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IBM Ecosystem plans to expand sales lifecycle support

The technology company plans to address training and benefits as it looks to help partners earlier on in the sales process as well as during a project's implementation phase.

IBM is adjusting its ecosystem program to boost support for partners from the early stage of a sales opportunity to the implementation phase of a customer engagement.

Kate Woolley, general manager of the IBM Ecosystem, said the company is rethinking the benefits and training it offers partners. The details have yet to solidify, but the company plans to update the program based on partner feedback. Woolley took on the ecosystem role in January, having been hired in 2020 as chief of staff to IBM chairman and CEO Arvind Krishna.

IBM has learned that it needs to help partners differentiate themselves earlier in the sales cycle using IBM's offerings. Woolley framed the question IBM now explores: "What is the right training and certification and benefits that we can give them so that we can help them in their conversations and how they're influencing and recommending the products that are within IBM's portfolio?"

Focus on deployment

The IBM Ecosystem program is also revisiting post-sales partner support. "The other thing that we've heard from partners is, how can we help them to actually get IBM's platform deployed?" Woolley noted. "Because that's when you really see the value. It's not in the transaction. It's actually in the deployment and implementation."

Kate Woolley, general manager, IBM EcosystemKate Woolley

IBM's plan for program change comes as other IT companies have also retooled their partner programs. Microsoft later this year will roll out its Microsoft Cloud Partner Program, which will measure a partner's performance, customer success and technical skills. In 2021, SAP updated its compensation approach to reward partners upfront for a new customer contract based on a percentage of total contract value and provide a slice of TCV when a customer renews its contract.

The new structures reflect the prevalence of cloud computing and subscription-based models, which emphasize ongoing customer relationships versus one-time transactions.

Becoming more essential

IBM, meanwhile, also plans to "become more essential to our partners," Woolley said, noting that the ecosystem program will focus on "the right marketing and demand generation" efforts to drive business.

The company also seeks to simplify its ecosystem efforts. "I have a big priority on the actual day-to-day interactions with IBM and how we make that easier for our partners through the digital experience and the tools and processes we're providing them," Woolley said.

We have the flexibility for them to partner with IBM in the way that they want to partner.
Kate WoolleyGeneral manager, IBM Ecosystem

The ease-of-doing-business campaign will extend to the support and skills IBM's field personnel offer partners. Partner program simplicity is another theme among IT providers, with Cisco's partner portal revisions providing an example.

Another changed aspect of the IBM Ecosystem is the wider coverage it offers partners. IBM has unified previously separated programs for different types of partners under one umbrella. The company launched its ecosystem model in 2018 as it sought to cultivate a broader partner constituency. "We brought that all together into the one place," Woolley said. She cited value-added distributors, value-added resellers, independent software vendors, managed service providers, global systems integrators and hyperscalers as examples of ecosystem participants.

As IBM accommodates more partner types, it also aims to support different ways of working with the company. Partners can sell IBM products, embed IBM's products in their own offerings or build services around an IBM technology, Woolley noted. Partners can also operate in more than one category -- a cloud consultant might develop its own software, for example. IBM recognizes that mixed business model approach, Woolley said.

"We have the flexibility for them to partner with IBM in the way that they want to partner," she said.

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