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All too often perception is reality. And the perception that most people
have of IBM is that it likes to be in control.
And that need to control things generally results in a predilection for taking
most sales opportunities direct.

IBM executives are now starting a broad
campaign to change that perception by publishing a "Principles of
Engagement" document that outlines what IBM
expects from its internal salespeople when dealing with the channel.

As with any rule book, there are exceptions. But by and large the document
strongly states that IBM’s senior executives
expect that the preponderance of the company’s sales will come through the

The only exceptions to that statement are about 100 accounts that IBM
has identified as house accounts, or if there is some sort of specific customer
requirement or regulation that requires IBM
to sell to the customer directly.

To put some teeth into this document, IBM
has also said it will no longer make special pricing available to its internal
sales team if the deal in question has already been registered by a channel
partner, and that it has created a decision tree process that walks IBM
salespeople through exactly what types of accounts they can service directly
and what types of accounts should be serviced through the channel. According to
Lance Liden, IBM BPO
for Competitive Programs, the decision tree is deliberately structured in a way
that requires the IBM salesperson to push
the vast majority of the sales opportunities through the channel.

Of course, this being IBM, it will take a
while to push these cultural changes through the whole company. The Principles
of Engagement document in the immediate future only applies to xSeries server
sales. But over time IBM expects to
implement the concept across the company’s entire line of products.

In the meantime, IBM is also trying to
make its channel conflict resolution process more transparent under the
Principles of Engagement. If there is an issue, the vice president of channels
for a specific region is the first point of contact. If he or she can’t resolve
it, the issue then flows up to what IBM
calls a "Four in a Box" meeting where a vice president of channels,
the vice president of client sales and two vice presidents representing the
product brands affected attempt to resolve the problem. If they can’t resolve
it, then one final appeal can be made to the overall IBM
channel chief and the vice president and general manager of the appropriate IBM

The whole Principles of Engagement effort is part of a deliberate attempt to
improve IBM’s reputation in the channel as
part of an overall "Move to Blue" campaign. It’s unclear how many
solution providers don’t trust IBM when it
comes to sales or just find IBM too
difficult to work with. We’ve all heard our share of horror stories over the

But one thing that is certain is that the company
is trying. And when things go wrong, it’s a lot easier to forgive people when
they are seen to be trying, versus dealing with somebody who doesn’t seem to
care at all.