What should vendors do to build strong relationships with partner channel partners? Where should vendors invest in the success of current relationships? Techaisle data shows that it is generally tricky to replace channel partners that exit from the vendor's orbit. In many ways, the core challenge in channel management is determining the optimal allocation of enablement (effort) and investment (funding) options. A program capturing the best options in all areas would be prohibitively costly. Channel program management needs to allocate attention and investment to the areas that align with their specific goals.
The new Lenovo Partner Hub is the beginning of a long journey. It is one of the most massive transformations within Lenovo. What I like about the Partner Hub is its focus on providing excellent partner experience through a simplified content presentation, persona-based dashboards, bid requests, quoting, and product ordering for both PCSD (PC and Smart Devices Group) and DCG (Data Center Business Group). Simplification is at the core of any partner program, and Lenovo has nailed the beginning.
Lenovo's global process owners from business units and key partners in all geographies across thirteen countries contributed to harmonizing the design and tools. The single objective was to give time back to the partners so they could focus on their growth plans and customer conversations.
Vendors tend to consider channel enablement and investment as costs associated with specific product sets – and as a result, these activities get tied to product sales performance. However, although well-intentioned, often, this approach ends with the channel partner positioned as a vendor sales agent, which connects with internal vendor accounting requirements but poorly aligned with the core value provided by the channel partner to its mainstream business customers. The channel's role – and its most significant opportunity – lies in focusing on buyer needs. Successful vendors are building programs and partner platforms that empower channel partners to maintain vendor presence in complex solution environments – not sales agents. Lenovo is one such leading vendor who is trying to enable empowerment approaches through Partner Hub that focus on business outcomes and partnerships.
Designed and developed internally at Lenovo, five different portals combined into one platform with an agile approach rolling out new changes every single day. Lenovo's advantage is that it does not have to rely on nor negotiate with third-party partner platforms for customizations, unnecessarily prolonging the partner empowerment approach.
A grid-like dashboard has five distinct areas – Deal registration, Bid requests, Product Ordering, Asset Library, and myPitch. There are different dashboards with pre-defined quick links for PCSD, DCG, geographies as well as personas – Sales rep, Sales manager, Marketing and Admin. The quick links get updated with the use and memorization of frequently used tasks. There are also groupings for sales, product, and services, solutions, marketing, and training. An easy to use tool is available for contact and lead management.
Lenovo has spent maximum development time on its Bid platform, which has real-time processing and reduces the turnaround time to a few seconds. With 3-clicks partners are in the bid platform configurator, and with an additional two clicks, they can have quotes for several part numbers with alternatives. The dashboard is flexible enough for partners to put together a custom solution package by selecting products and services from both PCSD and DCG into a single bid. Real-time processing provides stock availability at the distributor level allowing the partner to split requests with multiple distributors, generate final bid price, and email quotes directly to the end-customer.
Marketing has not been a primary focus for most channel partners, and those that have invested in marketing staff have typically tasked them with optimizing access to vendor investment funds. Marketing's need to add advanced digital competencies are challenging most channel partners. Lenovo is supporting content and digital marketing to ensure that its partners are in a position to engage with the largest possible number of prospective customers. All customizable campaign material for presentation support for custom facing conversations is available in the myPitch section of the dashboard, and digital assets are downloadable from the asset library.
Every vendor does enablement, which is a short-term lever for meeting quarterly targets and quotas. Techaisle's research shows that channel partners need vendors to extend enablement to empowerment. Lenovo is definitely moving in the direction of empowering its partners to focus on delivering customer business outcomes instead of vendor management. 44% of channel partners want a simplified partner portal, and 42% are looking for simplified deal registration, and 53% prefer swift conflict resolution. Lenovo is delivering on all three. A unified, harmonized, and personalized partner portal is just the beginning.