IBM’s illustrious and prolific history has made the company synonymous with both technology and innovation. However, Mike Fino, COO for Global Business Partners at IBM, says that IBM’s pedigree is never a foregone conclusion. “Our Business Partners have many choices, and we want them to feel that partnering with IBM gives them access to the best technologies, the most effective experience, and the most efficient way for them to take care of their clients,” he explains. “While we are well on the transformation journey we began with our partners in 2017, there is never a point in time when we’ll say that we’re done improving, evolving our processes, or making tools better. The IBM Partner Ecosystem is a growth mindset environment.”
Over the past year and a half, IBM’s Partner Ecosystem team has transformed its tooling and overhauled partner engagement. They implemented a Global NPS (Net Promoter Score) solution that has since been propagated across IBM’s Global Partner Ecosystem, and the insights gleaned from the resulting client and partner feedback have been instrumental in improving the partner experience. “We use the feedback to help us set our priorities for transformation investment. Then, as we transform, we continue to use ongoing NPS feedback to ensure that we’re moving in the right direction,” says Fino.
Once a partner provides feedback, IBM responds within 24 hours to quickly establish a line of communication. “We may not have all the answers in 24 hours,” adds Fino, “but within 24 hours we let them know that we heard them and we are working on a response.” Extensive, systematic audits are conducted on the returned engagements themselves to ensure they are of a certain quality, and that responses address specific raised concerns. “This is where the power of NPS becomes apparent,” enthuses Fino. “Making client feedback a way of life is really what moves the needle, and we’ve seen that over the past year and a half for the ecosystem.”
Engagement with this feedback has enabled IBM to hone its partner platform in such a way that partners are not only able to access vital information whenever they need it, but they can also connect with other partners with whom they can share complementary skills. From a single sign-on, IBM’s partners can leverage a trio of powerful tools in the IBM Partner Ecosystem that each enable them to maximize their sales potential: PartnerWorld, Seismic, and Skills Gateway. While each solution is powerful on its own, they provide exponential potential when used together. They are designed to be interoperable, enabling seamless interaction between the three. Skills Gateway provides sales training, courses and tests; Seismic provides the platform for client engagement as well as supportive sales collateral (kits, plays and assets) that is designed to enable partners to progress sales opportunities; and PartnerWorld serves as an onboarding and enablement tool that links with the cutting-edge, AI-driven Business Partner (BP) Connect solution, which facilitates collaboration among partners. “BP Connect is where the scope really becomes exponential,” says Fino. “You’ve got your skills, your sales collateral, and now you want to find an IBM Business Partner with adjacent or ancillary skills that can fill gaps in your own expertise. By collaborating with another IBM partner, you can quickly and efficiently bring a solution together for a client without necessarily having to become an expert in all things yourself.”
Powered by IBM’s proprietary Watson artificial intelligence (AI) solution, BP Connect intelligently banks and cross-references partners’ skills to provide matches to the most appropriate and complementary partner for their own needs. Through Skills Gateway, partners can broaden and deepen their skillsets; their completed training is recorded by BP Connect and makes them a more attractive prospect for others looking to collaborate on a project. “If you’ve advanced your skills from one discipline to four disciplines, you become that much more appealing – in terms of the different body of work or knowledge that you have – for other partners who may be seeking that expertise,” says Fino.
IBM has also infused additional AI capabilities into the ecosystem. The company uses AI to match its Business Partners with business leads that are appropriate for their skills and their historic performance with similar opportunities. “We've built a system called SCORE which continually learns based on feedback, win-rates, and which partners are excelling at particular skills and capabilities. It then considers all that information in near real time and uses it to select and pass a lead to the partner that is best positioned to win or advance that opportunity.”
In sum, these components comprise a deeply powerful sales ecosystem that is designed to enable partners to make the most of every lead, develop their skills, and build up a network of partners with whom they can develop symbiotic sales relationships. The powerful combination of these tools gives IBM a unique competitive differentiator, proving to be an exceptional asset in the marketplace. “Our competition is moving quickly, which means we need to move even more quickly,” concludes Fino. “Our partners always have choices. It’s about continuing to be relevant in the minds of our partners. If they see the value we bring to the table each and every day, that helps to ensure that, when choices get made, the partners and clients prefer our business model over everybody else’s. It’s a mantra for how we live in support of the IBM ecosystem: a burning desire to never be done, to always want to be better.”