What the Big Vendors Did Last Month and What It Means to You

By Geoffrey James

IBM announced a new sales support model for small- and medium-sized business (SMB) partners. IBM will provide onsite support from its hardware, software and services sales experts to help partners sell more effectively to vertical industries and geographies. The increased sales support is intended to help shorten the sales cycle, in some instances from 9 months to 90 days. Partners can submit an online request form and within 3 days IBM will engage a regional territory sales manager to help close the deal.
Our take: IBM traditionally has sold directly to the Fortune 1000 – a strategy that’s impractical for the tens of thousands of SMBs. While IBM has sold through channels in the past, it needs to strengthen its channel partnerships to reach an important growth market. IBM business partners should be aware, though, that bringing an IBM sales manager into a deal that involves a major account could result in a desire on IBM’s part to act as the prime contractor.

MICROSOFT announced three agreements, valued at $761 million for RealNetworks, to settle their antitrust case and create a new partnership to innovate and promote consumer choices in digital music and games. The agreements resolve Microsoft’s antitrust disputes worldwide and include an agreement for wide-ranging digital music collaboration between the parties, including promotional and marketing support of the digital music subscription service Rhapsody on MSN properties.
Our take: The business press is positioning this agreement as an indication that Microsoft has become a kinder, gentler company. Don’t you believe it! While Microsoft is eager to get its legal woes behind it, the company still will act aggressively in markets where it believes it needs a strategic presence, such as CRM. Either ally yourself with Microsoft or prepare for a long fight.

ORACLE announced Oracle Database 10g Express Edition, a new edition of Oracle Database 10g, that offers application developers, database administrators (DBAs) and students a free starter database to develop and deploy their applications. It also is freely available for independent software vendors (ISVs) and hardware vendors to distribute or embed with their applications and products.
Our take: This marketing concept represents the first time that an enterprise vendor such as Oracle has tried what some call viral marketing. The free starter edition also helps Oracle compete with Microsoft, whose database product SQL Server has been slowly swimming upstream to compete with Oracle in enterprise accounts. If you sell Oracle or products that run on Oracle, vigorously promote this product idea to your customer base.

SAP unveiled the latest version of SAP Business One, an integrated solution that promises to manage and connect critical operations including sales, finance, purchasing, inventory and manufacturing. Enhancements include a more customizable interface, tool tips for better navigation and a new implementation tool that allows SAP partners to easily copy custom configurations from one installation to another.
Our take: SAP’s strength is its ability to address a company’s overall computing infrastructure challenges in an integrated, coherent manner – a matter of great concern to large enterprises. Small businesses almost always buy software tactically to solve specific short-term problems, however, which is why companies such as Salesforce.com have proven so effective in that market. For small businesses, SAP’s value proposition is too abstract to hold much appeal. If you sell against SAP to SMBs, emphasize the overhead of their integrated approach.