Sanjeev Aggarwal's Blog

February 24, 2015

SMB Spotlight: IBM’s Midmarket GM On New Partner Strategy and Programs for SMB and Midmarket Companies (Part 2)

Sanjeev: Hi, this Sanjeev Aggarwal from the SMB Group, and in today’s SMB Spotlight I’m speaking with John Mason, who is IBM’s General Manager for Midmarket. Hi John. Thanks for joining me in this two-part discussion about new IBM developments and solutions that are relevant for the midmarket and SMB space. Continuing our discussion in this second post, we focus on IBM’g go-to-market and channel strategy for SMBs and midmarket.

Sanjeev: How is IBM’s channel involved in marketing and selling some of these new solutions?


John: A couple of different ways. So for Verse, for example, we make that available to and through our business partners and they have an opportunity to develop recurring revenue model, annuity model and can also add their own consultative services, things like messaging migration or post-implementation support.

We’ve also introduced something called Watson Explorer for business partners. So, that really gives a very powerful cognitive search and analytics. And through this Explorer program, the business partner can identify high revenue potential and resale opportunities on Watson Explorer and then we continue to expand that obviously into other areas. So there’s are really significant joint market investments that we make together with our business partners.

I believe it’s in the order of 100 million dollar investment in co-marketing that we spend with our business partners together. We invest and they invest and then we jointly market to identify new opportunities.

One example is in the UK where we used a very interesting customer reference from Australia. The rugby team in Australia was using, in this case, SPSS to do predictive analytics on player injuries. The customer was called the Waratahs rugby team from Australia. They were using multiple data sources, looking at the players’ training program, their previous injuries, history of injuries, number of minutes they played in matches, that kind of thing to predict future injury probabilities.

The UK team took that customer reference, turned it into a marketing campaign, which was essentially a mock newspaper. That the UK IBM team together with specific, I think, two or three business partners sent this out to 97 different sports clubs in the UK, rugby teams, soccer teams, cricket teams, with a headline that said, you know something about that particular club’s lead player getting injured in three weeks’ time.

So, they sent, for example, to Manchester United such-and-such a player gets injured in three weeks. And then explained within the text how they could have used the IBM analytics tools working with the business partner to predict and effectively reduce the likelihood of injuries and therefore seen significant benefits to the team, which counts on having a full roster of players, etc.

We sent that to 97 different clubs and within a week we had 47 calls back into either IBM or the business partner asking for a follow-on meeting to see how they could actually take advantage of this same capability. And right now, we’re in the process of qualifying a number of those different opportunities into actual closed deals together with the business partners.

So what’s being indicated there is having an actual customer reference in the industry. Having a partner with the skillset, in this case analytics, and having that partner engaged early on in the joint demand generation efforts that we co-fund. That’s where we’ve seen very high response rates and then a much higher yield on the marketing activity.

Sanjeev: That is a great example, more specifically because small and midmarket would like to know how companies similar to theirs are using these solutions and what benefits they’re getting out of them.

John: Yeah, I think the key is you’re not just talking to the customer about technology but actually listening for their business challenge and in their language that’s relevant to them and their particular industry and turning that technology into a solution to that particular challenge.

So that’s where we’re also working programmatically with a number of our business partners to try to have that intersection point between industry expertise and technical know-how around specific cloud, analytics, mobile and social solution plays that can build on an existing customer reference in the same industry to find new opportunities.

Sanjeev: And I’m sure examples like these will open up new opportunities for IBM not only in accounts that have been familiar with IBM but also net new accounts.

John: Yes.

Sanjeev: Ease of use and the value they’re providing to SMBs.

John: Exactly. Yeah.

Sanjeev: So with IBM having so many products and solutions, how do SMBs find out about some of these new solutions that are innovative, ease to use, cloud-based?

John: A couple of different ways. One is obviously through our business partners. A lot of small and mid-sized businesses treat the business partner almost as their IT department whether it’s a cloud service provider or a more traditional business partner. So, quite often that is an inroad for a customer to start using IBM. In some cases, they may not even know they’re using IBM. It could be an embedded part of a cloud service provider solution that the SMB is buying and it’s actually IBM technology that’s provided there embedded in the solution. So, that’s one way.

Also, through traditional business partners with different solutions that we provide through them. But that is in some ways kind of a second-level connection. It was important for us to also establish a direct connection point for small and mid-sized businesses. In particular, to see what is available in terms of cloud services from IBM and from our business partners.

So, that led us to develop the IBM Cloud Marketplace, which brings together this very broad portfolio of offerings that IBM has itself but also third-party cloud services. And it’s organized, it’s a very simple, you can filter in ways, you can choose by self-identifying, if you like, as a developer or as an IT operations person or as a line of business decision maker. And within the line of business decision making you can choose by horizontal sort of functional area, marketing, human resources, finance, etc. or you can also sort by industry.

So, we’re really trying to use that as an on ramp for a customer to explore some of these solutions that they may not even realize IBM provides. And it could be solutions from third parties. In some cases, they even compete with IBM’s own offerings. We won’t exclude people who have a competing cloud service either. It’s important for us to demonstrate to customers and partners that we want to participate in an eco-system, which is open and allow customers to choose the solutions that best meet their needs, not necessarily force them to buy in the ways that we dictate. So it’s really about being a participant in an active but open eco-system of partners.

Sanjeev: Can SMBs if they go to this marketplace find out solutions that they can try before they buy?

John: Yeah, absolutely. One of the key requirements that we heard was the ability to get a free trial and to have limited free trial period or limited functionality for free for the customer to get a sense for whether this is a good fit. So we have a number of try before you buy type offerings. SoftLayer is one of them. You get a free month of virtual server from SoftLayer. IBM Verse, the communication offering that we mentioned before, has a 90-day free trial. Watson Analytics there’s a free version available, and then depending on which additional sources you want to use, then it steps up into a fee-based offering.

Sanjeev: How transparent is the marketplace for the users or SMBs to see not only the trial solutions but how much is the cloud solution going to cost them on a monthly basis if they do decide to go ahead and acquire that solution?

John: It varies a little bit, depending on the offerings. Obviously, some of the offerings are relatively simple, can be purchased with a credit card, in which case the pricing is clear, up-front on a per-seat, per-month basis which is the case for SoftLayer and some of the other offerings like FiberLink.

Sanjeev: How about like Watson Analytics?

John: Watson Analytics is free right now. We’re moving to additional tiers of fee-based offerings. So the switch should be coming out any time now.

Sanjeev: OK. Thanks. And what resources does IBM have to educate, train SMBs on the adoption of these new solutions? I think some of them you mentioned before. Are there any online videos, information content, online tutorials that can help them with a faster on ramp and different usage scenarios?

John: Yeah. Across every one of these solutions we have a wide range of video tutorials as well as user communities where users can pose questions, comments, share their own experiences as well as more structured tutorial content. Much of this, by the way, is accessible also through the IBM Cloud Marketplace. And so, if you start to explore one particular solution and are looking for more information we usually provide links within that same space to help the user identify more training, white papers and access to the community.

Similarly, by the way, for our business partners we also have a dedicated portal that we’ve just completely revamped called PartnerWorld where we have literally thousands of partners who have access to partner training materials and communities as well.

Sanjeev: OK, great. One last question. Does IBM and its partners have a program to help SMBs migrate from, say, Gmail to a Verse type of a solution?

John: We have several IBM Cloud Certified Business Partners who offer this type of migration, many of who are accessible through the Cloud Marketplace.

Sanjeev: Yeah, because sometimes the issue for SMBs is not only having new and innovative solutions, easy to use solutions available, they need to see how to move to adopt these new solutions based on what they have because in some cases they have lots of existing data.

John: That’s also an opportunity for our business partners to provide their value in the transition and migration type services as well. That’s something that we may not do directly. We, I know, are looking at tools that we could provide to help with that, but it’s also an area that a lot of our business partners have years of expertise in helping migrate from one platform to another.

Sanjeev: Yeah, definitely. I think if you can provide some of these tools to help the business partners make the life of SMBs easier in this migration I think it will go a long way to help both IBM and the partners. Great. Thank you.

John: Sanjeev, one other thing I forgot to mention is also on a cloud infrastructure approach with software, particularly for startups, we’ve also recently introduced a free cloud access On Ramp to help startups get started on using SoftLayer by providing up to $120,000 worth of free usage of SoftLayer for startups. That’s maybe something that they can also consider.

Sanjeev: How can startups can find out about the availability of these resources.

John: That was announced in November and you can view the press release on IBM Global Entrepreneur Program.

Sanjeev: Thanks for this very informative session. I think IBM, at least today, does have a really good roster of products to help SMBs be more productive in their journey to compete with the larger companies. I look forward to seeing the progress some of these solutions make in the upcoming months. Again, thanks for taking the time to talk to me.

John: Thanks, Sanjeev. Appreciate the time and I certainly look forward to continuing the discussion. Thank you.

This is the second of a two-part SMB Spotlight interview with John Mason, IBM’s General Manager for Midmarket. In the first post, we discuss new IBM developments and solutions that are relevant for the midmarket and SMB space. (link to first post)

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