IBM to buy Salesforce.com consulting specialist Bluewolf

IBM is adding some customer-retention expertise to its digital advertising business unit, iX

IBM sees customers of Salesforce.com as key to growing revenue at its Global Business Services consulting division.

No, it's not buying Salesforce.com, as was rumored last year.

Big Blue has, instead, made a bid for Bluewolf, a consulting practice that specializes in helping companies integrate Salesforce.com's CRM services into their IT systems. IBM values the market for this and other Salesforce.com-related professional services around at US$111 billion annually.

Bluewolf has been working with Salesforce.com since 2001, and publishes an annual report on the market for that company's services, "The State of Salesforce."

It has around 500 staff, with offices in 13 cities across the U.S., Europe and Australia. IBM plans to put Bluewolf's staff to work in its Interactive Experience (iX) practice, applying their cloud expertise to its analytics and experience design consulting business.

The iX practice is a small but fast-growing part of IBM's Global Business Services division, accounting for around 10,000 of the division's almost 400,000 staff globally.

So far this year IBM has been on an acquisition tear to bulk up the iX team: Bluewolf will be its fourth.

In January, it bought its first ad agency, Resource/Ammirati, a U.S. company that claims Apple as its first client, in 1981.

February saw the purchase of Berlin-based Aperto, a digital marketing and advertising agency with 300 staff.

And earlier this month it completed another German acquisition, that of of ecx.io, a 200-person full-service digital marketing agency based in Dusseldorf.

IBM didn't say how much it will pay for Bluewolf, but hopes to close the acquisition by the end of June.

The deal marks a new direction for the iX practice: after a rapid expansion into the field of advertising and persuasion, it is now looking at helping companies build relationships with the customers they acquire.

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