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Boosting Partner Profitability: Lenovo’s Steve Biondi Talks New Programs, Channel Enablement Ahead

Enhancements to the Lenovo Data Center Partner Program include additional rebates for exceeding growth targets and acquiring new accounts as well as customer ‘talk tracks’ to help sell in a virtual world.

When Steve Biondi joined Lenovo’s Data Center Group this year as head of channels and alliances for North America, his goal was to revamp its partner program to boost profitability and align Lenovo’s internal team with the channel. Biondi’s efforts came to fruition in April when Lenovo launched major enhancements to the Lenovo Data Center Partner Program that included additional rebates for exceeding growth targets and acquiring new accounts; allowing Platinum partners to earn upward of 40 percent more for similar year-over-year performance; and increasing the Data Center Group’s back-office channel resources by 30 percent to better support partners. Biondi has more than three decades of IT experience working for IBM, VMware, Micro Focus and most recently as Avaya’s global channel chief. In an interview with CRN, the industry veteran reveals that he has some new tricks up his sleeve to boost partner profitability and channel enablement.

‘True MSP Model’ For Platinum Partners

“Before the end of the calendar year, we’ll launch a true MSP model for all of our Platinum partners and distribution partners who are putting up managed services within their own communities or leveraging other platforms to provision workloads. We want to work with them there. If they want to put their own business model on top of [our gear], we’re going to embrace that. It’s slightly different than what our competition is doing because they’re [selling] infrastructure and they’re forcing people to provision workloads—that takes a lot of time and it’s a little clunky. We’re just going to go out there and say, ‘How do you go to market today in a managed service provider world? Leverage our gear. We’ll take care of everything in the background. We’ll manage it. We’ll support it. We’ll make sure you get the latest upgrades on all the new technologies, and you just run your business on it. Come work with us.’ That’s something that we’re in the final stages of getting out there and deployed. It allows for customers who are more and more interested in leveraging [an] as-a-service [model]. The MSP model will leverage TruScale [Infrastructure Services] where customers and partners want it, but we’ll also give them the flexibility to say, ‘Hey, we just want to run our stuff the way we run it on your platform because it’s the most reliable and best-performing gear out there.’”

‘We’re Fixing Enablement’ 

“Money is clearly important and so is making margins, but at the end of the day partners can’t sell our stuff if they don’t know how to sell it. I spent a lot of time over the past few months around enablement. We’re fixing enablement and the talk track on how to talk to customers. More and more customers from RFP to deployment are doing it all virtually. That puts different kinds of challenges in front of you to say, ‘Now I have to be able to provision technology schematics.’ So for each of our solutions now we have a ‘crayon-ready’ version: something that can get them interested; a ‘business-ready’ discussion: why doing business with Lenovo makes the most sense and why it brings you the most value; then what I call ‘nerd-ready’ on the deployment side that says, ‘Here’s how you configure this stuff if you can’t allow for people to come on-site.’ If we can go out and help you, we’ll do it in person. But if not, I want to be able to show you, ‘Here’s exactly how you do it.’”

New ‘Separate’ Systems Integration Track “I’m standing up a Systems Integration track because more and more of the big, global systems integrators are having to act like resellers. By establishing a separate track for them, we give them the kind of prices that they’re looking for and the support they’re looking for, but also making it part of the deal registration process and making sure there’s good value across all of our partners and no one is being treated better than the others. That becomes important.”

‘Deeper Incentives’ For Cross-Selling

“We’re aiming at our Platinum partner base to say, ‘If you’re an Intelligent Devices Group Platinum partner and there are opportunities to bring in data center, let’s talk about deeper incentives, deeper margins, better rebates, free enablement, free certification, to get you up to speed. And vice versa.’ The Platinum partners can make close to double digits incremental in terms of margin. The rest of our partner community can make good commission there as well. It’s not a documented program on our partner portal today, but stay tuned. By the end of the year, you’ll see something more aggressive in terms of making all partners aware of what they can do there and how they can make more money selling all of our stuff.”

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