One of the most common questions I get from IBM and distributors is, "when are the traditional Notes/Domino partners going to start selling a lot of Connections?". While each partner has their own business, I don't think the complexity of an expert in one thing ramping up to become an expert in another thing is really understood and appreciated by the people asking the question.
The typical IBM partner is a mini-IBM, offering all things to all people. But a traditional Notes/Domino partner is different. We are specialists, with deep expertise in a few narrow niches. So for us to expand into different areas as a specialist is a more of an undertaking. It's a bit like asking a cardiologist when they are going to pick up brain surgery, since hey, hearts and brains are both body parts. It's much more difficult than a General Practitioner learning about Advil and recommending it for pain.
Having said that, learning Connections is a natural extension to a Lotus partner's business, so we aren't dismissing it outright. So what is involved in adding Connections to a traditional Notes practice? To do it well, there's more work than you might think. Hopefully this will be a helpful guide for those who are on the journey with us, and will serve as explanation to all those generalists who want to know what is taking us so long in our ramp up.
1. Understand social. What is it? Is it a fad or a trend? What are the external tools customers will reference when describing their needs?
2. Understand Connections. What are the services? How does it work?
3. Technical enablement. Learning about WebSphere. How to install and upgrade Connections. We are not the kind of partners who "wing it" while billing the client!
4. Learn the competition. While it's impossible to be an expert in every product in this space, our clients expect us to be able to defend our recommendations and to compare and contrast to similar in market solutions.
5. Learn how to sell software. Keep in mind Notes/Domino has been in market a long time, and the folks who remember how it was sold have wandered off to do other things. We know how to sell our technical expertise and how to progress deals, but getting a foot in the door with a product we don't know well is not in our comfort zone.
6. Learn how to sell Connections. What customers have used it successfully? What are the use cases? We need customer stories to give us and our clients ideas on how to use the product to solve business problems. Is this really just for IBM's big customers, or can our customers use it? Is it realistic that they can afford not just the software, but the hardware and services to set it up?
7. Learn how to sell to line of business. While we can avoid this for awhile by starting Connections conversations with existing clients first, at some point if we want to grow a Connections practice, we need to know how to approach department heads. This is again where stories from people who have done it successfully help.
8. Learn the other Connections. While feature parity between on-prem Connections and IBM Cloud/Lotus Live Connections is a goal for IBM, today they are not the same. So it's not a matter of selling the client on Connections and then asking if they want on-prem or hosted - it's a whole additional learning curve on the second product. Larger partners are getting around this by setting up a hosted environment, but this would be a new business model for us, and it makes us uncomfortable to not know the risks of getting into hosting now.
9. Certifications. VAP solutions. Other IBM homework. Given the fact I just pulled my resources from the field to get certified to sell the things I've already been selling, do I really want to loose more billable hours investing in a new area right now?
10. Evaluation of the IBM offering to partners. Is Connections really good enough for me to risk my reputation with my clients? It's more of a risk when you've been working with clients for years and plan to stay in a job for many years in the future than when you can quietly burn bridges and move to another role in 18 months.
Is IBM committed to the platform? I believe right now yes, but with the introduction and ninja-like withdrawal of products in the past (Foundations) this question mark will be on any new product for at least the first 2-3 years.
Do I really want to get more in bed with IBM, given the communications issues and lack of respect from IBM for the Lotus community (ok, to be fair, I'd say there's a lack of respect on both sides right now). Again, I believe this is a yes, but the lack of love does cause us to proceed with more caution than is probably warranted otherwise.
Will IBM do what is required to build awareness for this product, or will this be another uphill battle where we loose to inferior products simply because they are better known? Or should I pick that other winner now and switch, since I'm expected to learn something new anyway?
11. Economy/Personal - given where the economy is, do I want to invest in a major push?
Do I personally have the emotional energy to put this together right now? Am I at a stage in my life & career where I want to reinvent myself, or do I think I can keep doing what I've been doing for the next 5-10 years and make it to retirement/until the kids go off to college/until we see if this social thing takes off/until the economy improves/until I get desperate? If I have to learn something new, do I even want it to be in IT, or is now the time to write the next great American novel?
12. My Branding - will IBM/my clients/my buddies in the Yellowsphere allow me to change my personal brand? Will they stop calling me for Domino work because they think I've completely left to do Connections? What if that happens, and then the Connections work isn't there?
13. Competition with other partners - are there other partners in my geography that are going to get all the love from IBM or the customers for this product? If I learn it, will the deals come?
14. Is there a demand for this in my geography? Sure, it sounds like things are going will in the UK and Australia, but is the fact that there's no American Stuart McIntyre an opportunity for someone to step in and to fill the void, or a sign of problems with IBM's current position in the US market? Sure, they are big with middleware, but middleware is like underwear. No one knows what brand it is if they never see it. Products that face the customer are much more subject to the consumerization of IT, the one current trend IBM is not on top of, in my opinion.
Many of these are areas where IBM could save us a lot of time by doing more enablement, which is allegedly in the works. I think that would be a huge help in making the process easier. But a lot of it is reading the economic tea leaves and evaluating where both we and our businesses currently are to decide what makes sense for our future.
So yes, we get that social is a big buzzword. Yes, we believe IBM is excited about Connections, and we do see opportunity. But if we don't jump when you think we should, keep in mind it takes a little while to become an expert. According to Malcolm Gladwell, it takes 10,000 hours, and if you multiply that by our hourly rate, you'll see why this is a million dollar decision for us. And in a small business, millions are a lot to gamble with.
Episode 24 - Bob Hallewell on Expert Messaging
Mon, Feb 20th 2012 4:30p lisa.duke@simplified-tec Download episode as MP3
Bob Hallewell, Expert Messaging Bob has a background in IT, training, psychology and likes collecting communication skills. He has focused on how organisations use email for the last 12 years, and his aim is to build a revolution in how weâre all using email. Topics People hate email, but isnât that just because it contains work for them to do? Isnât doing those tasks their job? Yes - doing the tasks is the job not doing the email. Email shou [read] Keywords: connections
Connections Customer Reference Videos
Thu, Jan 26th 2012 10:58a lisa.duke@simplified-tec I had a potential client ask me for Connections Customer References the other day, and while there are some text ones... well, let's just say text is so last year. Here are some great videos I found: CEMEX Colgate-Palmolive Cardiff University Rheinmetall If you know of some other good ones, please feel free to add them in the comments. [read] Keywords: connections
Lessons Learned from A Year of Getting Social and Doing Business
Wed, Dec 7th 2011 8:10a lisa.duke@simplified-tec If you will be attending Social Connections II in Cardiff this Friday... spoiler alert! Everyone else, read on. Top Ten Things I've Learned from a Year of Getting Social and Doing Business 1. External social media participation shortens sales cycles by building trust and proving competence. 2. Social media allows small businesses to act like big businesses and requires big businesses act more like small businesses. 3. You can't just "do" social media a [read] Keywords: collaboration