SAN ANTONIO -- Avnet hopes its new PartnerSphere portal will help affiliated solution providers crack the small and medium-sized business (SMB) market.
The portal was quietly released in February, but Avnet saved its debut for the Avnet Ignition '08 event for IBM partners this week in San Antonio. PartnerSphere is part of Avnet's Accelerator partner community effort.
Avnet's standard partner portal, Channel Connection, allows partners to log in and maintain profiles. But PartnerSphere is built around a marketing collaboration database. Solution providers can access marketing campaigns carried out by other partners and check for geographical availability.
"I use Accelerator once or week or so," said Virendra Singh, president of ESS Group Inc., a solution provider based in Sacramento, Calif. "I find it very useful for technical information, upcoming events and forums, and it's great for news updates."
More interestingly, PartnerSphere allows solution providers to leave a "Partner DNA" profile, detailing geographical areas, specialties and customer data. This Web 2.0-style approach has IBM finding partners in a manner similar to potential mates on Match.com. Rather than just tracking and monitoring projects, like the Channel Connection partner portal did, PartnerSphere opens up lead generation and creates connections between partners and IBM. It allows IBM to search for business partners based on a partner's specialized skills and geographic location, increasing opportunities on both ends.
Pete Elliott, director of marketing for Key Information Systems, a systems integrator in Woodland Hills, Calif., suggested the Partner DNA concept to Avnet. "I felt that [Avnet] had been missing the point and didn't really know what the partners were all about, who's good at doing what," he said. By creating online connections among partners and IBM manufacturers, Avnet has made sure that the business is no longer dictated by cultivated personal connections. "Partners now are going to build their business based not on who they know, but what they know."
But for larger partners who don't rely on Avnet for leads, the partner community is not important. When asked about PartnerSphere, product specialist Dale Conrad of Jack Henry & Associates Inc. had never even heard of it and didn't plan to take part in any of the training sessions. "We really only rely on Avnet for their integration," Conrad said.
Currently, 48 to 50 solution providers are enrolled in PartnerSphere. Richard Martinez, Avnet's marketing manager for IBM solutions, is planning a feature to show how match-ups have worked and what kind of revenue they've generated (or haven't), so that partners can see how certain deals have played out. He also plans to add other vendors to PartnerSphere.
Also highlighted at the conference were Avnet's new "universities": GovPath, HealthPath and VirtualPath. Within each program, partners can register for a seminar to educate themselves on the vertical market of their choice.
"GovPath is great. It sends me daily emails of opportunities out there for my focus area," Singh said -- although he admitted GovPath has not increased his sales yet. "But it keeps me updated on what's available out there in terms of agencies looking for security responses." HealthPath does the same in a longer seminar. One training segment even includes spending a few days in scrubs at the hospital with administrators in various divisions, so that solution providers can learn to recognize what technology improves hospital productivity.
VirtualPath is the latest addition, debuting in July. Tim Fitzgerald, who heads Avnet's technology solutions virtualization and consolidation solutions group, said the program will boost the development of virtual solution providers who are "truly strategically committed" in the trusted advisor role. Value-added resellers (VARs) can send their employees to the three-day seminar to train on all aspects of virtualization, from learning terminology sales role-play.
"We think it's critical that we help our VARs get the training that they need and better meet their business requirements," Fitzgerald said.