At the 35-person automotive industry software maker DST, managers have been looking for ways to drive new levels of service and to enhance their competitiveness in the marketplace. They have sought out bigger clients to expand revenues and capture greater market share.
Today DST says it found a solution to these issues through an innovative partnership with computer giant IBM. With marketing help from IBM, the software firm has gone from serving clients in the $10 to $25 million range to working with companies grossing $100 million and more in just the past year and a half. The IBM name and reputation have helped open doors to a larger class of potential clients, according to Floyd Beadle, vice-president of industry solutions at DST.
IBM's PartnerWorld program helps smaller vendors in a range of industries to expand their marketing muscle and thus increase sales. Specifically, PartnerWorld provides IBM business partners with technical support, education, marketing campaigns, sales tools and other useful assets.
PartnerWorld gave DST a major marketing boost by providing the company with online access to professional marketing materials including high quality graphics. Beadle combines the images with his firm's particular text. "We can do a direct mailing campaign at a fraction of the cost that it would take us to develop similar materials on our own," he said.
Beadle participates in a sub-program of PartnerWorld, one aimed specifically at software vendors. Other industry-specific offerings cover banking, healthcare, retail and diverse other industries. All materials and resources are targeted toward small- to mid-sized businesses that may not have sufficient IT resources in house.
"Customers ask us for complete solutions," explained Leslie Givens, a PartnerWorld program director at IBM. "They're not buying technology for the sake of technology: They want turnkey solutions that combine hardware along with the business application solutions that run on top, solutions tailored to their particular industry needs."
Cashing in on Cache
That kind of full-service solution was just what Tim Dickison was seeking when he went to DST. As general manager of Seattle Automotive Distributing, he needed an overall systems solution, something that could provide information quickly and easily to the 140 employees of the auto parts chain.
This was no small challenge. The chain's seven locations handle 3,000 calls a day plus electronic orders and orders submitted through a paper catalog. For all these transactions, employees need to look up parts, process orders and manage inventory. DST solved the problem with an IBM AS 400 server as the system backbone, running its own industry-specific software on top of that hardware platform. "It allows us to very highly tune our inventory so that what is sold today in the branches is replenished tonight and on the system by 8 o'clock the next morning," said Dickison.
While DST's competence has always impressed Dickison, the small software maker's partnership with IBM was a strong selling point in this deal. "It was a very good business decision on their part to become associated with IBM," he said. "IBM creates a product that is extremely stable, and it has a very good reputation. The support people with IBM are extremely responsive."
The Cost of Membership
It costs partners nothing to participate in PartnerWorld, and typically it's a financial plus with support materials helping to cut down significantly on the costs of marketing and other expenses. Still, it can take some work for a small business to get on board with the partnership program.
As Beadle notes, IBM calls anything under $500 million a small business. Yet as most entrepreneurs know, that is a pretty broad range. IBM may not always know how to make its own resources available to those on the smaller end of that spectrum, he said.
"Over the last 18 months, it has been a little bit of a challenge to adjust to the sheer size of IBM," he said. "There has always been a tremendous sense that while there are opportunities here [with IBM], no one had been figure out how to capitalize on those possibilities."
His advice to SMBs planning to make a go of it? Be ready to push a little up front in order to get the payoff down the line. IBM is a big place, and a smaller business may have to knock on some doors before it can make contact with the person or group best suited to help match technology with a company's business needs.
Adam Stone writes extensively on business and technology issues. He makes his virtual residence at firstname.lastname@example.org and his physical home in Annapolis, Md.
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