Got Game? Get Ready for Some Slam-Dunk Action

Vendors tweak old partner programs and create new ones to extend their reach into midsize markets.

Things must be getting tough. Within the past week, a horde of vendors have revamped their partner programs to put even more feet on the street selling or recommending their products.

Vendors are reaching out to partners to help them grab opportunities in the small and midsize markets, which are often too fragmented for vendors to tackle on their own.

In the case of IBM, lots of company divisions are turning more to partners. Many of the jobs passed on to partners call for knowledge of a particular vertical market, skill set or local region. "We could never afford to cover all these areas ourselves," says Christine Walter, IBMs director for global midmarket and business partner marketing.

In a big move, IBM Global Services (IGS) is relinquishing direct pursuit of midmarket accounts in exchange for getting "right of first refusal" on jobs such as Web hosting and systems integration, says Walter.

In its midmarket push, IBM has set up thresholds based on customer revenue where partners will play, says Marc Lautenbach, general manager for IBMs global midmarket business. IGS will take over in accounts above a certain amount.

In addition, IBM is allowing partners to resell IGS Web-hosting services.

For its part, BEA Systems is targeting what it calls premier systems integrators for its partner program launched last August.

At its user group meeting in Dallas last week, the Web application server maker launched its Star Partner Program, a three-level initiative that provides marketing, sales and technical support for partners in exchange for meeting revenue targets and other criteria.

BEA says it has trained 2,100 consultants, including execs at Accenture, Computer Sciences Corp., KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers. BEA, which derives 40 percent of its revenue from partners, says it is on track to train another 1,900 consultants by the end of summer. Initial Star partners include Blue Martini, Documentum, Emerging, Lante and Proxicom.

Meanwhile, IBM launched a new partner program for its WebSphere Commerce Suite, its competitor to BEAs WebLogic line. At its PartnerWorld 2001 conference, IBM said it was using the program, which like BEAs program provides technical support if a partner meets revenue targets, to target small-to-midsize businesses in key vertical industry markets. The programs five initial partners are Enterpulse, Eviciti, MCBA, Rare Medium and Web Emporium. IBMs WebSphere business "grew twice as fast as the industry last year and partners have been key to our success," says Sandy Carter, VP of marketing for IBM e-commerce software solutions.

Not to be left out, Cisco Systems is reworking its partner program so that all partners are required to specialize. The company also will require customer-satisfaction ratings for its partners, a step taken by Microsoft earlier this year for its top-tier Gold partners.

In return, Cisco will share its best practices and tools with its partners and drop the CCIE requirements from one per $10 million sales to one per $40 million in sales. That will push CCIEs into a project management role, and put more responsibility on the shoulders of associate, professional and expert certified Cisco partners.

Anne Knowles, David Hakala and Ed Sperling contributed to this story.