Hybrid cloud is non-optional, security is a priority, automation is critical, and AI platform adoption is when not if. Cloud automation, hybrid cloud orchestration, and cloud cost management are imposing a daunting challenge on the channel. As the cloud adoption landscape continues to shift, each IT supplier has been evaluating and evolving its partner program to drive sales and profitability for its partners. IBM has been working on developing its program since May 2020, when it introduced Build, Sell, and Service tracks. However, the evolution took on urgency after Arvind Krishna, Chairman, and CEO, of IBM, declared the ecosystem as one of the company's key priorities. As a result, IBM has increased its specialized resources by 50 percent and technical resources by 30 percent to support the partner ecosystem. Recently, IBM announced its new program called Partner Plus. IBM PartnerWorld transitioned to IBM Partner Plus experience on January 4, 2023, with the new incentive program taking effect on April 1, 2023.
Enablement, empowerment, ecosystem, and experiences are the unwritten principles driving IBM Partner Plus in transforming the rules of partner engagement. Kate Woolley, General Manager of IBM Ecosystem, says, “A thriving ecosystem is critical to underpin the success of any technology company, and we believe the underpinnings of this must be an open and inclusive ecosystem. We can reach and do more through and with our ecosystem. As a result, we have put our partners at the center of IBM’s go-to-market strategy.”
The Partner Plus program, a single integrated program, refurbishes IBM’s Partner World program and includes all the different partner sales motions and engagements with IBM –Build, Sell, and Service. The program is designed for all partner business models, including Value-Added Distributors (VADs), Value-Added Resellers (VARs), Global System Integrators (GSIs or SIs), Managed Service Providers (MSPs), Independent Software Vendors (ISVs), Developers and Hyperscalers.
The program focuses on three interconnected partner empowerment enablers:
1. Insider access: Provides the same sales materials, training content, and modules to partners as available to the IBM consultants. Insider Access also provides partners access to IBM’s seller tools to generate competitive and transparent pricing. Techaisle’s recent partner survey of 2115 channel partners shows that between 44% and 53% want access to sales tools, training, and support. Insider access plays right into the partners' sales and simplicity business velocity enablers. Partners can also attend IBM’s quarterly Sales Kickoffs with IBM sellers and participate in live training sessions. To bring even more partners into the IBM Partner Plus program, IBM is launching the IBM New Partner Accelerator, which will provide onboarding, training, and other benefits during their first six months to help accelerate their path to profitability. Achieving rapid proficiency is at the heart of this enabler which should ideally bring the partners on par with IBM consultants and sellers. As of this writing, over 15000 partners have already attained their badges.
2. Competitive incentives: Competitive incentives (52% of partners), qualified leads (46% of partners), and simplified partner portal (49% of partners) are among the top asks by senior channel executives. IBM has been on a journey for almost a year to integrate the IBM partner portal as the single engagement portal for all partners. The new, simplified IBM Partner Portal gives partners real-time visibility into the incentives they are eligible for and predictability into potential earnings. It includes an automated deal share engine that helps them surface quality leads. In addition, IBM is increasing investments in co-marketing campaigns and co-sell support to generate demand. Partners can advance through tiers to unlock benefits and demand generation programs which could offer them up to a threefold increase in total investment from IBM. The most important aspect of this enabler is the transparency and line of sight to the incentives at deal registration.
3. Enhanced support and benefits: Partners can grow skills, develop solutions, and build sales expertise with technologies like AI, security, and cloud on an open hybrid cloud platform by leveraging technical experts from IBM. IBM will also assist partners in developing proofs of concept and custom demos to help them win client business and accelerate growth.
Beyond all the technology-driven change that the channel is adapting to, there is a shift in how customers are acquiring IT solutions. SaaS has shown buyers that they can acquire IT capabilities that map directly to business needs. At the same time, IT budget authority continues to migrate from IT gatekeeps to business managers who view technology to achieve process objectives rather than as an end. Both trends affect channel sales and marketing professionals. Many are under intense pressure as the market increasingly demands that partners support migration and efficient use of hybrid infrastructure. To address unique and evolving customer needs, channel partners must change their approach. They will need to understand business objectives and how technology can support them and keep pace with changing customer expectations by identifying and deploying new incremental solutions that can integrate within current environments. Conceptually, this approach more closely resembles an ecosystem than a hub-and-spoke arrangement. It demands that the channel develop flexibility in its approach to customer needs, and vendors will need to support this approach. IBM is certainly sending a message that it is flexible. An ecosystem is the focus of IBM’s Partner Plus experience.
In the current channel world – where core business conditions, market opportunities, and requirements are all in flux – a chance to provide relevant guidance and targeted business advice from IBM, plus peer-level input, is an enormously important and valuable capability. On-boarding training, or a rapid ramp-up of new partners, is essential to sales/marketing and technical professionals within partner organizations and should be prominent in the vendor channel marketing ‘toolkit.’ Lead generation and marketing is always a hot topic. Techaisle data shows that support requested by partners runs the sales process gamut from prospect identification to delivery and post-sales support.
IBM has finally landed on a formula to help committed partners grow their business profitability. In addition, IBM is focused on aligning with the growing trend of partners shifting and expanding their business models to better compete in a market driven by cloud adoption, compete and or partner better with leading hyperscalers and help partners increase the speed of innovation, time to market, and develop new revenue streams as they create value for their clients.
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