IBM Introduces Partner Plus Program, Replacing PartnerWorld

‘It is a simple, transparent and predictable program,’ IBM channel chief Kate Woolley said during a press conference.


Kate Woolley

IBM unveiled a redesigned partner program Wednesday, with tiers for silver, gold and platinum partners; an accelerator program for new partners; and a promise of fewer direct customers, pushing more accounts to the channel.

Partners will have a six-month transition period to adopt the new program, called IBM Partner Plus, IBM’s channel chief, Kate Woolley, said during a press conference. IBM will launch a new incentives stack in April and new co-marketing and demand generation programs in July.

“It is a simple, transparent and predictable program,” said Woolley, whose formal title is general manager of the IBM ecosystem. “It gives our partners a simplified path for them to progress with IBM, whether they’re building, selling or servicing. It is inclusive of all of our partner types. And we’ve built this program based on what we heard from partners.”

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[RELATED: IBM Expands Partner Access To Training Resources]

IBM Partner Plus Program Replaces PartnerWorld

Partner Plus is Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM’s replacement for its PartnerWorld program, a name used since at least 2004, back when resellers were classified as members, advanced or premier partners.

PartnerWorld itself has undergone multiple redesigns over the years, including in 2020, when IBM added more partner tracks.

The new program builds upon IBM’s October announcement about free, expanded access to employee-level training for partners.

Since that announcement, the company has seen more than 15,000 partner enrollments in sales and technical badges, according to IBM.

IBM’s revamped partner portal allows partners to interact with IBM employees through a dashboard, track their progress through IBM’s badging and education system and track their deals and sales, she said.

The portal has already introduced partners to more than 7,000 potential deals valued at more than $500 million worldwide, according to the company.

Even with the announcement of Partner Plus, IBM and subsidiary Red Hat’s partner programs will remain separate, Woolley said.

IBM’s 3 Partner Tiers

While tech rival Microsoft did away with its gold and silver partner designations this year, IBM has picked up the tiering system. Partner Plus offers three tiers – silver, gold and platinum.

IBM sell and services partners qualify for silver level with three individuals with proficiency badges, according to the company. To get a proficiency badge, the employee must complete “sales foundation” and “technical sales intermediate” badges for a product or offering.

Gold partners must have seven individuals with proficiency badges and revenue of more than $500,000 if they are in a small market. If the partner is in a large market, they must have revenue above $1 million.

Finally, platinum partners must have 14 individuals with proficiency badges and revenue of more than $5 million if they are in a small market. Large market partners need revenue above $10 million.

For independent software vendors (ISVs) – also called “build partners” by IBM – silver level is achieved with one validated solution, which means general availability of a client-ready solution with an aligned contract, according to IBM.

Gold ISV partners must have one validated solution, a completed listing and revenue above $100,000. For platinum-level ISV partners, the revenue goal increases to more than $1 million.

Sell and services partners can ascend tiers based on their experience and proficiency in a particular IBM technology, Woolley said. Partners expanding internationally can retain benefits in a new market “to get up and running really fast,” Woolley said.

Partner Plus also includes a blue program for IBM’s strategic partners and most elite ISV partners – including Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft, Adobe, Cisco, SAP, Samsung and Salesforce.

In North America, IBM partners can resell IBM products through other cloud marketplaces, with partner sales in non-IBM marketplaces going toward IBM Partner Plus progression, according to the company.

Tim Kreytak, CEO of Boston-based IBM and AWS partner Ironside, told CRN in an interview that he’s excited to see both vendors work on more integrations between their products.

More integration means replatforming instead of migrating projects – which can be more expensive and time consuming – plus customers can pick the best features from each service, Kreytak said.

“Customers that start on IBM often stay on IBM,” he said. “The fact that we can now move those workloads to AWS or move those workloads to other places helps IBM maintain those customers because it‘s easier – if I have someone running on Cognos (IBM’s web-based business intelligence suite), and I move them to AWS running on EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud), they’re still running on Cognos. It‘s more of a replatforming than a migration. Migration projects are larger and more expensive. So the integration between the two is good.”

Until June, IBM will work to place partners into the correct tiers – including a registered partner tier for partners below silver.

Registered partners will have access to IBM sales kick off events, learning hubs, the IBM “Technology Zone” for technical live environments and the Seismic sales enablement platform.

Benefits for silver partners include marketing demand engine support, IBM’s Software Access Catalog, Business Partner Directory, technical expert engagement, partner solutions listing, auto-deal sharing, IBM partner status mark and IBM Expert Labs training.

Gold partners receive proof of experience co-creation, IBM Innovation Studio access, lead sharing with partner solution listings, cloud credits, demand generation reimbursement, technical advocacy with experiential learning and access to the IBM Sales Partner Advocacy Program.

And finally, benefits for platinum partners include access to the IBM customer success premier program, access to the IBM Cyber Range for breach scenario simulations, co-selling support, Expert Labs service parts creation and auto-deal share prioritization, according to the company.

Woolley expects platinum partners “in the hundreds.”

“This was all about maximizing the transparency and the predictability for our partners,” Woolley said. “There is a very clear line of sight into how a partner‘s business decisions impact the incentives they receive. Put plainly – we’ve put our partners in the driver‘s seat of their incentives. Our proficiency badges are tied to incentives. So the more our partners learn, the more they can earn.”

IBM Invests In The Channel

Even as business leaders fret over a possible recession next year, IBM views partners as a key investment and the company’s hybrid cloud, artificial intelligence (AI), security and data offerings as still in demand from customers, Woolley said.

“In terms of demand, we continue to see significant demand for digital transformation in our clients and in our partners’ clients as well,” she said.

With that, Woolley has promised fewer direct accounts from IBM – down to the hundreds. And IBM will make “a big shift in resources” in 2023 from supporting direct accounts to supporting partners. IBM promises double the number of partner-facing brand and technical specialists for prospecting and winning new clients.

“And outside of those house accounts for IBM, all of our business will be done through ecosystem partners,” she said.

She continued: “This is all about – how do we continue to invest and have our IBM sellers focused on the IBM ecosystem? So they will be focused on working with partners, working with clients with partners. That is where we are shifting the focus of our salesforce.”

A New Partner Accelerator that is part of Partner Plus will provide onboarding, training and other benefits for partners in the first six months of the program.

“We‘re able to bring in and have a new partner join in a day,” she said. “And then give them the support they need to go on the learning journey – obviously, all of that education available to them at their fingertips free of charge – guide them through that learning journey, guide them through the journey of becoming an IBM partner, really give them the support to do that as fast as possible.”