HP Execs: The 3-D Channel Opportunity Is Huge, But Requires New Skills For Partners

HP Inc. is advancing beyond the early-adopter stage with its 3-D printing technologies and is poised to generate massive opportunities for channel partners to expand into 3-D as a new area, HP executives told CRN.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company is also seeing wins in other 3-D technologies with its "immersive computing" products such as the Sprout Pro, which enables simple 3-D scanning of objects.

[Related: HP CTO Lays Out A Vision Of 'Fully Digital,' On-Demand Manufacturing]

But there will be some new skills and investments needed for partners that want to get involved with HP's 3-D portfolio, executives told CRN this week during the HP Global Innovation Summit 2018, held outside Barcelona at the company's 3-D technologies hub in Sant Cugat.

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Selling 3-D technologies is all about deeply understanding the specific applications that end customers will be using them for, said Ramon Pastor, vice president and general manager for HP's Jet Fusion 3-D printer business.

"It's not like re-selling a PC or a desktop printer," Pastor said. "You need to sell applications. You need to have knowledge of the technology -- where it makes sense, where it doesn't make sense."

In the second half of this year, HP plans to launch four new Jet Fusion 3-D printer models, which will be known as the 300 series and 500 series and will be focused on prototyping.

The models will feature the same technology of the original 4210/4200 models -- which have focused on printing final production parts -- but will have a smaller footprint and lower cost in order to reach a broader set of customers.

HP is also launching a separate channel program for the new Jet Fusion 3-D printers that doesn't require partners to provide servicing.

"We're investing on HP support, which means we will enable partners with the 300/500 series to not have to invest in support capabilities to be able to make this technology available to their customers," said Alex Monino, HP's vice president of global strategy and business management for 3-D printing. "So that means we will get a wider network of partners, including from the traditional HP partners."

Interest from channel partners is "very high," Monino said. "We get a lot of calls, a lot of interest. But really we're making sure people understand that this is not just adding another SKU to your PC portfolio that you have."

Pastor said that selling the 3-D printers will be a "consultative sale" that will require partners to have a dedicated salesforce, which "knows the technology and can do a good job positioning the technology."

The Jet Fusion printers may also require a lengthy sales cycle, he said.

"It's not one call and you sell it. It's a sales cycle that takes months. And they need to be prepared to do this journey with us," Pastor said. "So setting the expectation is very, very important."

Likewise, the novelty of the Sprout Pro is requiring some extra sales efforts in the channel. The Sprout Pro combines a PC with 3-D and 2-D scanning, a touch-screen mat and a projector--and is targeted for end users in both the education market and commercial industries.

Harrisburg, Pa.-based D&H Distributing, for instance, has been on the front lines of evangelizing the Sprout Pro to the SMB reseller community.

D&H has aimed to help HP and partners seize the opportunity by sending one of its business development managers -- formerly a 25-year veteran of HP -- into the field to demonstrate the technology, said Greg King, HP Business Unit senior director at D&H Distributing.

"He's been running around the country demonstrating the Sprout and helping partners do demos on the Sprout, to help partners get some sales going on that," King said. "It's still at the early stages, but it's a product that really needs to be demonstrated. You've got to see it in action."

In terms of 3-D printing, Monino said the new Jet Fusion printers will be an especially good fit for channel partners that already sell products to engineering teams, such as workstations.

"If they have access to engineering teams--they sell into segments where they access to designers and engineering teams--we will have programs to enable them to play with significantly low investment," Monino said.

Additionally, the new Jet Fusion printers could be a great addition to partners that already work with 3-D software vendors such as SolidWorks and Siemens, he said.

Technical know-how will be a must, Monino added.

"This requires a group of dedicated salespeople that are specially trained ... You need a level of deep technical engineering in order to have a meaningful discussion with them -- and to know the right materials, what mechanical properties this is going to have, what the accuracy is that I can achieve," he said. "It's not something that just a regular reseller selling PCs can handle."

However, "they can make a plan to handle it -- that's why we're working with them," Monino said.