Delivering IBM’s Channel Strategy
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Delivering IBM’s Channel Strategy

In a time when partnerships and alliances rival the importance of direct sales, the timeless issue of channel conflict is always at the forefront for IBM. Working with some 90,000 business partners, IBM garners roughly one-third of its revenue via channe

Paul Holmes

In a time when partnerships and alliances rival the importance of direct sales, the timeless issue of channel conflict is always at the forefront for IBM.  Working with some 90,000 business partners, IBM garners roughly one-third of its revenue via channel relationships – a fact not clearly communicated in years past.  However, working under the umbrella of the industry’s largest sales force, channel partners often feel overshadowed by the shear size of IBM’s direct, go-to-market model. 

Many of IBM’s customer facing organizations, Global Services for example, run parallel to the objective of business partners: to sell value-add services packaged with IBM hardware and software products.  Adding to this conflict was IBM’s standing with the developer community.  Historically viewed as runner-up to the likes of Microsoft, IBM’s developer relationships were marginal, as independent software vendors perceived few benefits in developing solutions for IBM systems.  

IBM needed a way to clearly demonstrate the importance of its partners, and two key industry events provided the opportunity.   By streamlining the planning and interview scheduling processes, IBM was able to include one business partner or developer executive in every interview, shifting the focus of these events from IBM to its partners.  Attendance and coverage increased nearly 40% for both events over the prior year, with IBM partners receiving the bulk of the coverage.  These two events helped solidify business partner involvement in IBM’s go-to-market strategy, and for that reason, this program is worthy of a SABRE for Best Special Event (More than 7 Days).

OBJECTIVES

IBM’s objective was to clearly communicate the importance of business partners and developers in IBM’s go-to-market strategy.  To support this objective, Brodeur’s mission was to use IBM’s largest industry events - PartnerWorld 2001 (Atlanta) and Solutions 2001 (San Francisco) - as comprehensive vehicles in delivering this key message at large industry gatherings.

AUDIENCE

The key demographic at both conferences included business partners of all varieties: software developers, value-added resellers (VARs), web integrators, systems integrators and other key influencers. More than 8,000 key IT decision-makers including CEOs, CFOs, CIOs, software engineers and developers, business managers, senior IT managers and consultants attended PartnerWorld and Solutions 2001.

RESEARCH

In Q4 2000, IBM commissioned and fielded a research study on IBM’s direct sales model through IBM.com.  The purpose of the research was to measure the impact direct sales from ibm.com had on business partners.  Results found that sales leads captured through ibm.com actually provided faster growth and higher margins for its channel partners participating in IBM.com affiliation and PartnerChoice programs.  From a brand perspective, the report also highlighted that IBM.com programs are key in promoting and strengthening the market presence and name recognition of business partners. Other key findings concluded that by streamlining the back-end processes, IBM.com aimed to free up its business partners to strengthen their existing customer relationships and develop new ones.  On the heels of these findings, IBM conducted channel publication pre-briefs and an on-site press conference at PartnerWorld 2001 to announce the results.  

Additional research was critical in the selection of media targets, development of announcement content and dissemination of news.  To avoid a narrow media focus, the Brodeur team researched additional gateways to expand the reach of conference messaging to include new economy publications, additional trade publications, major daily newspapers, business press, local Atlanta and San Francisco media and broadcast outlets. Event specific press feedback from both events in 2000 also identified the desire of press and analysts to receive more partner-focused news. 

As such, partners and developers were positioned as the lead news providers in 2001, with IBM and its executives playing supportive roles in both announcement content and one-on-one interviews. Coverage analysis from 2000 highlighted a significant problem in the number and timing of announcements made at each event.  With as many as 15 - 25 IBM press releases issued on a single day, messages were diluted and often lost as high-profile hardware and software announcements overshadowed content from less-visible divisions.  To this end, Brodeur developed a pre-announcement strategy to help ensure that all announcements, regardless of size or timing, would garner press coverage.

PLANNING

Brodeur and IBM began planning seven months prior to the open of the company’s first event in 2001, PartnerWorld.  Working across eight IBM product/services divisions and encompassing a core team of more than 45 communications managers, Brodeur and IBM launched the PR plan for PartnerWorld on September 28, 2000.  This included an outlay of the venue, media/analyst pitch process (including a Brodeur-developed interactive email campaign), pre-announce strategy, pre-brief strategy and a concrete schedule of weekly team calls.  A PR-only email address was established ([email protected]) and a Brodeur-built customized online database (Brodeur’s InterView Database) was unveiled to fully support all media interview environments.  The main objective for each conference was to solidify current business partner and developer relationships while nurturing opportunities for future partnerships.

STRATEGY

IBM’s overall event-based outreach strategy was to ensure seamless coordination between the internal and external media relations team in delivering key messages at each conference.  This fortified IBM’s year-long efforts in reaching out to its business partners and solution developers.  After analyzing 2000 coverage, results showed previous plans to be flawed due to news cannibalization and dilution (IBM typically made 15 - 25 announcements in a single day).  As such, the announcement strategy for 2001 was to pre-announce less-visible news.   Running along side the pre-announce strategy, Brodeur prepared a comprehensive pre-brief interview strategy to help support the pre-announce strategy and ensure news was appearing on the conference’s opening day.

EXECUTION

Media/Analyst Relations - Attendance: Brodeur developed and distributed 500 interactive email invitations to media and analysts.  The interactive content used cutting-edge Flash graphics to display conference images and direct users to an online registration site.  The Flash email also invited users to visit the main PartnerWorld page for more information on IBM’s business partner program and upcoming event.  Pre-announcement and Pre-brief Outreach: Aligned and disseminated news prior to conference openings.  Brodeur and IBM conducted more than 25 pre-brief interviews across six IBM divisions and five publications, including major media, to support the pre-announcement strategy and drive enthusiasm for the event.  Brodeur confirmed more than 25 story placements prior to the opening of PartnerWorld 2001.  The goal of delivering significant content prior to the official conference opening was to enable less-visible divisional news to stand alone and increase the amount of total impressions made at each event.

Business Partner Relations: Business partners and developers were given top priority for each media and analyst opportunity.  Unless logistically impossible, a business partner or developer executive was to be present in each and every interview conducted.  In addition, a business partner panel, including the CEOs of Razorfish, MarchFIRST, iXL and Organic, was coordinated and managed by Brodeur at CNN’s “TalkBack Live” stage as the initial launch of IBM’s hosted “Survivor” series for Web integrators. More than 25 media, including local broadcast outlets, covered the event. 

Interview Scheduling and Internal Communications: A key tool in the execution of each conference was the Brodeur Worldwide InterView Database, a Web-enabled database developed to assist in the management of media and analyst activities at large industry/corporate events including industry trade shows, corporate conferences, teleconferences, seminars, internal events, etc.  The database aided in the alignment and coordination of interviews/meetings, typically between client executives and key media/analysts, and captured all related information including date, time, room assignment/location, executive attendance, media/analyst attendance, meeting topic and PR monitoring responsibilities.

EVALUATION OF SUCCESS

Analyst and Media Coverage: More than 280 international media and analysts attended PartnerWorld 2001 and Solutions 2001.  Across four conference days (two at each event), 715 interviews were conducted with 180 IBM and Business Partner executives being uniquely interviewed.  Brodeur and IBM PR generated 450 articles appearing in more than 100 different publications. Overall, media and analyst attendance increased 39 percent for PartnerWorld and 40 percent for Solutions.  Coverage for PartnerWorld doubled, while news stemming from Solutions tripled.  The final number of impressions made was between 150 and 200 million, using on a readership/circulation multiplier of 1.5 to 2.5.

More significantly, the value of messages delivered at each event was outstanding. Initial coverage analysis reflects a greater consistency in messaging across major media (Reuters, Bloomberg, IBD, the New York Times), channel media (CRN, VARBusiness, Smart Partner), IT media (CNET, eWeek, Information Week) and local broadcast outlets.  Business partners and developer firms secured significantly more coverage than years passed with IBM playing a supporting role.

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