Pass the Sushi and Business Cards

IBM's partner events mix a bit of 'meet and greet' with deal-making activity.

Its 3:30 p.m. Thursday at a Marriott in Northern Virginia, and IBM business partners are exchanging cards amid the sushi and vegetable platters.

Among the crowd is a firm representing developers in Pakistan, a placement agency for Tivoli specialists, and a group of Lotus Notes developers. All are participating in IBMs latest experiment in partnering: A "Business Partner Connections" event in which IBMs allies are encouraged to forge alliances.

The Washington, D.C., area meeting is one of 40 that will take place in the United States and Canada this year. Each Business Partner Connections event consists of the typical meet-and-greet reception and an "open mike" session in which participants describe their strengths and the type of partners they seek.

The meetings are meant to push one of IBMs key 2001 channel objectives: to create more linkages among its partners.

The concept appears to be working. Joseph Zosh, director of Access 2 Technology Solutions, says the recent event generated two immediate opportunities for teaming. "Were finding who is out there, what they are doing, and where they are working," he adds.

IBM believes alliances among the partners are critical for building complex e-business solutions. Such teaming has become more important given IBMs increasingly diverse partner base, which now encompasses traditional product resellers, influencers and service providers. "Our definition of a business partner is expanding," says Ben Gaither, IBM business unit executive for Territory Partner Sales in the Eastern region.

IBM also uses the periodic get-togethers to help drive the companys partnering activity down to the local level. IBMs PartnerWorld program offers a centralized, Web-based program for IBMs 95,000 partners. "We are trying to extend that program to the territory level," says Patricia Meacham, VP of IBMs PartnerWorld program.

The territory level consists of 300 local sales regions, each staffed with a recently appointed territory partner manager.

In January, Chris Muma became IBMs territory partner manager for the Chesapeake North territory, which hosted the recent Washington event. Muma says hes spent the past few weeks learning about the partners within his region. This process will help him drive appropriate leads to the partners, he notes.

Although the territory focus is local, IBM has a plan in place to deal with opportunities spanning several regions. Sam Maatallah, IBMs small- and midsize-business brand-segment executive covering services and partners, says one territory partner manager will sponsor such multiregion opportunities, keeping the other managers in the communications loop.