IBM's SMB Strategy Is Clear

Unlike Microsoft, which prefers to swallow its market whole, IBM aims to dominate through partnerships. IBM has just signed two new CRM alliance partnerships. One with Clear Technologies, which offers a Web-based CRM product designed for the mid-market; and another with MAPICS Inc., which sells ERP and supply chain management software. This brings its portfolio of partnerships focused on CRM to more than 30. IBM will now be able to extend its already hefty influence in the CRM industry by adding to its focus on the mostly untapped mid-market. "Because we're not an application vendor we can choose the best in class for our customer, " says Elaine Lennox,, IBM's director of marketing for SMBs. "Unlike Microsoft, we're not going to try to go into competition with the ISVs." Instead, IBM is extending the reach of its hardware and middleware products by jointly selling them with its partners. In fact, IBM will be training its sales force on selling its alliance partners' products, Lennox says. The partnerships is an especially big step up for Clear Technologies, which for eight years has been a part of IBM's Start Now Solutions program, which helps IBM partners reach SMB customers. "This is a bigger, broader relationship across a broader range of IBM products and services," Lennox says. IBM chose Clear because, Lennox says, its product is best in class and it is available in modules, which is especially suited for the mid-market. "This is a culmination of our ten years SMB market and eight years working with IBM," says Greg Colley, president and CEO of Clear Technologies. "Adding that IBM has spent the past two years training its sales force to sell to line-of-business executives rather than just IT people, the excitement is that IBM is really able to deliver a real SMB solution. We're excited about it." Although the partnerships with Clear Technologies and MAPICS coming just at a time when IBM's purchase of PwC Consulting is being finalized, the timing is coincidental, rather than intentional. Although not directly related to the PwC deal, the new alliances do highlight that "there is a lot of service opportunity, " Lennox says. She explains that customers who require services can choose to work with IBM service or with one of its business partners. The alliances with Clear Technologies and MAPICS are a part of IBM's PartnerWorld for Developers, a worldwide program designed to help software developers reach broader markets. Of course, the program is also design to help IBM's sales of it middleware and hardware products. The strategy is that IBM can present it customers, based on their industry, with the most appropriate selection of CRM vendors for their size, their market, and their specific needs. "We all know the SMB market is huge, " Colley says. "And with IBM and Microsoft's entrance into the market, I think they're going to drive the message to line-of-business executives that especially in a tough economy customer service and loyalty is vital."
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