The company is in the process of driving its partnering campaign down to the local level, where sales occur and customers are served. Spearheading that effort are "partner managers" that have been installed in about 300 IBM sales territories worldwide. Their mission is to pass leads to partners, help partners team with each other to capture accounts and, in general, coordinate sales activities.
That realignment of IBM’s sales force, which was completed in January, has been in the works for a couple of years, say IBM executives. The upshot is that IBM will have a localized, tactical counterpart to the strategic corporate relationships it has maintained with business partners for years.
IBM execs at last week’s PartnerWorld 2001 cited the rise of e-business as a key driver behind the sales shift. E-business, they contended, has decentralized buying power within organizations, which means IBM must pursue opportunities over a wider area. In addition, complex e-business projects often require multiple partners to contribute parts of the solution. The local partnering effort is designed to help IBM assemble teams of partners to support customers.
Finally, the localized partner managers provide a mechanism for integrating IBM and partner resources. That dovetails with IBM’s strategy of letting partners take the lead on projects, particularly in the midmarket.
Mapping it out
The objective is to "knit the capabilities of IBM and business partners together to be responsive to the market," says Marc Lautenbach, Big Blue’s general manager of Global Midmarket Business. IBM will "identify and lead with partners at the local transaction level," adds Anne Smith, VP of consultants and integrators at IBM.
But how will IBM identify partners across 300 sales territories? IBM officials say the company is developing a "partner map" that partner managers will use to find out who’s who in each locality. IBM already has created a consolidated partner database, from which IBM next month will roll out a partner map application. IBM used the same database to create Business Partner Connections, an online tool that lets partners search for potential allies by such attributes as location, solution set, industry and certification.
IBM has been discussing the local approach with business partners in recent weeks. For example, the vendor has talked to MarchFirst about partnering at the territory level. And Rose Welliver, president and CEO of BlueWare, an IBM business partner in the health-care market, soon plans to meet with IBM to discuss local partnering. She believes the local effort will help her Michigan-based company "understand other geographies" as it expands into other markets.
But while IBM pursues a more distributed model, some partners are moving away from branch office structures. That is especially the case for Internet consultancies. Razorfish "is organized on verticals and solution sets," says Jeffrey Dachis, the company’s CEO.
Still, IBM says deals still get done at the local level and that’s where its partnering activities need to be. IBM executives emphasize the importance of aligning IBM’s resources and those of its partners closer to the customer. IBM seeks to "integrate our partners’ solutions and services into our own offerings," notes Smith, who adds that the partner mangers will help to get that job done.
IBM, meanwhile, has embarked on another move to more closely synchronize its own sales force with its partner base. The company late last year began providing business partners with the same seven-step sales methodology that IBM’s field salespeople use. "We are providing the same tools and information to business partners as we provide our own internal sales force," says Patricia Meacham, VP of IBM’s PartnerWorld program.
It’s another step toward getting IBM and its partners on the same page.