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Call To Action: How Lenovo Is Emphasizing Communication And Rewarding Partners For New Business

Lenovo channel chief Rob Cato spoke with CRN about Lenovo’s Partner Stimulus Package, focus areas with solution providers during the COVID-19 crisis and the biggest investment areas going forward.

Rob Cato, vice president of North America channels in Lenovo’s Intelligent Devices Group, says the company isn’t easing up in its support of, engagement with and investment in partners. Cato spoke with CRN about Lenovo’s Partner Stimulus Package, focus areas with solution providers during the COVID-19 crisis and the biggest investment areas going forward.

What was the goal for your Partner Stimulus Package, and what did you achieve with it?

The goal for the Partner Stimulus Package was for us to show that we were listening to their concerns and to the uncertainty around the market and the environment from COVID. And that we realized the pandemic was weighing heavily on them. So it was really to take away the concerns that they had around their ability to execute against targets, to get financing, to extend financing for their customers. It was really [to help] them be able to run their business and get the ability to have predictable earnings from Lenovo. The feedback that we’ve gotten has been outstanding. We’re going to continue some of those elements as we go forward into the second half of our fiscal year. We’re still evaluating their feedback on which ones are working the best and making sure that we continue those where we can.

What are the top two or three things you’ve been focusing on with partners during the pandemic?

[Even before the pandemic] one of the key things that we wanted to focus on in 2020 was enabling our partners and providing communication to them in a way that we hadn’t done in the past. So we put a lot of emphasis around enablement and partner communication. I’m very excited to say that we’ve made a lot of strides there in the last 12 months. A couple of things stuck out to me. One is we’ve established a consistent plan around Partner Advisory Councils and getting feedback from all of our partners— not just the top partners, but really our Silver, our Gold, our Platinum and our NSP [National Solution Provider] partners. We shared last year in May that we were launching our Partner Communities to focus on those segments of the market where we felt like [we] had lots of opportunity and were going to help our partners organize themselves around those industries, like K-12. We’ve added a few more since then. We’ve added higher education, we’ve added health care, we’ve added a state and local government community—in addition to our K-12, SMB and commercial communities. So we’ve started to expand that. And I think our partners really appreciate it because we’re talking to them in the language [of their] market segment. We’re not sharing messages, communications or marketing materials that don’t apply to the part of the market that they’re focused on. We’ve launched Channel Chatter, which is our communication vehicle and strategy framework, out to our partner community. We’ve established that in a consistent way for them to receive what’s going on with Lenovo, and make sure that they’re informed on what Lenovo is doing. And then the latest one that we’ve just recently launched, in July, is our Lenovo Partner Hub. That was three years in the making and was based on feedback from our partners. It’s around having that single portal, that single place for partners to get all of their information—as well as do deal registrations, get pricing, find product information, find marketing materials. We’ve done a lot there in the last 12 months to improve our overall enablement and partner communication.

What will be the biggest areas for channel investment going forward?

We’re going to continue to focus on the Lenovo Partner Hub. This is not an endpoint—it’s a starting of a journey with our partners. So we’re going to continue to invest in making that a robust tool, and really the place to get all of your partner information. As far as other areas go, one is acquisition of new customers. As the No. 3 market-share company in North America from a PC standpoint, we need to continue to grow our business. We need to have a strong channel in order to do that. So we’re going to continue to reward our partners and help them, from a profitability standpoint, to be very successful when they help us bring new customers into Lenovo. We have a new program [for this] that we’re calling Empower. It’s a bonus incentive for our partners focused on acquiring new customers who haven’t purchased from Lenovo in the last 12 months. Right now, with the way that the market is in North America, we certainly want to reward partners for finding new business opportunities. 

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