IBM gets tactical with partner business evolution

Mike Gerentine, vice president of global partner marketing at IBM

Mike Gerentine, vice president of global partner marketing at IBM

IBM has come out of beta with the first phase of what it calls its partner Business Transformation Initiative, a program where it looks to get more detailed and personal in providing its channel with advice on how to position their businesses for the future.

Mike Gerentine, vice president of global partner marketing at IBM, said Big Blue – and other vendors – often do a good job of showing partners where they see business going in the future in broad terms. But often times, embracing new opportunities means fundamental shifts in business model are required, and far fewer vendors drill down from the strategic technology and market vision and to the more tactical details of how to transform a business. That’s what IBM is seeking to do with this program.

In Big Blue’s world, social, analytics, cloud, and security are among the top priorities, and many of those – cloud in particular – are exactly the kinds of changes that require major partner changes.

“Today, [many partners] sell hardware, and they sell a software offering or two,” Gerentine said. “But in this new direction, they have to have more of a cross-brand solution selling approach. It’s higher margin, and higher value, but they don’t know how to get there.”

That’s where IBM is looking to help with this program – doing a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis with partners, and setting concrete activities and goals to help partners grow their business.

Exactly what that advice will continue will vary greatly from partner to partner, but among the 85 one-on-one business development workshops done by IBM to date in their beta program, Gerentine said there have been some recurring elements showing up.

Sales issues are key among them, including how to structure sales organizations and compensation for the cloud, and, as simple as it may seem, the basics of having an establish and well-trained common selling model across sales – the lack of which is a major problem IBM sees amongst its smaller partners.

The program will roll out by the end of the second quarter, with IBM currently seeking to do “train the trainer” sessions for resources to manage the process for its partners. Gerentine said IBM would train both its own people, and distributor resources, on running the training sessions. In Canada, Gerentine said IBM has been in discussion with distributor Arrow ECS to provide the sessions.

In most cases, the program will involve the IBM representative or distributor, someone from IBM’s global channel marketing team, a third party business consultant, and “a handful” of the top executives of the solution provider. Gerentine stressed that CEO attendance is one of Big Blue’s requirements, as the changes involved are clearly “top down” changes.

The company is primarily focusing on its smaller partners, and Gerentine said that event the smallest of its partners will be considered, particularly in the case of newer solution provider who have high potential for growth. Coming out of the meeting, partners will have check-ins with the IBM or distributor resources, and key milestones to address at 30, 60, and 90 days after the session.

Gerentine said the company will aim to do between 300 and 400 of the sessions this year worldwide, and will continue the program into 2015 as well. He estimated the cost to Big Blue at $5,000 for each one-day session. The program is free for solution providers who are selected to participate.

Gerentine described the current program as the 101 level of its Business Transformation Initiative. After this year’s program, he said IBM will eye doing follow-on workshops that continue some of the key findings of its one-on-one meetings with partners this year.

“We want to be prescriptive. We want to show them how we’re going to spoon-feed them to grow their business,” he said.