Working for an IBM Business Partner organization is not easy and seems to be getting harder each year. Factor in IBM’s continuing (or accelerating?) decline in sales, and figuring out how to be a successful is really tough.
When I started with The Fillmore Group ten years ago the company had a great reputation for IBM data management training and consulting services. I persuaded Frank Fillmore to add software reselling to the mix assuming, as I was new and coming from the Microsoft world (essentially run by partners), that customers needing technical services and training logically needed to buy something. Also, I had this radical concept drilled into my head while working for Microsoft partners: customers prefer to buy from the organization that can help them be most successful with what they buy.
I’m glad I suggested reselling as over time our other business units’ profitability has shifted. The IBM authorized training business fell into a cycle of declining revenues blamed on post 9/11 travel fears. In 2013 IBM gave up on training and outsourced all public authorized education via the (spin of the century!) Global Skills Initiative. In the three years since the Global Skills Initiative announcement our classroom has never again been used for an IBM public training class.
Delivering consulting services as a subcontractor to IBM Lab Services was, for a long time, a true “win-win” as we provided a variable resource – great consultants – to IBM on an “as-needed” basis, while the IBM business helped support our direct customer business and growing the shared pool of highly skilled consultants. Unfortunately, a 2008 management change at IBM shifted the focus to lower skilled, lower cost resources, and moved our team to the “only call on Christmas Eve” supplier list. Over the course of four years the number of hours our consultants worked for IBM Lab Services dropped by 50% year-over-year until dwindling to less than 200 hours per year over the past 3 years.
As for reselling, ten years after I worked through the paperwork to qualify our team of technical experts to resell IBM software, I still cringe when I hear IBM sales organizations use the terms “incumbent partner” and “fulfillment partner”. This is how IBM describes Business Partner organizations whose understanding of the products they sell is so limited the only reason IBM funnels leads to them (which they do), is that they sold something to someone one time and/or they have the ability to prepare a sales quote with (one hopes) the correct part number.
On the bright side, in 2006 IBM recognized their reseller partners’ typical lack of technical expertise and created a program to try to introduce customers to partners who know more than just part numbers – by offering an incentive to the partners with technical skills outside of the actual purchase transaction. IBM introduced another layer of compensation for selling IBM solutions, the Software Value Incentive (SVI) program, which enables Business Partners who are not being funneled leads, but who demonstrate that they actually help customers understand and justify their IBM solution purchases, to receive payment for their efforts. Not as much perhaps, as the partner who “got the lead” and became the “fulfillment partner”, but something. The SVI program process is similar in efficiency and simplicity to a NASA rocket launch, but provides enough revenue to justify the effort of engagement and selling (even when you know someone else is getting more!)
In 2014 The Fillmore Group ran a campaign for a solution IBM was struggling to sell – the IBM DB2 Analytics Accelerator (IDAA). We love the IDAA and understand its value. We have people who can write training curriculum and present. We do lots of IBM promotion via webinars and outreach. It made sense to combine these; we built a free IDAA class and delivered it in our backyard, Baltimore. We had 18 people attend, including 3 IBM technical reps as “students”. Four of the customer organizations in the class purchased IDAA’s before year end. We didn’t sell any directly to customers as there were other IBM purchasing vehicles in place and incumbent/reseller partners. However, we were awarded SVI for our efforts and made some money.
It was like, “Magoo! You’ve done it again!”
But now, in 2016, the IBM teams are struggling. IBM has cut staff and everyone is worried their sales will continue to fall as the company tries to redirect their focus to cloud solutions. IBM sellers are less apt than ever to “risk” introducing their customers to Business Partners. The Fillmore Group has scheduled and cancelled two IDAA classes so far this year. The one lead we were passed by IBM was for a customer who was upset with a grossly inflated quote received from their local IBM team.
What can I do to help The Fillmore Group, my IBM colleagues, and our mutual customers be successful with our solutions in 2016? Any ideas? I’d love some feedback.