At its Vendor World Premiere event Monday at the XChange event in Chicago, IBM unveiled enhancements to its reseller programs aimed at ensuring that VARs can lock in sales opportunities they've worked hard to land.
"We want to help protect your margins," said Greg Adams, vice president of IBM Americas Business Partners. "If you make the investment to help sell a solution to a customer, and another [reseller] shows up at the last second and drops the price, that margin opportunity will be yours. It's not going to go to another [VAR] who shows up late."
IBM's beefed-up reseller protection will take the form of an expansion of its Bid Certification program to include the company's new eServer P5 family of Unix/Linux servers as well as its existing, lower-end P4-based servers, Adams said.
In practice, the change means that when multiple resellers are competing for the same customer, they'll each have to apply through IBM's Bid Certification system to request special price they can offer that customer. However, IBM will manage the process so the reseller that has worked hardest on a particular customer will have the best shot at landing the business.
"If you invest in a solution, this certification will protect your investment," Adams said.
Resellers will be able to combine pricing they obtain under Bid Certification with credits obtained under the SMB Advantage program, according to IBM.
On the broader IBM business-partner front, Donn Atkins, the new general manager of IBM Global Business Partners, pledged that he'll spend more time working with VARs to help them exploit the increasingly lucrative SMB market.
In October, Atkins said he'll launch PartnerJam, a 10-day-long online forum, which will enable IBM's resellers to interact with Big Blue's executives.
Topics to be discussed will include how to compete in the SMB space, the impact of IBM's incentive program on channel partners' profitability, and making it easier to do business with IBM.
Atkins, a 27-year IBM veteran, took the helm of the company's partner operation three weeks ago from Mike Borman, who moved over to manage its iServer operation.
"I have two key areas I intend to focus on," he told the XChange '04 audience. "The first is to maintain momentum and not make a lot of changes. The second thing is, as the market changes, we'll have to change. My commitment to you is that we'll do that together and we'll make it predictable."
Managing that process should enable resellers to steer toward the improved economic waters Atkins sees ahead. "There's an uptick cycle in place right now," he said. "We are seeing spending pick up."
Atkins' advice to VARs is to focus on selling solutions rather than technology. Areas such as business intelligence, supply-chain management and back- and front-office automation are particularly ripe, he said.
Meanwhile, end users are posing new marketing challenges for resellers, according to Adams.
"We're seeing more and more customers break their purchases into smaller projects," he said. "Competition is intense and it's always going down to the wire."
To help resellers better manage such challenges, IBM is fine-tuning its reseller programs.
"The challenge with SMB is, it's costing more to win business," Adams explained. "We've put in place dramatic rebates"up to 20 percent"on many of our products in the SMB space."
To provide additional help, IBM has streamlined its PartnerWorld program so that VARs have a single point of contact with the company. IBM has also launched the Express Portfolio Web site, which helps VARs put together configurations and obtain competitive pricing for solutions aimed at the SMB space.
"We're going to give partners incentives that are simple and easy to use," Adams pledged.