IBM is taking a number of steps to help its channel partners weather the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis, preserving their current PartnerWorld program levels and competencies until 2021, providing partners with expanded digital marketing capabilities and offering additional financial incentives for solution providers and distributors and flexible financing options for customers.
The measures, coming just before next week’s Think Digital 2020 virtual event, are designed to help alleviate solution providers’ two major challenges right now: Supporting their clients in tough economic times and maintaining their own liquidity, said David La Rose (pictured above), general manager of the IBM partner ecosystem, in an interview with CRN.
La Rose, a seasoned IBM sales executive and previously the head of IBM’s business in Australia, was named the head of IBM’s entire channel organization in July 2019.
The channel chief has been speaking with solution provider executives on IBM’s global and regional partner advisory boards to assess the partner community’s needs. “How do we help them during this period?” La Rose said. “We’re looking at this on a day-to-day basis to provide strong programs, strong support for our partners.”
Other major IT vendors, including Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Dell Technologies, have also implemented measures to provide channel partners with assistance in the wake of the pandemic and the sharp slowdown in the U.S. economy. Initiatives from those vendors include preserving partner program tier designations and eliminating sales thresholds, offering richer financial incentives and extended payment terms, and providing additional sales and marketing assistance.
IBM has extended the PartnerWorld Program revalidation grace period from May 5, 2020 to Jan. 1, 2021, during which time partners will not decline in program level or lose a competency. The company also has suspended Channel Value Reward (CVR) revalidation requirements for 2020, allowing partners additional time to prepare and complete necessary testing. And IBM is allowing additional time for partners to submit competency co-marketing plans by lengthening the planning period.
La Rose said IBM is adding millions of dollars into Q2 performance incentives for IBM Power and IBM Storage competency partners. The company is also increasing base value incentives for hardware products by half a point of margin from the first dollar of sales in the quarter and offering value-added distributors an addition 1.2 points of guaranteed growth incentives during the quarter.
IBM also launched special 90-day software offerings and trials at no cost for cloud and cognitive software and defined a distinct set of solutions for partners and customers around the company’s IBM Power, IBM Security, IBM Storage, IBM Z mainframes and LinuxOne systems.
All that is good news to Michael Gray, chief operating officer at Champion Solutions Group, an IBM Platinum Business Partner based in Boca Raton, Fla.
“Extending the PartnerWorld revalidation period and certification deadlines is absolutely of value,” Gray told CRN in an email. “With testing centers closed and partners focused on helping their customers in these difficult times, we really did not have time to worry about ‘levels’ and programs. There are more important issues to focus on right now, so this was a welcome decision by IBM.”
Gray also praised the extended flexible financing options for IBM Power and IBM Storage systems to partners and customers through IBM Global Financing. “Very glad to see IGF extend special programs and terms. For us, it is the customer offerings that are more relevant as customers try to weather this storm and delay capital outlays as much as possible. The extended terms and deferred payments are definitely a welcome discussion point with our customers,” Gray said.
A key element of IBM’s lineup of partner assistance offerings is a new, state-of-the-art marketing platform, IBM My Digital Marketing, that partners can use to execute end-to-end digital marketing campaigns. That complements the My Digital Marketing Promotion assistance the company launched in February to help solution providers build and execute second-quarter marketing campaigns.
More than 1,800 partners have already taken advantage of that offering, according to La Rose. “I think this is a huge benefit for some of the smaller partners,” La Rose said.
The platform and other digital marketing and sales offerings are designed to help partners generate demand in these uncertain times. “The key thing is, how do we keep the cash engine running” for partners, he said.
“We had been using the IBM Digital Platform for quite some time now. The earlier experience was really great,” said Jaydeep Vasani, sales director at Veracitiz Solutions, an IBM consulting service partner in Mumbai, India, in a statement. “We got the pre-defined campaign, which we could use as-is [or] after modifying as per our requirement, and used [the content] on social media to promote ourselves.
“Now IBM has come up with the new IBM My Digital Marketing Platform with a completely new look and feel as well as some really new features like all-new campaigns, webinar creation and all-new content that is very useful to create awareness on social media and an effective way to reach the right audience without spending any extra money,” Vasani said.
"IBM has done an extraordinary job providing the digital tools and resources through the My Digital Marketing automation platform. The platform has enabled us to quickly plan, build, execute and measure a recent Watson Assistant and Watson Studio email campaign,” said Christopher Lee, director with IBM partner Ucensys Research in Ashburn, Va., in a statement. “We did not have an in-house marketing automation tool, so to have access to My Digital, and at no extra cost, is a game changer!”
IBM is providing up to US$2,000 in credit for first-time partner users to get started building and executing Q2 digital marketing campaigns. And IBM is funding 100 percent of eligible software co-marketing digital activities, up from 50 percent.
A new series of enablement webinars is intended to help partners develop their digital selling skills, La Rose said, and access to virtual selling tools will help partners shift from in-person selling to remote digital selling practices. And IBM has been updating its Seismic sales enablement platform for partners.
“Very happy to see the heavy focus on marketing and doing joint marketing with partners,” said Gray at Champion Solutions Group. “Hopefully we will continue to see focused campaigns and offerings on migrating existing customers to newer technology. Partners need the ‘air cover’ from IBM in the form of marketing, messaging and offers to help move customers along and focus on new technology and offerings.”