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Lenovo Preps Partners for Higher Ed, Government Sales Push

Partners with expertise in these verticals will be pleased with the device maker's 2019 plans.

Lynn Haber

January 11, 2019

7 Min Read
Lenovo PC

While CES, winding down this week in Las Vegas, is primarily a consumer trade show, that didn’t stop Lenovo from introducing new commercial products — most prominently, new additions to the vendor’s flagship ThinkPad X1 line, in addition to dazzling attendees with new consumer offers.

More specifically, Lenovo announced the ThinkPad X1 Carbon 7th Gen and ThinkPad X1 Yoga 4th Gen. The vendor also expanded its portfolio with new visual and peripheral solutions and accessories.

“One of our core strategies is to use our extensive customer insight to develop new designs and offer a wider choice, as seen in our X1 line. For years, our customers have been asking for an all-aluminum ThinkPad and we’ve been studying metal materials to determine the right timing and right process to deliver the quality that ThinkPad customer expect,” said Cristian Teismann, senior vice president and general manager of Lenovo’s commercial business segment.

To find out how these new products fit into Lenovo’s partner strategy for the upcoming year, and the vendor’s strategic objectives for 2019, Channel Futures caught up with Rob Cato, executive director North America channels at Lenovo.

Channel Futures: For starters, tell us how the new ThinkPad X1 products create opportunities for Lenovo partners.

Rob Cato: This gives partners the ability to continue to sell the most innovative, quality and reliable system in the market. A lot of the time, people associate the ThinkPad with the enterprise space, and certainly, when it comes to who is No. 1 in that large enterprise market around mobile systems, Lenovo is certainly that, but our SMB customers are gravitating to richer, premium products as well.


Lenovo’s Rob Cato

When you look at the SMB customer, we’re starting to see a lot of opportunity — and this is where the channel is playing a huge role for us in reaching out to those SMB customers. So it’s critical to us that [partners] understand the features around these products so that they can reach that SMB customer.

We continue to see opportunity as we get into the education [vertical] and state and local government markets. These are areas that we’re investing in this year.

(In October, IDC reported that Lenovo claimed the top spot in the PC market – desktop, notebook, and workstation – for the third quarter of 2018.)

CF: Provide some more details about these two new vertical-market opportunities for partners.

RC: In 2019, we’re going to drive more of the ThinkPad X1 products into that [education and state and local government] market. Higher-education customers are looking for new and different options, and certain our new products offer that. One of the unique features on the ThinkPad X1 Yoga product that we haven’t had in the past is an aluminum finish, which gives a little bit of different look and feel compared to traditional black box that we had in the ThinkPad line. Certainly, in higher education and millennial generation or generation Z, [they’re] looking for something with a different look and feel and the ThinkPad X1 Yoga offers that.

CF: 2018 certainly was a tumultuous year for Lenovo partners — Sammy Kinlaw, your predecessor, resigned and Lenovo’s president of North America business, Emilio Ghilardi, departed and was replaced with Matthew Zielinski. When you and I spoke in May 2018, you said that regaining partners’ trust was a top priority. Have you regained partner trust? Also, what’s in store for partners in 2019?

RC: I’ve been excited about …

… the progress that we’ve made in the [North America] channel and how the partners have continued to embrace Lenovo as we made some transformational changes last year. 

I would tell you that having Matt Zielinski join the Lenovo team last year has given us a resurgence in the marketplace. He and I have gone out and met with a lot of our partners to rebuild that trust. I think we’re there. It shows in the results that we’re seeing from our channel community. We grew our business 18 percent in [the second and third quarters]; we’re waiting on our final results from [the fourth quarter].

Our biggest strength was in our SMB growth; it grew almost triple digits last year. We saw a lot of positive results from partners who focused on the SMB market. We enhanced some of our programs around bringing in new customers or acquisition-focused opportunities and we rewarded [partners] with programs and initiatives around that as well.

We want to expand on some of the things we started last year … we introduced a few things into the channel last year, such as the path to platinum, which allows our partners to see their way, as they grow their business, to get more rewards — so we want to expand on that.

We also introduced our communities initiative, or building partner communities around our SMB, large enterprise and K-12 markets. That has been well received by the partners, and we want to expand on that. We also want to find better ways to communicate with them, to provide sales empowerment, [to allow] them to bring opportunities forward, price those opportunities and get the pricing, quote and ability to go win to those customers on our behalf.

We also want to focus on our engagement with partners. 2018 was a great year from an engagement standpoint at the street level between our end-user sales team and our partners, especially as we go into newer markets such as higher education and state and local government, which are growth areas for Lenovo as we go into 2019.

CF: What prompted Lenovo focusing on the higher education and state and local government markets I 2019?

RC: When you look at where Lenovo is today, we’re well under indexed in those markets. We’ve done very well in K-12 and see a lot of opportunity as we go forward in 2019 in that K-12 market, but when it comes to higher education and state and local government, Lenovo is under-indexed compared to our competitors; in some cases, we’re in single digits in those markets.

So we’re adding more resources both in coverage and field resources, as well as on the inside to help us go after both of those markets, and the channel is going to help us because a lot of our partners provide local support for higher-education institutions and K-12 districts, and state and local government. So, where we can find mutual opportunities we want to go after those with our partners.

CF: Which Lenovo products and solutions are you referring to when you talk about partners in these markets?

RC: It’s not a lot different from the ones we sell to our large enterprise customers — ThinkPad and ThinkCentre desktops as well as ThinkStation products. There’s a lot of opportunity for us to bring higher performance compute to …

… higher education and state and local government.

There are a few solutions around services and some of our Smart Office and virtual-reality-type solutions. One of the products that we brought to market last year was our VR Classroom which was designed primarily for the K-12 market, but there’s a lot of synergy between that and the higher-education market as people look to go into different professions. There’s a correlation to being able to provide VR solutions [and] Smart Office solutions.

CF: The company’s One Lenovo theme means that you have a single channel program, despite having a separate Data Center Group. 

RC: We’re joined as One Lenovo when it comes to our partner community and we have one partner program — Lenovo Engage. It provides the opportunity for all of our partners to engage with us, but we also look at partners by tier, so we’ve got authorized, silver, gold and platinum partners, and we also have the national solutions providers who are usually our top six or so partners in the North America market.

CF: Are Lenovo partners selling more bits and pieces or solutions?

RC: It’s a solution play, and one of the things we continue to evolve to is providing an end-to-end solution where [partners] can wrap their value-add and services around that solution and target a specific vertical or horizontal market that they’re going after.

For example, the VR Classroom is an out-of-the-box experience that provides the hardware and software that makes this a solution able to go right into the classroom, but it requires the help of a channel partner to provide the right services, such as deploy, manage and service on an ongoing basis, as well as the right bundling of other offerings the customer may be looking for.

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About the Author(s)

Lynn Haber

Content Director Lynn Haber follows channel news from partners, vendors, distributors and industry watchers. If I miss some coverage, don’t hesitate to email me and pass it along. Always up for chatting with partners. Say hi if you see me at a conference!

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