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PartnerWorld Leadership Conference: IBM redesigns channel program

IBM told channel partners its updated PartnerWorld program, set for 2017, will focus on new competencies and client satisfaction, as well as traditional measures, such as revenue.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- "Leading together in the cognitive era" isn't just the theme at the IBM PartnerWorld Leadership Conference being held here Feb. 15 to 18. The vendor is reflecting its strategic direction in a new, redesigned IBM PartnerWorld program for business partners, which was announced today. The program will go live in January 2017.

IBM is taking what has been a very product-centric program to building a competency-centric program that's designed to enable partners to add higher levels of value -- think cloud and cognitive expertise -- to customer's offerings.

"We're evolving [the PartnerWorld program] in a way that builds skills for our partners," said Marc Dupaquier, general manager with IBM global business partners. The revamped partner program addresses the need to build a roadmap that will drive mutual growth for IBM and its business partners, specifically in the area of cognitive computing, he added.

According to Dupaquier, the company has identified about 40 competencies -- a number that may increase or decrease as time goes on -- on which partners will be measured in order to achieve success and earn rewards, as well as move up the new tier membership levels at IBM.

The new membership levels include: Registered, Silver, Gold and a new Platinum level, which demonstrate a deeper granularity in the program. IBM is giving partners until June 2017 to transition to the new program tiers. This new tier structure will replace the old tier structure that included Member, Advanced and Premier.

IBM will be sending reports to partners by April 2016, telling them where they fit into the new program based on their existing tier level. According to Mike Gerentine, vice president of marketing and global business partners at IBM, the company has already completed this work on its 160,000 partners worldwide. "We've built it for minimal disruption, and where there is disruption, we're going to give the partner a year to get there and help them get there," he said, adding that the goal is not to eliminate partners.

We're evolving [the PartnerWorld program] in a way that builds skills for our partners.
Marc Dupaquiergeneral manager with IBM global business partners

At last year's IBM PartnerWorld Leadership Conference, the company announced the One Channel Team, an effort to consolidate the company's global business partner operations to better align with the company's strategy and to make it easier for vendor partners to do business with IBM. While the various groups and resources in the channel have been brought under a single umbrella, the mission isn't finished.

IBM has been working to create a common model -- for example, the processes and taxonomies for everything it does with the business partners. "Over the past 10 years, we created a lot of different programs, a lot of one-off initiatives, and that created a lot of confusion for partners," Gerentine said. "Over the past year, we've looked at all of our different touch points with partners -- recruitment, enablement, sales, channel management, education, the partner program, [and] what I call, the partner experience -- and created what we announced today, the new IBM PartnerWorld Program," he added.

This work has resulted in one model, one methodology and one set of naming taxonomies.

The new competencies are based on IBM's simplification efforts, and include an integrated approach to recognize and reward partners around product, offerings and industry expertise in core growth areas that include cognitive computing, cloud, commerce, Watson, Internet of Things, analytics, mobile, social and security, according to the company.

Eight competencies are available immediately, another 20 will be available by June and the remainder will be available by year's end. IBM also has plans to introduce industry-focused competencies, but has work to do before it builds them.

Client satisfaction will also be vital to partner success and membership in the two highest program tier levels. "This means that the best partner of IBM will not only have to have the best skills and revenue, but also demonstrate the best client satisfaction," Dupaquier said. However, he added, "a channel partner may be extremely large, but not have the certifications, skills and customer satisfaction; they may never move up to Platinum tier."

IBM will require partners to provide proof of success with their clients. Meeting revenue thresholds will also be a component of the new program.

IBM also announced another component of the revamped program, which includes showcasing the business partner's relationship with IBM, as well as their competencies, and allowing the partner to use this recognition on their marketing collateral.

The vendor has also retooled the way it will deliver benefits to partners. Benefits will be measured in the amount of support a partner gets from IBM, including access to technical architects and executives. According to the company channel chief, IBM is in the process of fine-tuning this rich set of resources.

IBM is also on the hunt for new business partners, and is offering a skill pack that includes education, support offerings and a test voucher to aid in accelerating their time to market.

Today, IBM also made announcements at the PartnerWorld Leadership Conference around other growth initiatives.

The PartnerWorld University portal, more than 10 years old, has been totally rebuilt from the ground up. The portal is a Web-based learning management system that delivers sales and technical skills education to business partners. The new portal is more intuitive, more user-friendly and provides education roadmaps, for example. The company is currently rolling it out worldwide.

The content is also being revamped based on a common methodology for how the education is built and how a roadmap is laid out.

In April 2015, IBM announced Digital Marketing Workshops that target the marketers at a partner organization. To date, IBM has run 45 workshops, which each include about 15 employees within the partner firms globally, and plans on running many more over the coming year. The goal of the Digital Marketing Workshops is to build an integrated campaign in a hands-on environment that the partner can take home and execute across the Web, email and social media.

"The workshop not only stimulates the knowledge of digital marketing, [but] it's also stimulating partners to go after their co-marketing dollars, run a campaign and drive a pipeline to get business," Gerentine said.

IBM also announced that it's expanding its Business Transformation Initiative (BTI) workshop, which it started a couple of years ago, to reach more business partners worldwide. To date, IBM has gone through 350 strategic consulting engagements with partners. The BTIs target a partner's senior executives, including the CEO, and only partners committed to this level of engagement will be able to participate in a BTI.

IBM spends an entire day with the partner at a cost of $5,000, which is funded by IBM. "That's our investment to the partner to help them grow," Gerentine said, adding that when a partner grows, IBM grows.

The vendor has tracked all 350 engagements and has found that after six to nine months, the partners have all grown by 20% year to year, according to Gerentine.

Partners are recommended to the program by IBM sales reps within the geographies. Partners who get selected are identified as growth partners who are committed to IBM.

Gerentine also stated that IBM is currently running a Google paid search pilot program in North America with 10 partners. This pilot grew out of what the vendor learned from the Digital Marketing Workshops. "We're partnering with Google and another third party that acts as the marketing agency, who works with the partner to put a campaign in place; and using co-marketing funds over a three-month period, the partner gets the ability to do paid search on their website," he explained.

Next Steps

Learn about IBM's cognitive business operation

Read about IBM's financial performance

Catch up on the launch of IBM's Watson IoT Center in Munich

Dig Deeper on Channel partner program news

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IBM unveiled its revised channel program at the PartnerWorld Leadership Conference. How will the pending changes impact you?
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