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Acer America
Acer America Corp. is a computer manufacturer of business and consumer PCs, notebooks, ultrabooks, projectors, servers, and storage products.


333 West San Carlos Street
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July 12, 2018 |

Lenovo Looks to Fuel a Return to Growth Through “Channel Transformation”

A wide-ranging series of policy and partner program changes instituted this month by North American Channel Chief Rob Cato (pictured) are designed to get the hardware maker back on track to recording consistent market share gains.

Hardware maker Lenovo has initiated a “transformation” of its North American channel designed to better align partner-related investments with market opportunities, drive deeper engagement with resellers, and—above all—get a company that’s made headlines in recent months mostly for layoffs and executive departures back on track for growth.

“We want to take market share at a quarter point to half a point per quarter on a consistent basis,” said Rob Cato, Morrisville, N.C.-based Lenovo’s North American channel chief, in a conversation with ChannelPro earlier this week.

Cato’s organization began rolling out a series of changes to Lenovo’s channel offerings designed to help realize that goal at the start of this month. They include a new benefit structure for the partner program’s authorized, silver, gold, and platinum levels aimed at rewarding VARs for expanding revenue and adding new customers.

“In the past, there wasn’t a ton of differentiation between those [tiers] and this new model really kicks off some differentiation between each one,” Cato says.

Ascending to a higher level in the program, he continues, results in meaningfully better rebates, more market development funds, and increased internal support. The sales targets partners must hit to qualify for the program’s various membership levels, however, remain largely unchanged.

Partners at all tiers of the program also have access now to new tools and resources designed to make doing business with Lenovo simpler. Those include a “bid desk” process for SMB opportunities designed to get resellers firm answers on pricing questions more quickly. Currently phone-based, that service will be available online as well later this year.

“Over the next several months we will continue to improve that process and even provide a tool, a dedicated tool, to our partners where they can actually submit pricing and get turnaround in less than 24 hours,” Cato says.

Cato, whose full title is executive director of North American channels, stepped into that position on an interim basis in January, following the departure of previous channel chief Sammy Kinlaw. The job became officially his in April, just weeks before Lenovo’s 2018 Accelerate partner conference in Las Vegas.

The changes Cato’s introducing now are based heavily on an extensive series of roundtables and face-to-face meetings with partners he conducted at Accelerate and elsewhere. The importance of getting serious again about boosting sales and grabbing market share was one of the most consistent themes of the feedback he received in those conversations.

“You make great products,” partners told Cato, “but we need that commitment from you that you’re going to get back into growth.”

To help meet that demand, Cato has re-configured Lenovo’s channel-related investments and staffing to align more closely with the company’s new product strategy, which seeks to provide solutions—rather than just devices—to SMBs, K-12 schools, and large enterprises.

“We believe that we make the best products in the market, but we’ve got to focus on our customers and we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got the right products for the customers in those different segments,” Cato says, pointing to a new digital learning solution as an example of where Lenovo is increasingly headed. School districts are looking for new and creative ways to engage students, he notes, which takes more than just hardware like virtual reality headsets.

“We wanted an end-to-end solution that had everything in the box, or in the solution, that the customer needed, with our partner’s services wrapped around it,” Cato says. Lenovo, he adds, has similar offerings for smart workspaces and meeting rooms, and is investigating solutions for the retail and healthcare industries as well.

Achieving a “new level of engagement” with partners is another of Cato’s top objectives for this year and beyond.

“We want to make sure that we’ve got all of our resources, all of our partners, covered in a way that allows us to be deeper and more strategic with them,” he says.

Based on channel input, Lenovo is working to make those resources more pertinent to partners as well. The partner program now includes “communities” dedicated to the SMB, K-12, and large enterprise segments that are designed to make it easier for resellers to find information and resources related to the specific markets they pursue.

“We have to be aligned with them from a relevance standpoint and making sure that our goals and their goals and our objectives and their objectives are the same,” Cato says.

Lenovo’s partner program reset follows a turbulent year marked not only by Kinlaw’s exit but by that of North American President Emilio Ghilardi, and his replacement by Matthew Zielinski, as well.

Last fall, meanwhile, the company laid off two percent of its global workforce. Though few of the partners Cato spoke with after assuming his new role questioned the wisdom of that cutback, many requested earlier, more frequent, and more detailed explanations of such moves in the future.

“They were asking that going forward, we make sure we communicate with them on some of these changes,” he says. “We’ve got to make sure we do that and do that very effectively.”

Other priorities for Cato in the months ahead include augmenting Lenovo’s lineup of customer-facing technical support offerings.

“One of the biggest areas that we’ve got to go focus on as a company is having the right services in conjunction with our partners,” Cato says. “I would say over the next six months or so, you’ll continue to see us bring out different offerings.”

Also set to arrive at some point in the next year is a more personalized, interactive “digital experience” for partners aimed at helping them find information online more easily. That project too is informed by partner input.

“It was difficult for them to understand their earnings, how they made money with Lenovo, how much they were making, and what those investments were for,” Cato notes.

Cato hopes the ultimate effect of all his ongoing efforts is to restore the channel’s once strong faith in Lenovo.

“We’ve got to get back to some of the tenets that made us great in the past, which is being simple and consistent and easy to do business with,” he says. “The tools that I talked about before and the [bid desk], those are vitally crucial to our getting back to sort of that simple, predictable, and consistent mantra that Lenovo was known for in the past.”

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