Panasonic Channel Exec: We're Flexible Enough to Support Any Partner Type

Panasonic's mobility business now includes two separate channel programs.

Edward Gately, Senior News Editor

July 13, 2018

8 Min Read

**Editor’s Note: Click here for our most recent list of important channel-program changes you should know.**

Panasonic will roll out changes to its reseller program on a regular basis in response to partner feedback and to accommodate partners’ changing needs.

That’s according to Brandon Williams, Panasonic’s director of U.S. mobility channel. The program focuses on helping the company’s network of channel partners enhance profitability from the sale of its growing family of Toughbook mobile computers, 2-in-1s, tablets and handhelds.

Panasonic’s mobility business now has two separate channel programs. The Advantage Program includes the bulk of the company’s partners and allows them to sell its computers and tablets. The Edge Program, formerly the Rugged Handheld Program, is one of the company’s strategic growth areas.


Panasonic’s Brandon Williams

“Given the strength of our portfolio and how low our market share is, we’ve invested a lot of resources behind growing our presence in the rugged handheld market,” Williams said.

In a Q&A with Channel Partners, Williams talks about the latest partner program changes and how his team is working to help partners formulate more profitable and stickier business models.

Channel Partners: What are some of the latest changes to the partner program?

Brandon Williams: This year, Panasonic began aligning its marketing efforts more closely with the channel. Marketing capacity is limited for many of Panasonic’s partners so we’re taking steps to ensure we have more consistency between Panasonic marketing campaigns and our partners’ and that they have better access to marketing resources and training. For example, our Prime Option partners (which only sell Panasonic products and equipment) now have the added benefit of cross-promotion on Panasonic social media channels.

We recently combined our reseller and distribution channel-management teams in order to improve alignment throughout the supply chain and channel. Panasonic is constantly evaluating ways to improve delivery times and this change will allow us to better ensure that product availability in distribution is more tightly aligned with the demand our resellers are seeing — and ultimately allowing our partners to get devices in the hands of our customers much more quickly.

Also, the Prime program itself has become more profitable, so what we’ve seen is a number of partners that were not Prime before that have reached out and have started to consider adding the Prime option to their participation in the program. So we’ve seen an expansion of our Prime program just in terms of the number of partners.

CP: What role is partner feedback playing in the various adjustments and changes made to the program?

BW: For the last year and a half or so, every change that we’ve made to the partner program has been an idea that actually generated from the partners themselves. One of the things we’ve really continued to get in the habit of doing is conducting what we call informal advisory council meetings with our partners, for a few reasons. The biggest reason is that our partners do like their voices heard, so we provide at least several opportunities a year to to actually sit down face to face in a room with our leadership and other partners to really be able to …

… provide us with direct feedback on what’s working and what’s not working, where they see the market going, where they see the channel going, and almost all of those changes to the partner program have really originated from those different sessions. So it’s a great way for us to make sure we are keeping our ear to the ground with respect to our partners and it also goes a long way in making them feel like they are heard. If you go back four or five years and prior, there wasn’t really that type of two-way communication. I feel like a lot of partners back then didn’t really feel like Panasonic was listening and accepting all of their feedback.

CP: What are some of the latest opportunities for partners?

BW: Obviously law enforcement-public safety is one of our biggest markets, and so with the launch of the AT&T FirstNet Network (the first-ever nationwide public safety broadband network for America’s first responders), we’re envisioning a lot of collaboration between Panasonic, AT&T FirstNet and also our partners. This is a big opportunity we’ve got going forward given that a lot of our partners do call on the public-safety market, so as public safety across the country starts to migrate onto the FirstNet network, it creates a lot of opportunities and it’s probably going to speed up a lot of refreshes for new devices as people look to migrate over to a new network. And the good thing is with the collaboration that we’ve got with AT&T FirstNet right now, that acts as a force multiplier and all of a sudden we’ve got a much bigger sales force that’s out there driving this collective sales effort and our partners being one of the legs of that three-legged stool. So that’s one thing that we see coming that I envision us supporting our partners on to really expand their business going forward over the next year.

We also have a couple of new products that are being launched this summer. That’s another area that we’re looking at how those are going to fit into the channel program and which of the partners are going to be able to bring those to market. I think that’s going to be a another nice pickup for our partners.

CP: Can you talk more about the AT&T collaboration?

BW: Basically Panasonic is a master dealer for the AT&T FirstNet network. So as we’re selling and bringing Panasonic devices to the public-safety market, we’re able to get those activated on the FirstNet network. It’s a win-win for both sides. Partnering up with the AT&T team as they’re going out to subscribe as many public-safety customers onto their network as possible, we certainly want them going to market and saying, “Oh, by the way, Panasonic is a great option for you when you’re adding rugged devices onto this mission-critical network.” Likewise, as our sales force is out there as well selling devices, we’re obviously going to be encouraging our partners to consider switching over to the FirstNet network for their public safety. And obviously because our business is fulfilled entirely through the channel, our channel partners are part of that sales process from the beginning.

CP: What percentage of Panasonic’s business comes through the channel? Has that been increasing?

BW: I would say it’s definitely well over 90 percent. But essentially for our mobility business, we’re entirely through the channel. There are a few exceptions for …

… very large, strategic customers that Panasonic made the decision to take direct, but as a general rule, we’re through the channel 100 percent.

CP: Are changes in the industry impacting the direction of your partner program, channel strategy and product mix?

BW: One of the trends that we’ve seen just in the IT industry in general, we’ve seen it less in the rugged space but I think we’ll continue to see this grow, is the shift away from being a traditional VAR to being more of a managed service provider or something that’s a little bit stickier and more profitable. It’s something we’ve seen lag in the rugged computing space, but we also know that a lot of partners at this point are looking for ways to get out of that low-margin, transactional, sale-by-sale battle, and get to a model that’s more profitable and more sticky long term with their customer relationship. I’ve got a team of account managers, and they’re the ones supporting our partners day in and day out … so obviously this is a concern we hear pretty regularly: “How do we expand our business in a way that improves our profitability?” So we’re continuing to drive our partners to think through ways to basically package the products into their own unique service-delivery model. So depending on what that is, some of our partners are looking at how they wrap in some other value-added services that they provide. Others have gone down the path of forging software partnerships so that when they’re delivering our product, they have a unique combination of software that comes with that device. So anytime they can differentiate their offerings, it sets them aside … and allows them to have a more profitable business that locks in customers for a longer period of time.

CP: There seems to be more blurring of partner types. Is your partner program designed to accommodate that?

BW: … We’re flexible enough in our channel model that we’re able to support any type of partner. At this point, I do see a diversification of the types of partners that we have out there, the ones that are out there just trying to sell as many devices as possible, even at low margins, and we have some that are trying to really provide advances services. So that’s one of the things that has been a unique challenge for our team, is being able to figure out how we provide the right level of support for all these different partners when a lot of them are coming from different directions. But I also think it’s critical for us to maintain that diversity in our channel because that allows us to reach the maximum number of end customers.

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About the Author(s)

Edward Gately

Senior News Editor, Channel Futures

As news editor, Edward Gately covers cybersecurity, new channel programs and program changes, M&A and other IT channel trends. Prior to Informa, he spent 26 years as a newspaper journalist in Texas, Louisiana and Arizona.

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