IBM said it plans to ratchet up its marketing efforts to better communicate its transformation to the SMB market.
Under Ginni Rometty, IBM's chairman, president and CEO, the company has engaged in a deep reinvention of its technology and offerings over the past several years, pivoting to emerging areas such as cloud computing and AI. But despite its many advancements as an organization, both IBM and business-partner executives will readily admit a broad swath of the market has yet to fully grasp the fruits of the IBM transformation.
"I think our largest clients absolutely understand the direction that the company is going ... What we're doing around AI, around security, around data, around cloud and what I would term modern infrastructure -- the largest clients absolutely get it. Why do they get it? Because they are the ones driving us there," said John Teltsch, general manager of global IBM business partners, at last week's PartnerWorld 2018 conference.
He noted, however, that the IBM marketing strategy needs to ramp up when it comes to small and medium-sized businesses, the market segment where channel partners tend to find the majority of their customers. Marketing efforts are currently underway, he said.
"You are going to see a very large investment in 2018 around improving communications, marketing ... around the new transformed IBM," Teltsch said. He added that IBM's chief marketing officer, Michelle Peluso, is focused on communicating "our message of the IBM company and our transformation, what it means ... to the SMB marketplace."
IBM transformation: A partner's perspective
Charles Fullwood, senior director of software sales engineering at Force 3, a solutions provider based in Crofton, Md., agreed the IBM marketing strategy could be amplified. Fullwood oversees the strategy of Force 3's new practices in analytics, cloud and enterprise applications, for which he said IBM technology forms the foundation. Force 3 was acquired in 2016 by Sirius Computer Solutions, a Platinum-level IBM business partnerthat led Force 3 to refocus its marketing strategy around IBM products and attached services.
"If you roll back the clock, IBM was always a middleware company," he said. "They sold everything from databases to application servers. They still do. As a matter of fact, those things still run a lot of the businesses of the world."
John Teltschgeneral manager of global business partners, IBM
Fullwood traced the beginnings of IBM's transformation to the rollout of its infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) platform, acquired from SoftLayer. IBM then built a platform-as-a-service platform on top of the IaaS that let customers start developing applications, he said. "Now, [IBM] put the Watson cognitive piece on top of that. And on top of that, they have intellectual capital around industries ... So, if you look at that, they have gone from selling a lot of software ... to strategically having a one-stop shop to do future application development. You can write your typical applications, but you can also embed AI into those applications."
"Watson is changing the paradigm of app development, and it's all because of this cloud platform that IBM is building," he added.
Fullwood said he believes it will take time for the market at large to appreciate what IBM is doing today, especially in view of IBM cloud rivals. For example, compared with Amazon Web Services, IBM does "things really well that AWS does not," he said. He cited what IBM does with bare metal as an example, but pointed to Watson as its main differentiator, which he said puts IBM miles ahead of competitors.
IBM marketing strategy: Agile, customer-centric and data-driven
At IBM PartnerWorld 2018, Peluso highlighted several elements to the vendor's marketing capabilities.
Peluso said IBM's marketing arm is currently practicing Agile marketing, which draws from the Agile methodology used in software development. IBM has about 6,000 marketers. "We don't have teams of creative and product marketers and social," she said. "We have teams sitting side by side who work every day together to bring solutions to life and to market to our customers. [Agile] as a discipline in marketing has really changed the rate, the pace, the focus, the collaboration [and] our ability to innovate."
IBM is also taking a client-centric approach and using metrics such as net promoter score, she said. "There are so many signals that our clients are giving us ... about how we can have a more relevant, tailored experience."
Additionally, the IBM marketing strategy is "relentlessly data-driven," she said, as analytics is a necessity for ensuring marketing dollars achieve a better return.