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HP CEO Whitman: HP Puts Partners First In New Style Of IT Sales Offensive

Steven Burke
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Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman Wednesday told elite solution providers attending the Best of Breed Conference, hosted this week in Tampa, Fla. by CRN publisher The Channel Company, that she has steered the company firmly back to its channel roots as part of a turnaround strategy.

"Our default is the channel," Whitman told partners in question-and-answer session with partners moderated by The Channel Company CEO Robert Faletra. "This company was built with channel partners. Then my understanding is we pivoted a bit more toward direct selling motion. When I came in, I pivoted this company right back to channels because I think we are stronger together. Yes, there are customers that we will take direct, but our default position is let's do this together with the channel.

"I have met many of you in this audience, and what I know is that partners have always been at the heart of Hewlett-Packard," said Whitman in a satellite link address to BoB attendees. "And that is truer today than it ever has been before."

[Related: BoB Conference: VMware Pushes Partners To Explore Mobility, SDDC ]

Since taking the helm at HP two years ago, Whitman said she has moved to focus squarely on the company's legendary "heritage" as a "great engineering company" backed up by a legacy of customer service and support. "We will do anything for customers and partners, sometimes at great expense, I must say," she said. "So we have to double down on those core features of HP. Then we have got to build the capability around packaging, pricing, solutioning because of the new style of IT. As a selling company, we are not as good as we should be. But, our point of difference has got to be around great products and great customer support and service."

Solution providers attending the BoB conference said they have seen a huge cultural shift back toward a channel-centric model with Whitman at the helm, particularly in the Enterprise Group business.

Rich Baldwin CIO and chief strategy officer of Nth Generation Computing, a San Diego HP partner, said he is seeing more sales engagement with more rigor and discipline in the sales trenches under Whitman.

"The relationship with the channel is much tighter than it has ever been. They are putting money toward more marketing and customer engagement events," said Baldwin. "Meg is putting her money where her mouth is and following through on all her commitments to the channel."

That is paying off in higher sales and profits for Nth Generation, said Baldwin. He expects his HP business to be up 20 percent this year and as much as 30 percent next year. "We are getting involved in some larger opportunities and getting support to win those opportunities whether it is bringing in product specialists or senior executives," he said. "We are both working on calling higher in the organizations. It takes executive support to make that happen."

Before Whitman took the helm, HP's Enterprise Group was really "stand offish" with regard to embracing partners, said Baldwin.

NEXT: HP's Partner Commitment Shows

Bruce Geier, CEO of Technology Integration Group, a $340 million solution provider ranked No. 76 on the SP500, also said he has seen a marked cultural difference in HP's Enterprise Group channel commitment.

"HP is more open and more committed to partners," said Geier. "The changes in the Enterprise Group are phenomenal. The Enterprise Group in the past was very selective of who they wanted to deal with. You either did it their way or it was the highway. HP is more understanding today. Meg [Whitman] has brought in people who believe in the channel, who will make a difference, versus people who tried to restrict us in the enterprise. It is a building of the culture, opening the kimono. We are in the same boat now with HP."

What's more, Geier said, HP's revamped PartnerOne program is much simpler and more profitable for partners. "It is cleaner, simpler and they reward you from dollar one," he said. "We can plan our business now with HP."

Michael Haley, co-founder and president of Edge Solutions, an Alpharetta, Ga.-based HP partner, said Whitman has brought a sense of "sincerity and integrity" to the channel business. Before Whitman took the helm, he said, there was a lot of channel rhetoric that was not backed up in the sales trenches.

"HP is engaging more with partners now," he said. "We are very bullish on HP. I feel a lot more confident now as an HP partner in their approach to the channel."

Haley, in fact, expects his HP business to be up as much as 30 to 40 percent with a focus on complex mission-critical data center environments.

Adam Shaffer, senior vice president of marketing for PCM, formerly PC Mall, a $1.5 billion national IT solutions and services company headquartered in El Segundo, Calif., thanked Whitman for bringing a new sense of commitment and urgency to channel partner relationships. "Your team is more energized," he said. "Thanks for putting a great team together."

Terry Hedden, president of Zeno Technology Solutions, a Tampa, Fla.-based solution provider, also praised Whitman for reinvigorating the partner sales offensive. "I'm really impressed with what Meg has done to re-energize the company and recommit to the channel," Hedden said. "We like what they are doing and how they are hedging their bets -- and, in effect, our bets -- by bringing in the Google Chrome platform. I really have nothing but positive things to say."

Whitman, for her part, said HP is in a hands down better position than competitors to work closely with partners to bring customers a new style of IT solutions.

"Competitors of all sizes are talking about their ability to help customers benefit from the cloud or security or big data or mobility," said Whitman. "But my observation is the gap between the promise of the benefits to business and reality of actual adoption is enormous. So now more than ever, our joint customers need partners that can help them bridge the gap between promise and reality. And at HP, our solutions for the new style of IT can help take our joint customers from where they are today to where they must be. I believe we are best positioned with you to help customers realize the full benefits of that next generation of technology."

In response to a request from The Channel Company's Faletra, Whitman told partners that she would attend the BoB conference next year. What's more, Whitman thanked Faletra for his channel advice. "Thank you for your advice and counsel to me when I came into HP," she said. "You have been a supporter. You have been a wise advisor and counselor to this company for many years. And, you really represent the channel incredibly well."

Kristin Bent contributed to this story.


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