Lenovo Preps SMB Rewards Program, New Server Line

Lenovo plans to take the wraps off several channel initiatives next week at its Accelerate Partner Summit in Las Vegas, including a new SMB partner rewards program and its expansion into the one- and two-way server space. The latter, Lenovo said, will offer some of the highest partner payouts in its channel history.

In a pre-event interview Wednesday with CRN, Lenovo Vice President of North America Commercial Channels Chris Frey said that the company, which is the world's second largest PC maker after Hewlett-Packard, has more dollars available to channel partners today than ever before. And many of those dollars, starting next week with the launch of a new partner rewards program, will land in the lap of solution providers selling specifically into the SMB space.

"We are going to announce a program next week, and it's part of a big launch, that will reward the owner of the VAR and will reward the salesperson inside the VAR for reselling our products," Frey said of the new SMB initiative. "It's not a redemption program, it's not a points program, it's truly a monetary reward."

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The rewards program will apply to all Lenovo partners that resell a majority of the company's products into the SMB space, Frey said. The reward amounts will vary based on the type and volume of Lenovo systems being sold, he added.

Lenovo's decision to make the new rewards program exclusive to SMB resellers was based on its larger sales structure, Frey continued. The company relies on a robust network of internal sales reps, which often join forces with channel partners, to sell to Lenovo's larger customer accounts. These teams rarely reach out to smaller accounts, however, so resellers are relied on to fill this gap.

"For SMBs, I have no end-user reps; all I have is the channel," Frey said. "And I should pay the people that are doing the selling for me."

In addition to a new SMB program, Lenovo next week will detail plans to grow its product line in the low-end server market. Lenovo has had a presence in the server space since 2008 with its ThinkServer line of towers. But, as part of a larger effort to broaden its footprint in non-PC markets, the company will unveil at the Summit a new set of server products, along with a revamped partner program to support them.

Lenovo specifically will target the one-way and two-way server business, Frey said. "We believe you have to earn the right on the low-end [server market] before you can move up into the data center," he said.

Partners, he continued, have long requested the launch of a more robust server portfolio, as it would arm them with the final puzzle piece to construct a "full-fledged" Lenovo solution for clients.

Lenovo's new server partner program will pay out about twice as much as its client programs do today, added Frey.

NEXT: New Lenovo Smartphones, Tablets On Horizon

Also aimed to thrust it forward into the so-called post-PC era, Lenovo said it is investing $792 million in a new R&D and production facility in Wuhan, China, to fuel the development of mobile devices, including tablets and smartphones.

Frey said Lenovo's investment in mobile devices is part of its broader "four-screen strategy." The company is working to enable entire Lenovo-based ecosystems centered around four key products or "screens" -- namely, PCs, tablets, smartphones and TVs. The end goal is to create a cloud-based environment through which all four of these products can communicate with one another in an enterprise or home environment.

Most of the smartphones and tablets being produced at the new Wuhan facility will first be targeted at the Chinese market. But, over time, the idea is to broaden Lenovo's mobile offerings on a global scale.

"You're going to see us starting to really ramp the four-screen strategy in China," Frey said. "Once those products become mature in China, we will then gravitate those around the world to different geographies, as we think those geographies will adapt that technology."

Douglas Grosfield, president and CEO of Xylotek Solutions, a Cambridge, Ontario-based solution provider, said the prospect of new Lenovo mobile devices hitting the North American channel would be an exciting one as a partner.

"Mobility is a growing and important focus for VARs in the channel," Grosfield said. "Knowing that a strong and channel-focused partner like Lenovo is working toward offerings relevant to our markets in North America serves to strengthen our commitment not only to embracing the rapidly growing and changing mobility market, but to Lenovo as a partner."

Lenovo's Accelerate Partner Summit kicks off Monday and is expected to draw about 500 channel partners. The number of authorized Lenovo resellers grew by 20 percent during the company's fiscal 2011 year, Frey told CRN.