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Lenovo’s Partner Transformation Effort Kicks Into High Gear

Lenovo is investing millions in new projects designed around the partner experience, including a revamped partner portal, enhanced partner on-boarding, and improved access to data and analytics.

Lenovo drove strong growth with solution providers over the past year thanks to a retooled strategy and numerous enhancements for partners, while major channel improvements are in the works for the coming year and beyond, executives for Lenovo’s North America Intelligent Devices Group told CRN.

The PC group’s sales via the channel rose roughly 20 percent year over year through the first three quarters of Lenovo’s latest fiscal year, ended Dec. 31. SMB sales—which are heavily driven by partners—surged 50 percent.

Meanwhile, improved engagement between Lenovo’s field organization and top partners led to the identification of $40 million in new opportunities, said Rob Cato, vice president and North America channel chief in Lenovo’s Intelligent Devices Group.

[RELATED: Lenovo’s Everything-As-A-Service Strategy - From The Data Center To The Edge To IoT]

“I think we’re absolutely on the right path, but we’re never satisfied. I think there’s more that we can continue to do. And that’s really what fuels us as we go into this new fiscal year,” Cato said.

A major “partner transformation” effort will kick into even higher gear this year, Lenovo executives said.

“We have secured and are investing millions of dollars around a number of projects, both short term and long term, that are designed around the partner experience,” said Jeff Taylor, executive director for North America channel strategy and operations in Lenovo’s Intelligent Devices Group. “We’re investing significantly around a focused effort on really leapfrogging our competition from an experience perspective for our partners.”

Lenovo plans to launch a redesigned portal in the fourth quarter that will deliver content to users based on their specific role or responsibility. For instance, sellers will get content tailored to their needs, while members of a vendor management team will see content based on their own role, according to Taylor. Lenovo also is working to develop advanced analytics and dashboards for partners to provide insight such as how close they are to achieving targets, he said.

In addition, Lenovo is working to improve its on-boarding process for new partners to make sure that “we take them through the right journey to get them up to speed as quickly as possible,” Taylor said.

“From a partner transformation standpoint, my message out

to the partners is there are a lot of great things that are coming this year,” Taylor said. “But over the next 24 months, the experience and this journey that we’re going to take them on is going to be something extraordinary.”

The forthcoming changes build on efforts Lenovo has made over the past year to improve partner relationships and restore profitability. Key changes include splitting partners into four tiers—Authorized, Silver, Gold and Platinum—based on sales volumes. Partners receive higher incentives such as back-end rebates and MDF at the higher tiers and Lenovo “put more money into the channel than we have in the past” through those incentives, Cato said.

The partner program -- which was dubbed the Lenovo Partner Engage Program during the year -- also brought more focus on partners’ specialties by targeting vertical-specific information to partners through the new Communities initiative.

In addition, Lenovo simplified its deal registration program to make it easier for partners to use. The company also launched its Partner Auto Quote tool that provides price quotes for standard products within 24 hours—instead of days, as in the past.

One year into his role as president of Lenovo’s North America Intelligent Devices Group, Matthew Zielinski said that the company has always had an “outstanding team in place” but it “needed some real crisp direction.”

“They needed some confidence and swagger back,” he said. “If I had one job, it was really to reinstill that swagger in the organization. Part of that also carries over to the channel. We had a huge rebuilding exercise that we had to undertake.”

Now, he said, “I would argue that our relationships are stronger than ever, and I’ve got to really give all that credit to Rob and his entire team,” Zielinski said.

Mark Sanchez, CEO of Loganville, Ga.-based CommQuest, a Lenovo Gold partner, said he has welcomed the efforts Lenovo is making to strengthen its partner relationships.

“What they’re doing is they’re reinvesting in those who invest in them,” Sanchez said. “It’s been very positive.”

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