Sunday, August 16, 2009

OT: When is an IBM Business Partner not a real Partner?

What is your definition of a Business Partner? There are some IT shops who have 'Business Partner' relationships with both IBM and Microsoft... and maybe Google and a couple of other technology providers who also play in the Notes/Domino space.

There's nothing illegal in doing that but I suggest that IT shops who sell both Notes/Domino and MS Exchange/Sharepoint are not worthy of being called 'IBM/Lotus Business Partners'. Call them resellers if you like but I don't see how someone can be your Business Partner and yet still sell your competitor's product.

These schizophrenic resellers may say they are providing a choice for their customers and that they run two independent consulting practices just like accounting firms run separate auditing, tax and compliance divisions but IMHO that's just a crock. Accounting firms can certainly cross-sell services but winning a client for your Audit division doesn't mean that you automatically lose that client for your Compliance division. On the other hand, winning a sale for Exchange is a direct hit to your Notes license revenue and a slap in the face for IBM.

For my part, I'm an IBM/Lotus Business Partner and I won't ever wave a Microsoft Exchange/Sharepoint or Google GAPE flag. I tell my customers that fact up front so they know where I stand. Maybe I'm missing an additional revenue stream by not hedging my bets but I probably sleep better at nights.

And IBM knows that whenever they introduce me to a client they don't risk that I'll be upgrading that client to a competitor's products simply because I can make some short-term money selling additional licenses and even more long-term money supporting a consulting-intensive product.

So where do you stand? Are you an IBM/Lotus Partner or just a reseller?


Carl said...

You need to look a little closer at IBM's own business practices. IBM Global Services do a lot of business migrating Domino customers to Exchange.

Graham Dodge said...

@Carl... We all know about IBM Global Services. I recognize that they are a separate cost center in IBM and chose their own business model (much to the teeth-grinding frustration of the Lotus sales force). My comments apply to them also.

Henning Heinz said...

If you run a bigger business with employees and have a mortgage on your house it sometimes is difficult to conform to business principles. Not long ago 70% of all Domino installations were on Windows, Microsoft is a fact in many companies (of course Foundations is different here). And the Microsoft Partner Package alone is a reason to become a MS Partner too. Domino Designer runs on Windows only, Blackberry, many AV solutions, parts of QuickR and much more. What about Exchange then? Well if we talk about mail and PIM, Exchange is a compelling platform and while IBM Business Partner means partnering with IBM for it is all about the customer first. If IBM Global Services would be loyal to Lotus that would make a difference to me. At the end every Partner has to decide for themselves. And IBM themselves could decide to give up Lotus. I am quite old but too young to already retire.

Graham Dodge said...

@Henning: When an IT shop represents multiple vendors then I believe they are trying to take the choice away from the customer by claiming to be experts in both products and choose to recommend Product X over Product Y. Is the recommendation in the customer's best interests or just a reflection of the fact that the reseller gets a better margin (and more consulting hours) out of recommending Product X? Perhaps both vendor's products will do the job in which case how do they resolve their divided loyalty to both IBM and Microsoft? One of the vendors will lose the deal and then that losing vendor they have a good case to accuse their supposed partner of disloyalty.

Sure, let the multi-vendor IT shop sell both products if they want, but don't tell me that they are a Partner to both of their vendors.

Ed said...

Way back when... I worked for a company that was both a Novell and a Microsoft partner. Originally, their business was 70% Novell. After becoming a MS partner their money came almost exclusively from Novell to MS migrations. MS was paying a bounty for every Novell seat that could be migrated. What incentive did the reseller have to go the other way? I think we have all seen the same trend in the Lotus/MS partner space.

wild bill said...

You know that IBM make it really difficult to help them sometimes. No public marketing for 10 years (but some has been promised now). No in-country support for BPs (They took FOUR years to find someone to actually talk to in the BP program), and of course completely ignore anything constructive we have to say, in terms of direct eMails, lotusphere BP meetings, and the BP forum itself. (Some little stuff gets done, the big stuff gets ignored).

We've always been MS BP's (for operating system support) and RIM BP's (for BlackBerry/BES programming support) and now we're Adobe BP's (because we're doing more with Flex).

If you find that being an IBM only BP works for you -congratulations. I'm really happy for you. Thats not the case with us.

And god we've tried. Presenting at conferences (DNUG, iLug, UKLUG, The View, Entwickercamp, Lotusphere, Lotusphere-comes-to you. We've been on the Penumbra board, brown-nosing the Lotus execs directly. No-one can claim that we didnt try everything in order to get their collective finger out.

Making the bald statement that if a BP has associations with more than one technology vendor might be extremely simplistic and short-term in a number of respects.

Best regards,

---* Bill

Sean cull said...

Our loyalty is to our customers, we will provide what is best for them without bias - if you were personally buying financial servixes such as a pension would you not choose an advisor that can advise on all of themarket options ?

As it happens IBM is currently what is best for our customers in the services that we want to offer but if other vendors began to compete in thes space I would be looking to offer solutions on their platforms too


Graham Dodge said...

@Bill: You seem to be saying that it's not worth being an IBM/Lotus Business Partner but that's a different question (and one that I carefully avoided in this post). My point is that it is not possible to be a Partner to multiple vendors playing in the same application space. How can you claim to be a Partner to IBM if you are trying to sell MS Exchange into a Domino opportunity?

@Sean: You can't have it both ways. If you think that offering a choice to your customers shows loyalty then that's your decision, but in that case I don't see you as a Partner to either IBM or Microsoft. Kind of like a GM dealer also selling Ford - the objective is to get the sale no matter which way the ball bounces. I can understand GM not inviting that dealer to too many closed-door marketing sessions.

Flemming Riis said...

i cant see any issues in being a partner in more than one place.

most orgs of resonable sizes avoid singe point of failures in their design and have staff trained more than one product.

if the customer dont want A but B is the only product being sold they customer goes another place.

Does anyone really belive that vender X or Y rewards that you only buy product from them ?

Henning Heinz said...

I respect your opinion and if it pays the bill it is not a bad thing to do. I hope that IBM appreciate it.

Gavin Bollard said...

Speaking as a participant on the other side of the partnership (we're end users, so we need to find business partners to help us in our day to day business), I don't try to find "business partners" who claim to be experts in several companies.

I'm happy to accept bias provided that it's fully disclosed and I'd prefer separate business partners for separate company relationships. This arrangement keeps our BP's honest because I know they're selling me the best product - not the biggest "reward".

I've had IBM business partners try to tempt me with Microsoft offerings and all it does it lower my trust of their company. If they can betray the "business partner logo" (printed on all their business cards) so easily, how can I be sure that they'll be faithful to my corporate needs?

Tim Tripcony said...

Having "multiple personalities" is not schizophrenia, that's dissociative identity disorder. Schizophrenia is characterized by delusions and hallucinations.

Ergo, if a business partner is having visions where God asks them personally to migrate a customer to Exchange, they might be schizophrenic... if they simply sell products from multiple vendors, it's possible that they have no mental illness at all.

If you're going to use a psychiatric term as a pejorative, at least make sure you know what it means.

Graham Dodge said...

Thanks Tim... If I had been writing an article about medicine then your comment would have been fair and appropriate. Since I was writing an article about IT then it is of little or no consequence to me that my layman's understanding of schizophrenia is not 100% accurate. If my choice of words annoys you then feel free to read whatever adjective you want to in that space.

Did you have anything to add about the topic at hand?

Tim Tripcony said...

Sure, I'll add my two cents. I'm a bit biased on this topic, because I do work for a partner that specializes entirely in Lotus solutions (hence the name Lotus 911). I've seen firsthand for years how that model helps us to avoid dilution of expertise. On the other hand, if you look at a partner like PSC, for example, their work with multiple vendors allows them to provide invaluable support for coexistence, which is a very real need for many organizations.

The crux of your argument, however, seems to be based entirely on terminology: you've made a valid argument that the term "Partner" connotes a mutually beneficial relationship. There's an old saying that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend", which would seem to imply that "the friend of my enemy is my enemy". In other words, if Microsoft is IBM's enemy, one cannot be an ally of both. This seems to be a logical argument, except that we're not at war: any given company could have a mutually beneficial relationship with both vendors, such that their revenue is generated in ways that ultimately create an overall net positive for both, even if individual transactions cause a loss of revenue for one of them.

The only reason that I called attention to a single word from your post was simply that the intent of your post (as far as I could tell, from its title and content, as well as two of your responses to comments) was to define what a "real Partner" is. Since the entire point of your argument was to question the accuracy of that one term, I felt that the use of another term in a context that illustrated ignorance of its definition detracted from that argument.

Graham Dodge said...

Thanks Tim. I think your comment that "...if Microsoft is IBM's enemy, one cannot be an ally of both " accurately sums up my position, however after that point our opinions diverge significantly.

IBM and Microsoft ARE at war (for market share) and I challenge you to show me a scenario which is "... an overall net positive for both, even if individual transactions cause a loss of revenue for one of them." I would bet that the vendor who loses the revenue doesn't call it an 'overall net positive'.

All of us IT shops chose our own position on that commercial battlefield. Some are firmly and vocally in one camp or the other and (I believe) can therefore claim the mantle of "Partner". Other shops represent multiple vendors using the logic that they can impartially determine what is the best fit for that customer. I agree that there will be occasional instances where one product or another is a clear cut winner but how do they handle the situation where both vendors have a suitable product? In that case the IT shop must recommend one product (thereby betraying the other alliance) and that is where the 'Partner' relationship falls down.

So IMHO, for any particular Product space (eg email) you can be a 'Partner' to one vendor and a 'Reseller' to the others or just be a 'Reseller' to everyone.

Sean Cull said...

Graham, your not worried by all these MS partners selling Foundations by any chance ?

Surely Foundations is so straight forward that it would be perfectly proper for bigger shops to be competent in its deployment and therefore recognised as Partners !!

Graham Dodge said...

@Sean... If a Microsoft Business Partner was selling Lotus Foundations instead of MS Small Business Server then I would wouldn't call them a real Partner for Microsoft. I might call them intelligent and perceptive and a real friend to their customers but certainly not a Partner for Microsoft.

This isn't about me or my individual marketspace or any particular vendor or product - it's about truth in relationships. I understand that some IT shops want to sell competing products from multiple vendors but I don't understand why those vendors still call them 'Partners'.

Sean Cull said...

Perhaps because those vendors are confident in their own products.

If you were MS or IBM would you personally not have a dilemma if you felt your product was inferior but was being pushed by a biased vendor on your behalf - note the you bit - what MS does may be different !

Graham Dodge said...

@Sean... I take it you mean 'biased reseller' in your last post? I'm trying to avoid product-specific discussions here so I won't respond to questions about who has an inferior product. I'm more interested in the nature of the vendor-reseller relationship.

I'd guess there are lots of 'biased resellers' around... you can probably count me as one of them, however I don't see an issue with that because:

1) I tell my customers up front where I stand.

2) I don't lie about the abilities or deficiencies of IBM/Lotus or MS products.

You might accuse me of being willing to sell an inferior product but my perspective is that I represent IBM/Lotus products honestly and I let the customer make the decision.

My issue is with IT shops who claim they are 'Business Partners' but aren't willing to nail their colors to the vendor's mast. Perhaps 'fellow-travelers' might be a better description for them?