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Tailing the success of a nine-month pilot program in the United States, IBM is expanding its Sales Connections program to its international partner program, providing partners serving the small and midsize business market worldwide with on-site sales support for IBM solutions.

Through the program, IBM PartnerWorld members may coordinate sales strategy with IBM’s sales team embedded in the territory, industry or even the customer, IBM announced today.

Sales Connections collaborations in the United States have reduced sales cycles by as much as two-thirds and have helped create further traction in the SMB market, where IBM now makes 20 percent of its revenue, said Scott Hebner, vice president of partner programs and marketing. Nearly 700 of IBM’s 2,000 U.S. partners have used the program, he said.

Customers submit a request through the Web portal, including information on the sales opportunity, prospective customers and benefits of the joint solution, and a member of IBM’s regional sales team will respond within three days to negotiate a joint sales strategy. The collaboration may include sales and technical assistance for the partner and joint telephone and in-person meetings together.

One IBM partner, Actuate Corp., a San Francisco-based provider of enterprise reporting applications, leveraged IBM’s sales experts to help close a software and services deal for a custom claims reporting system with a large mail-order prescription drug company within 30 days, said Bill Bush, global alliance executive at Actuate. The company has since used the program with 30 additional sales leads.

“People do business with people,” Bush said. “And in the case of some IBM salespeople, some of them have been doing business with the same customers for two, five, eight and 13 years. The fact that you can go into a customer and leverage that kind of institutional contact is a powerful tool.
“In one instance, we had been talking to executives for several weeks,” he added. “When we hooked up with IBM, who had a sales team working with the company for many years, they were able to tell us who the decision maker was and we hadn’t even heard of him yet. The deal was done in 45 days.”

Pointer Click here to read about VARs that have used IBM’s PartnerWorld marketing and advertising resources to increase market visibility and sales.

For IBM, the partnership is a chance to position their products alongside the solution provider, Hebner said.

“Whenever someone makes an application investment they are going to make an investment in hardware and software,” he said. “It’s not the partner’s job to ensure it’s implemented on IBM software and hardware.”

Hebner estimates that for every 1 percent of market share gained by PartnerWorld partners, IBM could gain as much as $100 million in customer opportunity. IBM estimates the SMB market is a $140 billion ooprtunity.

Since last year, IBM has invested more than $1 billion in marketing, sales and lead generation support for partners through its PartnerWorld Industry Networks. More than 5,000 partners have availed themselves of the network’s programs, including direct mail, telemarketing and advertising resources.