Avnet retools IBM-focused event with focus on learning

Mortar BoardAvnet Technology Solutions has re-oriented Compass, its annual IBM-focused event, being held this week in San Antonio.

Whereas in the past, Compass was an event focused on vision (bring in top partner executives, provide information and guidance on what’s coming up), the distributor decided that this year, with Big Blue introducing so many new profitability-boosting program elements, it’s time to go back to school.

So rather than bringing in partner leaders, Compass is spreading a wider net this year, focusing on educational opportunities for sales and technical staff. It’s an event that a partner can walk away from with a new certification. Or fifteen.

“At the event, on-site, we have lots of testing capabilities,” said Mark Martin, vice president of marketing for the distributor’s San Antonio-based IBM Solutions Group. “If [attendees] manage their schedule, there’s an opportunity to walk away with 15 different IBM certification.”

Many of those certifications are new ones, results of Big Blue’s Solutions Accelerator Incentive (SAI), a program that provides “significant profitability and margin boosts to partners in situations where they’re selling IBM hardware, software, and services together.”

Like most big multi-line vendors, IBM has long tried to aim its partners at opportunities that include various products and solutions from throughout its lineup. But in the past, it was done in “a disjointed kind of way” by partners – without the kind of reinforcement provided by “the ability to earn double-digit additional margins for making those sales” as offered under the SAI programs.

So the program was shifted to include 46 different training sessions for solution providers, the aim is providing “all the tools and information in a single place, a cost-effective way” for partners to understand the benefits and abilities under SAI, Martin said. And the new focus appears to be sticking.

“We had a goal of 300 partner sales and technical resources at the conference, and we are approaching 400,” Martin said.

Some traditional elements of the event remain – for example, the sow was kicked off on Sunday with a keynote presentation from Fred Cuen, Avnet’s IBM Group chief, and Harris Warsaw, who heads up Big Blue’s midmarket business.

With the new focus on training, the ever-present “Solutions Centre” (or show floor) takes on a new meaning, Martin said. Rather thana place to mix, mingle, chat up vendors, and maybe grab a few hors d’ouvres, at Compass, the solutions centre will focus on teaching sales people how to demo, and teaching technical staff how to put together proof-of-concepts.

“I think that’s going to be one part of the conference that definitely has a lot of value,” Martin said.

So will this new training-focused Compass persist? Or will it return to its usual executive approach for next year? Martin said the distributor hasn’t decided yet – as this new approach was specifically designed to address an opportunity emerging from IBM’s SIA strategy in the market, it might make sense to return to its “classic” form next year. On the other hand, if there are still ripe opportunities for education, maybe next year, Compass attendees will be going back to school again.