Rob Cato On Empowering Partners And How Lenovo Is Planning To ‘Out-Hustle’ The Competition

Lenovo channel chief Rob Cato said the company is investing in new initiatives and adding significant resources across all partner segments.


Rob Cato, vice president and North America channel chief in Lenovo’s Intelligent Devices Group, says the company is far from done investing in new initiatives and adding significant resources across all partner segments. The new investments, he tells CRN, have him ‘extraordinarily bullish’ on what’s ahead for the company and its partners.

CRN: What were the biggest channel initiatives over the past year?

Rob Cato: We focused on three key initiatives that drove our overall transformation—ultimately trying to become more relevant with our channel partners. And this was based on a lot of the feedback that they provided us last year at Accelerate. No. 1 was restructuring our programs. The second thing was to get more customer-focused, and so we launched our Communities engagement model, which was primarily focused around our SMB, large enterprise and K-12 markets and customer segments. And then, lastly, really driving a tighter alignment and engagement with our partners and our field sales teams so that when they engaged on end-user opportunities, the engagement was very strong. All of that was a success for us—I’m really excited about the progress that we made. But at the end of the day, I’m not satisfied—we’re never satisfied. And I’m extraordinarily bullish on our plans for next year.

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How do you measure the success of the past year?

Our sales through the channel were up close to 20 percent year over year. We’ve had strong adoption of our Path to Platinum model, with the restructure of our programs, which was really designed to enhance the financial incentives between the different tiers. And at the midpoint of our fiscal year, we had 70 partners that actually jumped [up] in tiers in the first six months. So in the first six months they went from either Silver to Gold, or Gold to Platinum—which obviously immediately benefited them because we actually put them into the new tiering model and therefore they were able to receive the new incentives as part of that new tier. We had our Platinum and Gold partners participate in Advisory Councils and give us strong feedback on the enablement and the engagement that we were driving. And then, lastly, we’ve really worked hard to focus on empowering the channel and the sales organization with better tools, like our deal registration tool and our pricing tool, to really drive quicker turnarounds and give them time back to win more business with us.

Could you speak more about what you did with releasing new tools for partners?

We leveraged a new tool called Partner Auto Quote, which gives partners the ability, for our on-the-shelf TopSeller products, to request a price quote and get turnaround within 24 hours. ... We also enhanced our deal registration program to make it simpler, easier and more consistent for our partners to leverage that as well. ... In addition, we drove a project internally at Lenovo to make it so that all of our field organization understood the parameters of the program so they would apply them consistently across the country.

What’s ahead in terms of channel investments?

I think there’s more that we can continue to do, and that’s really what fuels us as we go into this new fiscal year. Some of the things we really want to focus on [are driving] that relevance, that ease of doing business, continuing to drive the engagement. And really doubling down on the efforts around Path to Platinum.

How has Lenovo’s relationship with partners changed over the past year?

I think it’s been a very successful year. ... In the meetings that I’ve had across the country with various different partners, I feel like they’re trusting us again and that we’re headed in the right direction. But we’re just not satisfied. We want to continue to earn their business every single day. I personally believe that we work harder and out-hustle our competition on a regular basis, and we’ll continue to do that.