Lenovo remains the vendor to beat in notebook computersdespite a nearly 8-point slide from last year.
Lenovo edged out Hewlett-Packard Co. in a tight competition. Panasonic came in a close third, followed by Sony and Apple.
Lenovo has been working to make it easier for VARs to do business with it, said Steve Mungall, vice president of Americas channel sales. The company requires no formal authorization process for partners to sell basic offerings and provides sales incentives as well as programs geared to specific customer-segments, such as SMB.
For example, the vendor offers Club Lenovo, a loyalty rewards program for SMB partners. Further, said Mungall, it offers its business partners a variety of resources such as discounts on demonstration systems and a variety of education and training courses, co-marketing funds and dedicated channel support.
"Lenovo offers very compelling special-pricing programs—and pricing—and are very good about keeping us informed and armed with the latest information about their products," said Joshua Aaron, president and founder of Business Technology Partners Inc., New York. "They are also very focused on growing their business in SMB through channel partners and do not compete against us directly."
For its part, Panasonic, which sells solely through the channel, has for the past 15 years offered a durable and rugged product in the Toughbook line—features that have set the vendor apart from its competition.
"We develop, engineer and build our own products. Most others are sourcing out design and manufacturing to Taiwan," said Sheila O'Neil, senior director of channel sale. "As the core manufacturer, we are able to respond faster to any issues that might arise. We work closely with end users and VARs to make improvements. We bring in our engineers, and listen to our advisory council's recommendations and then go to Japan and work on ways to change it."
Lenovo, too, prides itself on obtaining VAR and user feedback to evolve its product line. It just introduced the ThinkPad X300 notebook, a thin and light design that features a number of industry-leading technologies.
"Lenovo notebooks are very durable and very resilient for power users and heavy-duty business travelers," said Aaron. "They have excellent security features including an on-board chip that handles tokens and encryption. They have a great location/connection management application for users that bring their laptop between several locations."
Panasonic has focused on connectivity in the Toughbooks for 15 years with integrated mobile broadband. According to O'Neil, integrating mobile broadband is a boon for VARs servicing utility workers as well as executive road warriors.
"Integrating it into the laptop offers the least amount of interference. We've gone through a lot of testing just on that alone," she said. "As more blue-collar uses come along, it becomes more important to be able to use your notebook anywhere."