IBM is in the final stages of restructuring its software channel to align partners to specific brands and product pillars.
Under the revised model, partners will need to invest in deep and specific sales and technical skills in order to sell licensing for any of the vendor’s five overarching software brands: Tivoli, Lotus, Rational, WebSphere and DB2. Previously, partners were able to sell licences across all brands.
IBM software channels manager, Sue Hope, said the changes were about ensuring partners had comprehensive knowledge of each product and could support customers adequately.
“For the past four years, we have embarked on getting partners to invest and develop deep skills in each product area,” she said. “We have five products and brands with lots of pillars under each – with Lotus for example, we have things like SameTime collaboration, email and Lotus live, which is a separate product. Under Tivoli, there’s the storage portfolio plus automation products like Maximo. And that’s just two brands.
“For IBM partners to sell and have deep skills across all 12 pillars is quite challenging… what’s compromised is the quality.”
Hope insisted partners skilled in just one or two brands could be viable, and claimed a couple of its top revenue earners were partners doing just one brand.
“If you add the services that goes with each of these products, that’s big business,” she claimed.
According to Hope, IBM’s new strategy had also seen several partners formalising agreements with other players to fulfil customer requests for products outside their area of expertise. While the vendor is keen to help foster relationships, it was up to partners to determine the terms and conditions of any such agreement, she said.
“Some partners don’t want to make that investment, but want the relationship with a customer. So many have signed agreements with other partners to cover that and sill be part of the sale,” Hope said. “Cirrus for example, will go into a customer and be introduced by the original partner, then cover that opportunity – they are the reseller of the product to that customer.” IBM also provides deal rebates through its software-based Value Incentive Program for both partners.
The specialisation strategy, which was first announced in January and implemented from September, follows the vendor’s decision to introduce a similar model across its distribution strategy in 2005. While some distributors gained significant clout from specialising, the decision forced niche U2 products distributor, Prism, out of the market.
Hope said Australia was the catalyst for IBM’s global adoption of the model.
Partners have until January 2010 to get their accreditations and choice of brands finalised. Hope insisted partners had time to pick up and invest in other products. The majority of existing partners operated across at least two brands, and about 40 per cent were looking after four brands, she said. There were just three or four partners across all five software areas.
“We don’t want to limit partners by revenue – no partner is too small for us,” she added. “We have more skills in sales and technical certifications that are a requirement, and over a period of months, partners need to have customer references for those products.”
Hope was pleased with the coverage of partners across each of its software portfolios but said there were still gaps in terms of geographic coverage. She highlighted Western Australia, South Australia and NT as key areas for partner recruitment next year.