The relationships between vendors and their business partners, including resellers, value-added resellers (VARs), independent software vendors (ISVs), systems integrators (SIs) and cloud hyperscalers are typically symbiotic.
However, beneficial outcomes depend on at least a modicum of predictability. So what challenges occur when vendors decide to change strategic directions or pursue new or uncertain markets? Plus, how can vendors help their partners adapt to and prosper during those strategic shifts?
The new Partner Plus program IBM announced in early January offers some insights into how this process can benefit all involved parties.
Background: the Challenges of Change
First, how do strategic shifts challenge or even inhibit business partners? There are multiple elements, but among the largest are:
Most business partner programs build and evolve over time. Like other relationships, those between vendors and partners may begin with common interests or goals. Some may focus on specific markets, applications or geographic locations, while others leverage mutual expertise and skills.
As a result, these programs can become highly complex and opaque, leaving partners uncertain about their status or how to progress. New strategic aims or imperatives can add further complications that are difficult to integrate into the whole.
Building New Skills and Resources
When vendors alter strategies or targets, it is commonplace for partners to lag behind. After all, partners typically focus on the markets, products, services and solutions that vendors offer today, not those they hope to exploit tomorrow.
While the skills and resources partners offer often complement future solutions, others need to be developed or built from scratch. How to achieve that is top of mind for business partners.
Finding and Closing Deals
Finally, in markets that are still developing, where exactly are business partners supposed to find work?
Creating new business lines typically involves considerable, often expensive customer education efforts. Business partners seldom have the means to pursue this on their own, though they can be valuable contributors to broader efforts.
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IBM Partner Plus
So, what is IBM doing with its new Partner Plus program to address these challenges?
In essence, Partner Plus is designed to place partners at the center of its go-to-market strategy to act as a growth engine for hybrid cloud and artificial intelligence (AI) services, solutions and consulting.
According to Kate Woolley, GM, IBM Ecosystem, “Partners want a simplified experience that helps them win with clients. Partner Plus…(is designed to help them)…gain skills, grow faster and earn more.”
How will the program achieve that?
First, Partner Plus offers a transparent, simple and modern experience across all partner types and programs as an integrated ecosystem. The company’s Partner Portal consolidates and tracks participants’ expertise, revenue and deals globally, providing clarity into partners’ progression. By enhancing technical expertise and demonstrating sales success, partners can progress over Silver, Gold and Platinum tiers, unlocking specialized benefits and demand generation programs, which can offer them up to a threefold increase in total investment from IBM.
In addition, partners can engage IBM technical experts to grow skills, develop solutions and build sales expertise with technologies like AI, open hybrid cloud platforms and security. IBM will also help develop minimal viable products, proofs of concept and custom demos to help them win client business and accelerate their growth.
As partners’ businesses grow, they can unlock additional IBM benefits that are designed to help them further expand their capabilities and find additional new clients.
Finally, Partner Plus builds on IBM’s October badging and selling enablement materials announcement, which offers the same training, enablement, and experiential selling resources available to IBMers to partners at no cost. Those tools can help generate competitive, transparent pricing and bids.
Partners can also participate in IBM’s quarterly Sales Kickoffs, live training sessions and other advocacy events. IBM’s New Partner Accelerator provides onboarding, training and other benefits during partners’ first six months in the program. IBM will also double the number of brand and technical specialists that help partners prospect and win additional client business.
What does this mean for IBM business partners in practical terms?
Overall, IBM’s new Partner Plus is designed to address and correct the challenges and pain points that erode the value and usefulness of many vendors’ partner programs. By enhancing transparency, improving skills building opportunities and providing additional resources for finding and closing deals, IBM has designed a program that will provide immediate benefits to existing and new partners.
More importantly, Partner Plus should help partners find clear incentives and pathways to support IBM’s go-to-market strategies in hybrid cloud, artificial intelligence and other new and developing markets and business opportunities.