Admin Alert: The Ins and Outs of IBM Business Partners
Published: December 9, 2009
by Joe Hertvik
Due to an unusual situation, we didn't have a business partner for my System i 550 box and we needed to select a new partner before we could upgrade. That experience taught me a lot about how business partner relationships work. This week I'll share that knowledge to help anyone who is interested in changing their business partner or to help you learn more about how the program works.
It's helpful to understand what IBM business partners do, how to select a business partner, what the relationship entails, and what to do if your business partner relationship isn't working out. This article recounts the information and experiences I gathered when I selected a new business partner, and I am offering this information as a public service. If you have any additional information you want to share about your business partner experiences, please contact me via the IT Jungle Contact page.
What Does a Business Partner Do?
A business partner sells and services IBM equipment, fulfilling the following functions for IBM and its customers:
- They represent IBM in the marketplace. IBM doesn't sell Power i equipment directly to customers. Business partners do. IBM considers their business partners as part of the channel, using the channel to reduce its sales costs while providing the same or better service than IBM itself can provide.
- They have access to IBM special pricing and discounts. When a business partner provides pricing for a Power i box, IBM authorizes it to offer discounts, options, and special programs to its customers.
- They advocate for the customer when there is a problem. Business partners have access to IBM resources that can be used to resolve problems that the customer cannot solve on their own.
- They provide additional value to IBM equipment. Business partners are expected to enhance the value of IBM equipment and services by providing complementary goods and services along with the sale. This is part of what IBM considers its value-add for the business partner channel.
Selecting a Business Partner
A customer is always free to select their own business partner when buying IBM equipment, including Power i boxes, and you are not locked into using a certain business partner for life. You can change business partners when buying new equipment or when upgrading iSeries, System i, and Power i boxes to the latest hardware. You can interview as many business partners as you'd like during the sales process and then choose the partner that you want to work with. However, there are certain rules that must be followed.
First, business partners are subject to an IBM bid certification process. The partner must earn your business based on the work they perform while making the sale. This prevents having one business partner set up a sale and then having another business partner grab the business based on a slightly lower bid. Be aware, too, that a business partner can lodge a complaint against another business partner based on their behavior, and IBM may even call you requesting information about the sales process. So it's prudent to make sure that you can justify your selection of one business partner over another.
During the selection process, treat all competing business partners the same way and establish a "wall" between your candidate partners. Every competing partner should receive the same information regarding upgrade specifications, needs, current equipment, etc. Don't play favorites during the selection process as this may spur complaints to IBM. When emailing information to your bidding partners, email them as blind copy recipients lest the partners determine who they are bidding against and to prevent one candidate partner from inadvertently hitting the Reply All button and sending his configuration and bids to his competitors.
You also need to protect any bids, specs, sales information, or other information each business partner provides. Don't send one business partner's information to another partner for any reason whatsoever. Not only is it unethical to provide one business partner's bid to another partner to play them off each other, it can also cause trouble as bids can be considered proprietary information. Maintaining a healthy distance between business partners helps ensure a smooth selection process.
Also be sure to inform your bidding partners that they are in a competitive situation, particularly if you have an existing business partner. It is common courtesy to ensure that the current partner doesn't lose your business without ever knowing that they were in a competitive situation.
Because most discounts and promotions are controlled by IBM, be sure to evaluate your candidate business partners on more than just pricing power. Don't downplay these items when selecting a partner.
- How well do they understand the Power i platform? Is the organization technically proficient in the supporting Power i or does their expertise lie more in Windows, networking, Unix, etc.?
- How creative are they in finding solutions? Will each business partner offer only standard solutions or will they dig deeper to understand your situation to save you money and provide enhanced capabilities? Can they show you several different configurations and options to meet your needs?
- Does the partner have prior experience with your organization? Have they performed any i5/OS work for you before? If not, do they come with good recommendations from someone you trust?
When you select your partner, notify your IBM sales representative and make sure that you can justify your decision. While IBM supports you in selecting your business partner, Big Blue needs to know about your selection so that it can authorize the business partner to provide you with discounts, special promotions, and other deals. As a courtesy, also let the losing business partners know your decision and thank them for their time and interest. You may want them to bid on your next upgrade.
What a Business Partner Is Entitled To
Your business partner will work with both you and IBM on configuring, sizing, providing additional services, and pricing out your new Power i equipment. It's my understanding that while you can technically have more than one partner provide quotes on new equipment and services, IBM will only authorize one business partner to offer you discounts and special promotions to bring down the price, providing your designated business partner with an obvious pricing advantage.
Also be aware that after you buy your new equipment, IBM considers the business partner to own the hardware for the life of your Power i box (usually three years or the life of the lease), and it is difficult to change business partners during that time. Owning means that all life upgrades to the machine should only go through your preferred business partner. Choosing a business partner is like entering into a short-term marriage, which is yet another reason to choose your business partner wisely.
You should also be aware that you can petition IBM to change your business partner, if the business partner isn't meeting your needs. I've never gone through this process but if it happens to you, contact IBM to see what your options are.
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