The 10 Biggest Partner Takeaways From Lenovo Accelerate 2019

Partners told CRN that they're bullish on Lenovo thanks to improved channel investments and strong innovation across both PC and data center.

All-In On Channel

Lenovo's innovation engine is revving up, while the company's push to work more closely with channel partners continues to build. At Lenovo's Accelerate 2019 partner conference in Orlando this week, Lenovo North America executives touted strong growth over the past year--driven to a large degree by improved engagement and investment with the channel. Partners who spoke with CRN at Accelerate said the future looks bright for working with Lenovo thanks to strengthened products, partnerships and profits. "I leave the conference thinking that there are more opportunities with Lenovo than when I walked in," said Larry Fulop, vice president of Tempe, Ariz.-based MicroAge, a Lenovo Gold partner.

What follows are the 10 biggest takeaways we heard from partners at Lenovo Accelerate 2019.


Lenovo debuted a number of new products at Accelerate 2019, including a category-creating ultra-small desktop PC, the ThinkCentre Nano; a new product line of sleek notebooks aimed at SMBs, the ThinkBook; and the company's first augmented-reality headset for businesses, the ThinkReality A6. Lenovo also previewed what it's calling the world's first foldable PC (pictured), which is slated to join the ThinkPad X1 lineup in 2020. Meanwhile, Lenovo's Data Center Group touted the forthcoming ThinkSystem SE350, a compact server that's designed to be used on the edge and features a range of connectivity and durability features.

Partners who spoke with CRN applauded the new product portfolio for boasting strong innovation. The Nano looks like it's going to be a "game changer" and "take off even better" than the compact Tiny desktop that preceded it, said Rick White, president of Wake Forest, N.C.-based vision21 Solutions. Other partners said they were also impressed with the ThinkBook, ThinkReality A6 and ThinkSystem SE350. Andy Jones, CEO of Cleveland-based MCPc, pointed to the foldable notebook as representing "a desire to be a thought leader--even if it involves creating an entire new category."

Overall at Lenovo, "they seem to be reinvesting in [product innovation] quite a bit," Jones said. "They're definitely fulfilling that promise from a couple years ago."

Channel-First In Data Center

Over two nights of keynotes, Lenovo hammered home that the plan is to be "channel-first" in its data center efforts. That means Lenovo is making deal registration strictly binding and will even go so far as to say "no" to customers that insist on buying directly from Lenovo--unless the involved partner OKs it, executives said. In that case, the partner that's involved will receive full credit on the deal, Lenovo executives said.

It was noteworthy that Lenovo data center executives--including the recently appointed president of Lenovo's Data Center Group in North America, Kevin Hooper (pictured)--spent so much time talking about partners at Accelerate, said Fulop of MicroAge. Hooper placed "a big emphasis on the partner community, versus just talking about his business," Fulop said. That shows a "dedication and focus on working with the partner community on the data center side," he said.

Meanwhile, vendor partnerships with the likes of Scale Computing, Nutanix and NetApp are "building validity with Lenovo in the partner community," said Dan Hammack, co-founder and CTO of Centennial, Colo.-based DHE Computer Systems. Those partnerships, combined with Lenovo's channel emphasis and a "great portfolio of product," show that the company has a "defined vision" in data center, Hammack said.


Lenovo chose the Accelerate partner conference to launch the first-ever notebook expansion of the Think brand beyond the ThinkPad--with the introduction of the ThinkBook, which is targeted to SMBs and millennial-aged users. The notebook swaps out the typical carbon-fiber chassis in favor of metal, and offers standard business capabilities in security and manageability rather than full enterprise-class capabilities. The ThinkBook is also highly portable and uses powerful Intel Whiskey Lake processors as well as discrete AMD graphics. Lenovo executives hope the device will be a hit with channel partners that serve the SMB market, saying the ThinkBook serves as a sleeker alternative to HP's ProBook and Dell's Vostro lines for SMBs.

"Lenovo is doing the right thing to go attack that" segment with ThinkBook, said Andrew Stefansky, director of sales for Raleigh, N.C.-based BlueRange Technology. "Our parents like the black ThinkPads, but at the end of the day, the younger generation wants cool, flashy type products. That's what [Lenovo is] going after. I think they're going to do really well on that product."


At Accelerate 2019, Lenovo also announced a number of security enhancements that are coming to some of the company's new PC lineups. The ThinkShield Chip is an embedded chip on ThinkPad motherboards that performs roughly a dozen security functions and, importantly, cannot be accessed via software, executives said. Lenovo also introduced self-healing BIOS capabilities and new ThinkShield endpoint detection technologies for improved PC protection.

On security, Lenovo has "come back out strong in that space this year," said Jones of MCPc—which, he said, shows a greater awareness than in past years of how critical PC security is to customers and partners. "It'll be nice to see them continuing to execute on that vision," Jones said. "I think they've still got a little ways to go on that space, but they're investing in it. Which means they're cognizant of it and will actually do something productive about it."

AR & IoT

Along with offering innovation in PC devices, Lenovo put a big focus at Accelerate on the company's efforts in emerging technology categories such as augmented reality and the Internet of Things. Lenovo's forthcoming AR headset, the ThinkReality A6, arms workers such as service technicians and manufacturing employees with a tool that can overlay information on the real world to assist in their work (such as showing a technician step by step how to fix a WiFi card in a laptop). The ThinkReality A6 appears to be a "phenomenal solution," said DHE's Hammack. "This could be something big for Lenovo."

On Internet of Things, Lenovo announced an IoT-oriented version of the new ultra-small ThinkCentre Nano device that is ruggedized and offers additional wireless capabilities. The company also demonstrated how its solutions--spanning across endpoint, data center, cloud and edge--can produce powerful IoT offerings for verticals such as retail and manufacturing. In IoT, Lenovo has "definitely succeeded in building a very good portfolio," Hammack said.

Listening To Partners

A number of partners told CRN that they're impressed with how much access they can get to top Lenovo executives--and with how much executives listen to partner feedback. "You always hear, 'Please give us feedback, we want to make a change.' Most [vendors] don't. It's lip service," said Stefansky of BlueRange Technology. Lenovo executives, however, "really do listen. And they make great changes," he said.

Rich Artese, CTO of Virginia Beach, Va.-based Electronic Systems Inc. (ESI), agreed. "The executives are actually asking, 'Are we making progress?' That's what you want to hear," he said. "They're not preaching to us, they're not telling us to go sell more stuff. They're asking if they're making it easy enough for us to do that."

Pat Lonning, director of strategic partnerships and vendor relations at ESI, said he took part in roundtables with Lenovo executives at Accelerate that were very fruitful. "The access is huge," he said.

Path To Platinum

As part of a broad channel program retooling over the past year, Lenovo split its Intelligent Devices Group partners into four tiers—Authorized, Silver, Gold and Platinum—based on sales volumes. Crucially, partners receive higher incentives such as back-end rebates and MDF as they reach the higher tiers, unlike in the previous Lenovo program. U.S. partners must hit $250,000 in Lenovo sales annually for the Silver tier, $1 million annually for the Gold tier and $10 million annually to reach Platinum. For Canadian partners, the requirements (in Canadian dollars) are $100,000, $500,000 and $2.5 million, respectively.

Several Lenovo Gold partners told CRN at Accelerate that the program resonates strongly with them, and that they're aiming to move up to the Platinum level within the next year or two. Path to Platinum is "compelling," Fulop said.

"As you move up in tiers status they make it more attractive," including with increased margin and enhanced access to the company, Fulop said. "I definitely am motivated to get to Platinum in 2019."

Partner Transformation

A major “partner transformation” effort will kick into even higher gear this year, including with enhanced tools and a revamped partner portal coming later this year, Lenovo executives said. Lenovo plans to launch a redesigned portal in the fourth quarter that will deliver content to users based on their specific role or responsibility. For instance, sellers will get content tailored to their needs, while members of a vendor management team will see content based on their own role. The new partner portal is "a huge initiative to take on globally," said Stefansky, who has been among the partners involved with testing the new portal.

Lenovo, he said, has recognized how busy solution providers are and simplified the partner portal. "You have got to figure out how to get our attention very quickly. And what I said is, simplicity is important. I feel like less data, less clutter is better. Give me the tools that I need quickly. What's relevant for me is not relevant for my sales reps," Stefansky said.

"They're nailing that," he said. "They've really customized it for owners, versus sales directors, versus sales reps. You can go in and you can find things very easily, from registering deals, to finding data sheets and product sets. It's super well organized--very, very user friendly."

Channel Incentives

For the PC business, Lenovo announced new incentives at Accelerate geared around selling high-priority PC products and services. The incentives include new automatic discounts and improved back-end rebates, as well as the ability for some partners to get rebates for specially configured devices, rather than just preconfigured "TopSeller" products.

For Platinum partners, Lenovo is introducing a new incentive aimed at boosting sales of premium TopSeller devices and workstation, as well as services. The incentive, dubbed the "trifecta," will provide improved back-end rebates for partners that reach certain sales levels in each of the three areas.

"We're personally excited about it because the bulk of what we were already doing is in the premium space and the workstation space," Jones said, adding that many channel partners still have more work to do on services.

Overall Assessment

A number of partners told CRN that Lenovo appears to be on a strong trajectory overall and offers a variety of major growth opportunities to the channel. At Accelerate 2019, "there was definitely a better sense of energy in the organization then there has been" in recent years, Jones said. "They seem to be finding their footing again."

While there are "always challenges and pains in the process," Hammack said, "I think all in all they are going in the right direction. They've got the partners excited."

And, according to Fulop, it's clear that partner-first is "the direction where they want to go [at Lenovo], which is fantastic." Additionally, "they’ve done a great job of thanking their partners," he said. "They’ve had a great year, and they let us know that we were part of it."