IBM Overhauls Its Channel Strategy

By Gina Roos
IBM's Channel Strategy

At its PartnerWorld Leadership Conference in Las Vegas, IBM has unveiled a new One Channel Team to help business partners increase revenues around growth markets and to make it easier for them to do business with the company. In a huge undertaking, IBM has consolidated the channel organizations for all its business units into one team.

As part of the move, the company also enhanced or added new programs around education, technical support, demand creation and incentives. In addition, it announced several new business units.

“We had multiple units that had their own channel sales and marketing organizations, and they’ve all been consolidated into a One Channel Team,” said Mike Gerentine, vice president of IBM Global Marketing. “We’ve been able to take all the talent across IBM that played a role in channel marketing, channel sales or channel management and consolidate them into one organization.”

These changes are driven by several factors, including IBM’s move to higher-value solutions in new growth markets—including cloud, analytics, mobile, social and security—and having more partners focus on business and services solutions instead of product transactions. This requires new and deeper skills and enhanced collaborative tools to leverage these new market opportunities, particularly around the IBM Cloud Marketplace, SoftLayer, BlueMix, Watson Explorer and customized IBM systems.

One of the biggest benefits to partners is that they now have a single point of contact at IBM. The move also is expected to allow the company to be more agile, to simplify programs, and to consolidate infrastructure and tools in a number of areas, including co-marketing, education and Web portals—all designed to make it easier for partners to do business with IBM. It also gives the vendor a single interface with its business units.

At the same time, IBM announced the formation of several business units: cloud, big data analytics, security and commerce, which includes mobile and social. Each of the business units will have end-to-end responsibility for its portfolios and for solving client problems, said Gerentine.

“Our organization will be the supporting arm into those business units, and we’ll take their offerings, messaging and content to the channel,” he added. "We will have a single one-channel model in how we work with the business partners."

Partner Program Enhancements

In addition, IBM is introducing several new partner program enhancements. These range from education and technical assets to demand creation tools and incentives, along with new offerings and revenue streams.

In the area of education initiatives, IBM is expanding its Business Transformation Initiative (BTI) with more than 300 new workshops in 2015—up from about 100 in 2014. These workshops help qualifying business partners, through a strategic consulting engagement, improve profitability and performance in growth areas, such as cloud, big data analytics, mobile, social, security and commerce. Initial results from partners indicate almost a 20 percent increase in revenues to date.

“Many of IBM’s partners are small and midsize businesses that don’t have a common selling solution methodology, and they also need a lot of help in marketing and demand creation,” Gerentine said. “IBM wants to help qualifying partners with their strategic three- to five-year plans. If we can help them grow and become more profitable, in the end we are going to be more successful.”

The IBM education delivery platform through the PartnerWorld University is undergoing several enhancements to make it a more intuitive platform for resources, which will include new educational modules. The enhancements will allow the company to develop road maps for courses that will lead to certification. Partners also will get greater educational incentives through an improved Know Your IBM learning portal, which will offer triple the earning potential to reward sales and technical staff for increasing their skills around IBM’s portfolio.

The company is also beefing up its demand creation tools for marketers and developers. It is increasing its digital and social campaigns through co-marketing funds to provide partners with Web-based marketing and social media through enhancements at the IBM Digital Content Marketing platform.

“This will not only allow partners to syndicate content from our Website to theirs, but also will allow them to start to automate how they do marketing campaigns,” Gerentine said.

In addition, business partners will have access to IBM’s new social media and email offering. Currently in beta, IBM Verse will be generally available later in the first quarter of 2015.

Technical assets also will be improved to help partners and developers build and port customized server and storage solutions with OpenPOWER Developer Tools.

To help increase revenue streams, IBM is enhancing its dedicated developer engagement community with dW Answers, where IBM subject matter experts and external peers provide support and share expertise to help developers or ISVs build and test their applications. Developer Centers that focus on specific solutions will also be launched.

IBM is also rolling out Watson Explorer, a combination of data exploration and content analytics capabilities, to its channel partners to resell. The company says this is “providing the bridge between cloud-based services and on-premise proprietary information.”

New incentives include increased compensation through IBM’s Partner Growth Incentive (PGI) for selling IBM Power Systems and IBM Storage. The new program offers a quarterly incentive that doubles if specific requirements are met, and a quarterly bonus for achieving specific skills and certifications.

On the services side, IBM is improving rewards with a new Remarketer Margin Enhancer, which offers a 10 percent margin enhancement on incremental revenue for meeting revenue growth targets when reselling IBM Services. A new Services Consumption Program is available to help business partners drive demand for service provider solutions.

The company is also simplifying certification requirements for selected software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings to help partners earn incentives faster with the new IBM SaaS Entry Product Group.

This article was originally published on 2015-02-10