Two years ago, IBM abruptly pulled its direct sales team off midmarket accounts—a segment it previously had been unable to crack—and ceded the entire business to its channel partners as part of a $130 million sales and marketing initiative to galvanize revenue opportunities for qualified solution providers.
IBM’s strategic about-face—which yielded 2011 midmarket sales that outpaced the company’s overall growth and bested performances in some key business units—now has blossomed as a cornerstone of the vendor’s three-year plan to boost sales in other sectors and emerging markets.
Equally important, the all-in, channel-centric blueprint also serves as a C-suite door-opener for the vendor’s Smarter Planet solutions and new PureSystems technology, says Mark Hennessy, IBM’s new general manager, Global Business Partners and Midmarket.
“Midmarket growth serves as an example to our other brands that it makes sense to have a set of partners to lead in a territory or segment,” Hennessy says. “Our brand teams leverage partners in their go-to-market strategies and our geography leaders understand the importance of partners for client familiarity and productivity.”
On the channel chief job just four months, Hennessy, a 32-year company veteran and former IBM CIO responsible for global integration initiatives and technology operations worldwide, has no plans to radically alter the company’s strategic sales direction.
“Everywhere, I’ve seen the value that our business partner community brings to IBM,” he says. “Partners want consistency and predictability. We’re not planning any sweeping changes, but it’s important to be clear on our strategy and stick to it.”
The goal, at its most basic, is to substantially lift partner participation across hardware, software and services brands and in certain geographic regions by 2015.
“For IBM, there comes a point at which you just can’t scale into different nooks and crannies by yourself,” she says. “From IBM’s perspective, to break new ground, expand and take advantage of new business opportunities, channel partners are going to be more and more critical to their success.”
Hennessy points to partner involvement in half of the vendor’s 1,000 Smarter Planet client engagements to date, with similar participation rates for its Smarter Cities and Smarter Commerce initiatives, cloud computing and business analytics technologies. “Smarter Planet isn’t just an IBM play,” he says.