good justice said, sunlight’s a good disinfectant.
Which is why you’ll see something very interesting next week start to appear on Sun’s web pages and throughout our on-line store. You’ll start to see product reviews written by users. You’ll see user defined ratings, right on our products. Just like book or product reviews at Amazon. We’re starting with just a few products, but it’ll ultimately extend all the way up to our highest end enterprise offerings.
What’s the risk? That we’re exposing ourselves to criticism? That we may have on display the fact that one product or another isn’t perfect? (That our competitors may try to rate all our products?)
The far bigger risk is that we’d meet another customer surprised by what we had to offer. Unaware that our systems were 5 times as energy efficient as our competitors. That Solaris was free, open source, and available on Dell or HP. Or that Thumper was about to reset the economics of the storage industry.
And to my mind, sunlight’s not just the best disinfectant.
It’s the best informant, too.
From a voice you’ll trust more than ours – your own.