Q&A: IBM Channel Marketing Exec On Driving Business To Big Blue's Partners

Big Blue's New Partner Marketing Guru

Jacqueline Woods has spent the past four months immersing herself in the intricacies of the channel. As the new chief marketing officer for IBM Global Business Partners, she's ready to formulate strategies and make channel program upgrades that will drive more business to IBM's partners.

Woods is a seasoned technology executive who held executive marketing positions at Oracle and then GE before coming to IBM in 2010.

Woods started with Big Blue working in the systems division, gaining exposure to a hardware business after a career spent grappling with complex software pricing and licensing matters. She then spent two years as CMO for IBM Global Financing, helping customers actually purchase their IBM products.

Woods reports to recently appointed channel chief John Teltsch, who took over that position after Marc Dupaquier left IBM in June.

She told CRN that her years leading marketing efforts for tech companies have helped her develop not only an understanding of technology, but more importantly, how technology penetrates an organization.

IBM modified its partner program recently. What were some of the issues that needed to be addressed?

Anytime you have a program and the program has many types of benefits, whether those benefits are financial incentives or other types of incentives, like marketing, any of those processes taken all together in a very large company, sometimes going through those processes can be challenging.

Simplification is always important. You need to have consistency across your software products, consistency with partners selling more than one thing. If your incentives look different or could be different on one set of products versus another, that sometimes can be hard for someone to wade through.

We've taken a number of steps to simplify some of our benefit programs such that we have more clarity around the types of benefits a partner will get based on their own specific achievement as it relates to specific skills or certifications, or marketing plans.

We took a step back to look at what we could do with co-marketing to have a consistent process across all our software products. We have done that. We launched that July 1.

Consistency as to how business partners would be reimbursed, partners were asking for that. They wanted better consistency in what the requirements were to be qualified for co-marketing, so there aren't different rules for different product areas.

We're going to continue to refine that over the next six months. In January, you'll see further simplification, so I think it's very important to make sure we're always looking at what is the experience of the partner and how do we drive a simpler experience for all of the things that we do around marketing and enablement.

How can you help drive more business to IBM partners?

We're really improving the consistency on passing leads to a partner and making sure there's transparency. We're using Watson and some of the analytics capabilities that we have to understand which partners have the best skills for a specific type of lead, making sure we're really matching the lead to the best partner to work with that client.

We also want to ensure that we have a warm hand-off process between our digital sales reps and the partners, not just some email that shows up and it says call this client. There is a specific conversation to make sure there's clarity on what the client is looking for, working with the partner to make sure they have the right resources on the IBM side to follow up with the client.

What other changes has IBM made to empower its partners?

Over the last five to six months, we have done a yeoman's job of improving our digital platform. It's not just partners having to use our platform to understand how to sell our wares. It's that your engagement is predicated on your ease of use of doing anything. We are all democratized in that way. We all expect a certain experience when we interact with anybody on any digital platform.

Also, we're just working through our co-marketing processes so they're very clear and straightforward, helping partners develop market plans and executing those plans in their specific market. A number of those changes I have worked on since I took this role.

Now that you are in this key role in IBM's channel organization, what are you hearing from partners?

One of the first things I've heard is on the co-marketing.

We identified a top 10 list of the things we wanted to resolve. We're ticking off that list and going to remove the obstacles, or have better clarification around certain things they didn't understand, which makes it much more simple for them to do business with us. I asked that question, and partners were fairly consistent in their answers.

Often partners are working with organizations where people have multipurpose roles, managing many disciplines within a company, so some of these traditional enablement pieces that we have could be very role-specific, but some of them need to be more generalized for some of the people our partners would be meeting with. Those are the types of concerns they raised, and those are the things we've been working on.

What mind-set should you have as a leader in the channel organization?

I think we have to continuously put ourselves in the partners' shoes. That is the approach that I take. I'm a fervent listener when it comes to what are partners actually telling us, what are their pain points and how do we make sure that we're working to reduce the pain points they have.

When we communicate a sales play, or the focus offerings that we want partners to pursue or invest, are we really doing that in a way that we call partner-ready? Do we have a good understanding of what that means for a partner?

You mentioned using Watson internally?

Yes. From an analytics perspective, everything we do, when we're looking on how we improve the quality of leads that we have, we're using analytics and Watson to do that, using them to make sure we're looking at the greatest propensity of leads to convert.