Lenovo accelerates Velocity rollout
Friday, October 11 2019
Lenovo is in the midst of a multi-year, global project to drive significant improvements in its partner experiences, across both PC and data center products, supported by a multi-million dollar investment in digital tools. This started in earnest two years ago with a move towards a unified partner program framework, Partner Engage, a consistent global structure for partners selling data center and PC products. Last year it announced ‘Velocity’, a project to simplify the way it does business with partners, to make Lenovo faster and more responsive, and provide more consistency and predictability in partners’ engagements with Lenovo. After 12 months, it’s taking the wraps off some of the first partner-facing enhancements. Its ultimate objective with Velocity is to reduce friction for partners in their day-to-day relationships with Lenovo, to speed up sales and enhance partner profitability (in part, by increasing the efficiency of engagement), and give partners a more consistent, integrated experience across the globe, whether they are selling PCs, servers or both.
‘Ease of doing business’ has become a core mantra for almost every vendor selling through the channel. The growing availability of automation tools, AI and other digital technologies represents an opportunity to make significant improvements to everyday practices. This is critical for Lenovo. Its channel-led model is a core strength, and more than 95% of business is transacted indirectly. But its partners are often frustrated by the complexity of its processes, leading to slow pricing and responsiveness, and in worst-case scenarios, hindering the partner’s ability to win deals. Partners often have to rely on the strength of their account management relationships to overcome these issues, meaning Lenovo’s partner account managers are spending up to 40% of their time on administration and manual processes. Part of Lenovo’s challenge has been the legacy of multiple acquisitions – including IBM’s server and PC businesses – which resulted in Lenovo inheriting multiple, non-integrated systems. But it has also taken an inconsistent approach to building others, often at regional and even country level. The result has been different processes (such as deal registration or pricing) by country, leading to increased complexity.
With Velocity, Lenovo’s partners will see specific enhancements from early next year in four primary areas:
- Digital workspace: this is effectively Lenovo’s next generation partner portal, a single online location which is ‘persona-based’ – serving up personalized, targeted content according to the function of the user. Partners can choose which personas are applied (from allowing all users to have full access, to limiting access to between four to six personas), allowing the partner to define which user has authority to accept quotes, manage incentives etc. The aim of the digital workspace is to create a centralized online place to provide a range of resources, including a pricing engine, pipeline visibility (across the entire opportunity pipeline, including PC and data center), and a ‘performance dashboard’, providing a view of the partner’s performance against targets, and what the partner needs do to achieve maximum rewards.
- Price to Win: A streamlined and transparent tool for pricing, deal registration and quoting, which consolidates multiple mechanisms which partners currently use. This will give partners access to a single integrated pricing engine, for data center and PC products that are available off the shelf in distribution (Top Seller) or on a ‘configure-to-order’ basis. Previously these tended to be separate systems. Lenovo is introducing AI-based learning to automate part of the pricing process, to speed up quotes and lead to a faster turnaround time. Deal registration simplification will be a big focus, with Lenovo committing to increase the turnaround time for deal registration requests.
- Digital co-selling and marketing: Lenovo is unveiling a new set of digital marketing assets and campaign builder tools, along with more sales collaboration tools, a simplified services portfolio for partners and increased rewards for selling solutions such as SmartOffice, Workstation and Education.
- Digital processes: A host of new digital and automated processes, aligned with Lenovo’s distributors, are being launched including better order visibility (available through a mobile app), more centralized syndication of product data and marketing information, and a single tool for financial claims. This will provide partners with auto-validation to reduce admin time, leading to faster payments and improved cash flow. Lenovo is also increasing partner rebates for services (partner resold and delivered), including paying service rebates on the total revenue of a deal, not just the service element, as part of a drive to boost services growth through the channel. This will be supported by new APIs for distributors to integrate with their service quotation tools, helping them attach the best service options in product deals.
Digital investments must augment, not replace, people
Automation brings with it some obvious risks. One of the biggest concerns for partners is the potential for vendors to use digital tools to cut internal costs and – in particular – headcount. Increasing the speed of price quotations or deal registrations, for example, does not guarantee prices are accurate, or appropriate. Automated deal registration could be exploited by partners, if it removes the opportunity for a human to validate that the right partner gets approval. Channel management remains a relationship-led function, with personal interactions between vendor and partner highly valued, and critical to business planning, managing conflicts and other day to day engagements, many of which cannot be solved by an algorithm. Lenovo’s message to partners is that it will not compromise accuracy and quality for simplicity. Even more importantly, one of Lenovo’s primary aims is not to replace, but to enhance the role of its partner-facing staff, freeing them up to focus more on partner engagement and joint business development. This will be welcomed by partners.
Lenovo’s ambitious plans have the potential to deliver business improvements, and remove many of the bottlenecks for partners to help accelerate growth. But, as for all vendors on this path, the biggest challenge will be delivering on these promises effectively. This involves the effective implementation of new (largely unproven) technologies and engagement models, supported by a shift in employee and partner behavior. In its favor, Velocity is just one part of a broad and deep transformation of the company’s internal systems – including its global CRM platform – led by Lenovo’s executive leadership team, rather than an isolated effort by the channel organization. Success is a company-wide imperative.
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