HP's Whitman: Stoking The Partner Growth Engine

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HP CEO Meg Whitman
HP CEO Meg Whitman


Months before Hewlett-Packard's Global Partner Conference, CEO Meg Whitman asked for the list of top partners who hadn't yet confirmed they were attending. Soon after, she grabbed a conference room and spent three hours, starting at 6 a.m., calling solution providers to personally invite them.

Later that same day she was back on the phone, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., dialing more names on her list. Making personal pleas to solution providers to attend a partner conference is a task most CEOs would pass on. But not Whitman, who found several partners on the other end of the line thinking it was a prank call. "No one hung up, but there were a few that were like, 'I'm being had,' chuckled Whitman. "‘Who is this?' It was very funny. I said, 'Well, you would be surprised who is on the other end of your phone.'"

The calls were no joke. Of the 80 partners Whitman personally reached out to with a pledge that it would be worth their time to attend the conference, about one-third committed to make the trip. "It was the personal touch," she said. It wasn't just Whitman making the calls. She had set up a contest with the members of her top executive team aimed at bringing more partners to the table as part of an all-out channel sales growth charge for 2014.


"Number 1, 2 and 3 job is growth," said Whitman of the call to action for partners at this year's conference, to be held from March 24 to 26 in Las Vegas. "Second, it needs to be profitable growth. None of us are in this to make no money—the partners least of all. Third is to restore trust and confidence in HP so that we are top of mind so that as they're allocating their resources, their ISRs [independent sales reps], their marketing dollars, we get more than our fair share."

The tireless Whitman, who has been working 18 hours a day and regularly doing business meetings on weekends in nonstop turnaround mode, has been doing more than her fair share to move the channel sales needle. Over the past 12 months, she has met with more than 1,000 partners. The former eBay CEO said she knew "in her bones" when she took the HP job that it would be partners that would power an HP turnaround. So she made the decision to personally oversee a complete overhaul of the company's partner strategy and programs. Not only, she decided, did HP need to reinvest in product innovation to restore the company's legacy as one of the crown jewels of Silicon Valley, it needed to reinvest in partners to restore HP's rich partner heritage.

Whitman is driving what in HP parlance is called a "new style of IT" along with a new style of IT partner. That has required astronomical investments, including a more than $100 million sales transformation initiative that includes a single unified channel sales platform called Unison based on Salesforce.com. It also required a companywide effort to put partners at the center of everything HP—from product planning to sales and even a massive marketing overhaul aimed at letting partners leverage the $112 billion computer giant's multibillion-dollar marketing muscle.

"There has to be a growth plan for every single one of our partners," said Whitman, who reviews the business plan in Unison of every partner she meets with. "What market segments are you going to go after, what products, with what marketing campaigns, how are we going to collectively grow the business, down to a quite granular level. The devil is in the details."

Whitman's hard work is beginning to pay off. So far, all of HP's top-tier Platinum partners and 20 percent of Gold partners have business plans with the company. Solution providers that two years ago were shifting business away from HP to competitors such as Cisco Systems and EMC are now building out rigorous business plans aimed at driving big gains in their HP sales and profits. The change in the partner conversation from fear, uncertainty and doubt to confidence regarding HP's channel commitment and future has Whitman feeling good about the company's progress, but certainly not ready to declare victory.

"My headline is progress—more work to do," Whitman told CRN. The channel is now HP's fastest growth route to market, making up 75 percent of HP's sales. "It is growing faster than the rest of the business," she said. "It is not fast enough for me. But it is growing faster."

It is not insignificant that Whitman has used some of the lessons she learned in her unsuccessful run for governor of California to restore partner faith in HP. "In politics when you are explaining, you are losing, and it is like that with the channel," said Whitman, sitting in a conference room with CRN editors at the Westin Seaport Hotel in Boston earlier this month after addressing nearly 300 industry analysts along with her executive team. "When you are explaining, you are losing. When you are talking about how we are going to grow the business together and what the opportunities are in the market, what is the innovative technology, that is when you are winning. That is the big difference."

NEXT: Winning With Partners

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