IBM Channel Chief: We’re Making Partner Engagement ‘As Easy As Possible’
“No matter how our partners are focused or how they‘re going to market, we want our IBM technology to be going to market with them,” IBM channel chief Kate Woolley said.
Opening to partners training and enablement resources usually reserved for IBM’s own employees is an example of how the company is investing in partners and becoming easier to work with, channel chief Kate Woolley told CRN in an interview.
And while the IBM Consulting division continues its own investments with its ongoing purchase of services businesses, those investments pose no conflict to partners, said Woolley, general manager of the IBM ecosystem.
“As we think about IBM with IBM Consulting and IBM technology, we want our partners – no matter how our partners are focused or how they‘re going to market, we want our IBM technology to be going to market with them,” Woolley said.
On Tuesday, the Armonk, N.Y.-based technology giant started giving registered members of its PartnerWorld program access to the training, badges and enablement IBM sales employees get, along with a new learning hub for accessing materials.
Partners now have access to sales and technical badges showing industry expertise, according to a blog post Tuesday. Badges are shareable on LinkedIn and other professional social platforms. IBM sales representatives and partners will receive new content at the same time as it is made available.
“This is the next step in that journey in terms of making sure that all of our registered partners have access to all of the same training, all of the same enablement materials as IBMers,” Woolley told CRN. “That’s the big message that we want people to hear. And then also in line with continuing to make it easier to do business with IBM, this has all been done through a much improved digital experience in terms of how our partners are able to access and consume.”
Although IBM spun off its managed infrastructure practice into a separate, publicly traded company called Kyndryl, the remaining IBM Consulting wing remains a big part of IBM’s business. IBM reported consulting revenue of $4.8 billion in its latest quarterly earnings, up from $4.4 billion from the same period a year prior.
“I don‘t see conflict versus IBM consulting,” Woolley said. “I honestly don’t see that conflict. I think we want to be going to market with all of our partners regardless of what motion they‘re taking it through.”
Here’s what else Woolley had to say.
What should IBM partners know about the newly available training and enablement materials?
As we think about IBM‘s investment in the ecosystem, and making sure that the IBM ecosystem and our ecosystem of partners are an extension of IBM, the big message … is this is the next step in that journey in terms of making sure that all of our registered partners have access to all of the same training, all of the same enablement materials as IBMers.
That’s the big message that we want people to hear. And then also in line with continuing to make it easier to do business with IBM., this has all been done through a much improved digital experience in terms of how our partners are able to access and consume.
What are IBM partners asking for?
The partners are telling us they want more expertise on their teams in terms of the IBM products that they‘re able to sell and how equipped they are to sell them.
And as we look at what we‘re hearing from clients as well, clients want that. So if you think about our IBM partners as being an extension of IBM, our clients are saying, ‘We want more technical expertise. We want more experiential selling. We want IBM’ – and that means the IBM ecosystem as well – ‘to have all of that expertise and to have access to all the right enablement material to be able to engage with us as clients.’
Does opening up training materials better align partners with the IBM salesforce?
People have to have these skills, so we have to invest the time to do this. … We [IBM] want to make it as easy as possible. So if you think about the digital experience with the sales badges that we‘re making available, it’s at the product-offering level.
And there‘s foundational proficiency badges and then technical sales proficiency badges. And so if you’re a new partner and you‘ve chosen to focus on specific product offerings, it becomes very easy to navigate how to get those skills.
So, the digital experience is set up both from a product standpoint. So within data and AI [artificial intelligence], OK, which are the different product offerings with that?
Or from an IBM sales play standpoint – so, if you want to focus on a certain IBM sales place, what are the different badges that ladder up to give you the skill in that?
So we‘ve made it as easy as possible. If I go back to one of my key premises coming into this role, how do we be easier to do business with and make it as easy as possible for partners to engage in that. … I will say, as an IBMer, all of this content is for IBMers and our partners.
So I personally, as an IBMer, am on a path to complete parts of this content as well to make sure I have the skills. And so I personally am going through this exact same content that will be available to all of our partners.
What was some of the work required before expanding access?
It‘s a combination of, yes, looking at what was existing, and what can be leveraged from that, as well as where are the gaps and which gaps do we need to fill.
So we’ve been through a very systematic process to say, ‘OK, here‘s how our product portfolio breaks down, offering by offering. OK, what’s the foundational training? Have we got that? If we haven‘t, we have to create that – or what do we need to adjust? Have we got the technical sales proficiency for that product offering that we need? OK, we need to go and build that.’
So really, going through a systematic way of building out by product offering, by foundational skills, by technical sales proficiency, identifying the gaps, identifying what we have, what we need.
Does this news represent future updates partners will see from the IBM partner program?
Yes. As I go back to how we, as IBM, have declared that the IBM ecosystem is a priority for IBM up and down and we have to have a growing and thriving ecosystem for IBM, how do we be more essential to our partners and how do we be easier to do business with?
This ladders up to both of those perfectly, because we can‘t be essential unless our partners are skilled in our products and confident in going to their clients with our products and selling them with us and for IBM.
And then how do we actually make that easier to engage in? They go hand in hand. So as we think about continuing to invest in the ecosystem, and being more essential, this is absolutely in line with that strategy.
Are there parts of the IBM portfolio where you’d like to see partners deepen their expertise?
So as you think about IBM‘s strategy, based around hybrid cloud and AI, I think the areas where I’d love to see our partners continuing to invest and grow – [I] want [them] to continue with the business we have today and investing in that.
But I think specific areas of our software portfolio where we can continue to invest to have our partners grow skills – so specific areas of our automation portfolio, data and AI portfolio, security portfolio, our sustainability software portfolio. And in particular, as we look at some of the acquisitions IBM has made in some of those areas over the past 12 to 24 months – Envizi, Instana, Turbonomic. Those areas where I think we can really accelerate with some of this very clear skilling, we can really accelerate both what our partners are able to do and, as an extension, IBM.
With IBM’s services acquisition spree, what’s the message to your services-led partners?
So I think as we think about IBM with IBM Consulting and IBM technology, we want our partners – no matter how our partners are focused or how they‘re going to market - we want our IBM technology to be going to market with them.
And so I don‘t see conflict versus IBM consulting. I honestly don’t see that conflict. I think we want to be going to market with all of our partners regardless of what motion they‘re taking it through.
How else is IBM aligning its sales force and its partners?
I want our partners to see this and feel this as a big step forward in how IBM is investing in the ecosystem, how we think about our partners and IBM as a single team – a single set of skilling, a single set of badges, a single set of training.
For example, in the Americas … we have our sales kickoff, and then they roll around the world over the next week. That is a single sales kickoff for IBMers and our partners. That wasn‘t the case 12 months ago. We had separate events. So I want our partners to continue to feel and see this as a big investment in them and representative of how focused we are on the ecosystem and how invested we are.
Is it still a good time for IBM partners given uncertainties around inflation and a recession in the U.S.?
There is obviously macro uncertainty just broadly, but I think from an IT standpoint, people are still seeing the investment in digital transformation.