Times are changing for Panasonic and its channel partners.
The company is in the midst of a major overhaul of both its corporate structure and its channel strategy in North America. Last year, the company integrated many of its B2B products, from its Toughbook ruggedized laptops to its telephony and audio/video products, under one roof with the Panasonic System Communications Company of North America (PSCNA). The company also introduced the Panasonic Authorized Reseller Program for all the combined product lines.
This year, PSCNA has focused on getting partners to cross over into new product categories and focus on IT convergence, but the company is still working out the wrinkles for its partner program and channel strategy. In addition, Panasonic last month saw the departure of longtime channel chief Sheila O'Neil, with Bill Brennan, vice president of channel sales, assuming her duties.
CRN recently spoke with Rance Poehler, president of Panasonic Systems Communication Company of North America, to see how the company and its partners are adjusting to the numerous changes. Poehler talked about Panasonic's vision of IT convergence, its evolving partner program, and how the company is looking to build loyalty with core channel partners. Here are excerpts from the conversation with Poehler.
You've made a lot of changes to your go-to-market strategy in the last 12-18 months. Where does Panasonic's channel strategy currently stand?
In the last couple of years, we've pulled together all of the B2B products here at Panasonic into a single company. So we had the mobility side with Toughbooks, we had a security category, an audio/video category, an office products category, and a telephony category. So there's a lot of great technology rolled into a single company. And we're a vertical solutions company; we're not a box company, and we're not a consumer company. We're focused on the enterprise and the government. As you can imagine, when you're pulling together a bunch of different organizations, the channel strategies for each organization and category is a little different. So we put all of those organizations in the same channel strategy as the Toughbook; Panasonic's Toughbook business has been very loyal to the channel for about 20 years now, but some of the organizations were selling direct. So we moved everything into a consistent two-tier model. So right now, 99 percent of our business is in that two-tier channel model, and it's really built on the loyalty we've built with partners.
How many partners in total were brought together?
When we brought all of those companies together, we ended up with 14,000 resellers. What we want now is to focus on a core group of those VARs and integrators that really want to work with us to deliver our solutions to customers. And we're getting extremely positive input from partners because now there is a single set of terms and conditions and a single fulfillment strategy. We look like a single organization to our channel partners, and we're building on that approach. And obviously it's been frustrating for channel partners because we've undergone a lot of change, especially in the last 18 months. But I think now partners get it, and they support it. They're excited because we have a vertical solutions approach and we can help them grow their business by generating more revenue and higher profitability. Yes, we've made some mistakes in this process, but I believe our channel is appreciative of this approach and where we're headed. So we'll continue to add more resources and programs for our loyal resellers.
Are the core partners you spoke of engaged in multiple solutions categories? Is that a prerequisite for being considered a core partner?
We still have a lot of partners that don't cross categories. So for example, we have great Tougbook resellers that have been selling that category for years, and they may not do any security or telephony or anything else. So those core partners may be focused only on mobility, and that's fine. On the other hand, we have partners that recognize the strategy and understand they can grow their business in this convergence of IT that's happening in the market between mobility, security, telephony and all these different areas. We have all the technology in one company to supply partners for that convergence. So some of our partners want to be part of that; for example, maybe a security integrator sees an opportunity to provide a customer with A/V solutions on their network or provide telephony support or mobile devices, too.
NEXT: Building Loyalty With Core Partners