CRN Exclusive: Lenovo Channel Chief Doubles Down On PC Business With New Tier-Based Partner Program

Lenovo North America Channel Chief Sammy Kinlaw is readying a new tier structure for Lenovo's PC Group partner program, and the effort is aimed at pushing products more quickly into larger customers.

Kinlaw will introduce tiers to the PC Group's program next month and expects to go live with the new system in October, he said. The rearranging mirrors an effort Kinlaw undertook in April by introducing tiers to Lenovo's Data Center Group program.

Lenovo made a splash Tuesday with the introduction of ThinkSystem, its first end-to-end data center portfolio at its Transform event in New York. The company also introduced the ThinkStation P320 Tiny workstation and a PC-as-a-Service offering that wraps PCs and services into a single solution billed monthly.

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The PC Group tiers will be the same as the new Data Center Group tiers: Silver, Gold and Platinum with revenue targets for each. Kinlaw said he hasn't finalized revenue requirements for each tier yet, but said it's likely that the Platinum level will require partners to bring in annual Lenovo PC revenue of around $10 million.

Kinlaw said he was hesitant to organize the PC Group program into tiers because he didn't want to risk alienating the small and midsize resellers that have become the company's bread-and-butter PC VARs by putting upper-level benefits out of their reach.

"I got a lot of requests after we announced the DCG model about how are we going to do PCG tiering, and I was somewhat resistant because my growth for four years running has come from small- to medium-size VARs," Kinlaw said. "I had the challenge for my team to build out a tiering model that would allow small and midsize VARs to compete on the big stage."

Gold and Platinum PC resellers will get access to Lenovo-sponsored briefings for customers, enhanced Lenovo field coverage, more frequent training and what Kinlaw called "special access to unique things" at Lenovo's annual Accelerate partner conference.

Lenovo is locked in a brutal three-way battle for PC supremacy with Dell EMC and HP Inc. Kinlaw said the company is focusing on product quality and innovation in a bid to gain traction in the consolidating PC market.

"We have enough third-party validation to open new opportunities with partners and end users," Kinlaw said. "We won 64 awards at CES, which was more than double what my competitors received, and that's because we have innovation that they don't. Partners have to partner with somebody they trust, with somebody that wants to grow at double-digit premium to the market. I'm asking my partners to ante up and really remember that when they're making a decision about which manufacturer they're going to present to their end user."

Kinlaw is also putting heavy emphasis on Lenovo's high-end PC products, which is a reversal of its prior Chromebook-centric PC strategy.

"The way to make money with me is with premium products, through workstation, through services. That's where I'm putting the dollar bills," Kinlaw said. "If they do that for me, the benefits are huge in the back-end opportunity. I'm not just putting that money on Chrome like we once did."

Erik Lieberman, executive vice president at ICP, a Staten Island, N.Y., solution provider that works with Lenovo, said the company is making the right moves with partners in the PC market. "PC-as-a-Service is something that's interesting. PC-as-a-Service may not be something that's brand new, but Lenovo's take on it, it's not a leasing model, I found to be a unique value because clients today don't really want to be tied into a lease and come up with another financial structure and combine all the services.

"It's about taking the message that Lenovo is bringing forward and making sure that it resonates with clients," Lieberman said. "There's got to be a way to make them want to hear from Lenovo, to want to hear that story. It's exciting stuff in terms of what they're bringing to the marketplace. It's worthwhile today for the customer to have a discussion and compare them with other manufacturers in the market."

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