IN THE HOT SEAT: IBM lays out hardware plans

IN THE HOT SEAT: IBM lays out hardware plans

After more than 20 years at Toshiba, beginning as a green, fresh-faced junior sales clerk, Phil Cameron worked his way up to national sales manager of the mobile computing division. Cameron then joined Big Blue two-and-a-half years ago to run the PC channel for A/NZ.

How did your time at Toshiba prepare you for Big Blue?

Phil Cameron (PC): Toshiba has a strong channel focus, so I brought across a lot of channel expertise on the PC industry, as well as reseller and distributor contacts throughout Australia and New Zealand. This matches perfectly with my role at IBM. I managed a large sales force, and worked as part of senior management team at Toshiba, and that fits in well with IBM.

What's your current role at IBM?

PC: I am responsible for the PC channel, which includes overseeing the authorised resellers that buy direct from IBM, managing the seven authorised distributors across A/NZ (including Tech Pacific, IT Wholesale, Ingram Micro and Synnex), and running the established associate member program, which includes 230 IBM accredited partners. Accredited business partners are able to use the IBM business partner logo, and buy through our authorised distributors. They have access to training, education, incentives, and our sales force. I helped start this program when I joined IBM.

We want to grow the number of accredited partners from 230 to 450 by the end of the year, and then up to 750 by the end of 2005. The reason we are doing this is because the resellers buying from our distributors are our fastest growing segment, and have been very successful this year servicing the SMB marketplace. We want to continue to drive into that market.

What's hot in the SMB space and what can the channel expect to see down the track?

PC: We recently launched a new ThinkCentre model, which is the S50 ultra small form factor desktop. This is suited to the SMB market. We are also tied to rolling out the Express portfolio of products, which will be a big focus for us in 2005.

Our SMB Express mini catalogues will be our main vehicle to drive demand for the channel next year. We're expanding the product range for our Express products. Currently, the Express products cover the A series desktops, the R and G series ThinkPads. We will be expanding that to include our M and S series desktops and also our T and X series ThinkPads in Express.

In addition to a hearty focus on the SMB space, is the company going after new vertical markets?

PC: We will explore opportunities in retail more this year and into 2005, and we will do that in conjunction with our authorised distributors, and particularly around the independent retailer that want a strong tier-one brand that's not over distributed in their market sector.

What are some of your other channel strategies for this year and into 2005?

PC: When I came on board, one of my main strategies - and it still continues today - is the recruitment drive. We want to articulate that IBM is committed to the channel. In tandem with the associate program, we also launched a know-your-IBM program, which involves education and training.

Authorised partners can go online and do education modules on a product or service and then use the skill to sell and market them. There are two facets to the program: learn and earn, and sell and win, which is the sales incentive side. We have 2100 reps registered in the channel, and an active participation level of 60 per cent. Our goal next year is to drive the participation rate to closer to 80 per cent or 90 per cent, and grow the number of registered participants.

What else can resellers expect to see from IBM on the hardware front?

PC: Building on the IBM technologies, a continued focus will be our big differentiator, which is what we call our ThinkVantage technologies. These are the IBM tools we offer around ThinkPad and ThinkCentre. We will introduce a ThinkVantage partner accreditation program in Q4 this year. This will be open to tier-one resellers buying directly from us, as well as large resellers buying through our distributors focusing on ThinkVantage technologies.

There's a noticeable trend in the market for vendors to pare down on their distribution partners. Are you planning any changes to the IBM model?

PC: We have been very happy with our distributors. We have four in Australia and three in New Zealand. I have noticed a lot of vendors have gone out there and re-evaluated the market, but all of our distributors have been exceeding their sales targets and are posting positive growth this year, so there is no need to make any changes. We are growing the business, are happy with the performance, and are engaging with the distributors really well.

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