A fledgling company doesn’t get many chances to make mistakes. It has to make sure it’s messages don’t get confused or there’ll be big trouble before getting off the ground.
But at IBM’s annual PartnerWorld conference early this month Lenovo Group came close to stumbling when messages from two
prospective executives about the role of the channel seemed to go in opposite directions.
Lenovo is trying to close a US$1.7 billion deal to buy IBM’s PC division in the second quarter. A number of the unit’s senior people, including VP and GM Stephen Ward, are set to cross over to the new owner. They need to retain the loyalty of IBM’s resellers to have a big channel for Lenovo-branded ThinkPads and ThinkCentres.
During the conference I had a brief and unexpected interview with Ward, who will become Lenovo’s CEO. Will Lenovo sell direct, as IBM does, I asked?
“”Yes,”” he replied. “”There are some instances when that’s exactly how the customer wants to buy.
“”Will we compete with our channels? No. We’re upfront, we’re very clear about what our intention is, customer by customer, and we’ll work co-operatively with our channels.
Conflicts will be avoided “”by making a decision on each customer and each product line on what our strategy is and staying with it.””
Pretty clear, I thought, until I saw a competitor’s interview with Yang Yuanqing, current Lenovo CEO who will become chairman. The company is committed to a 100 per cent channel model, he said. “”Everything goes through the channel,”” he was quoted as saying.
Up until then it had been pretty clear sailing for the IBM-Lenovo people.
So minutes before Ward was to give a major address to the conference I approached the IBM team for an explanation. I got three, from different public relations people.
The first was Yang was talking only about Lenovo in China. The second was that he was wrong. The third was that Yang meant he was fully committed to the channel, but not exclusively.
This kerfuffle was pretty minor: Ward made it clear. Resellers are warned.
Then I had another question: Would Lenovo have its own stores, I quietly asked a PR man in the middle of Ward’s presentation. He nodded. There are Lenovo stores in other countries.
But in North America, I persisted? I was referred after the speech to another rep. He couldn’t exclude the possibility. So it’s possible, I pressed. Well, there are no plans, he conceded. He just didn’t want to speak for what the company might do in the future.
So what should PC resellers make of this?
Lenovo hasn’t quite nailed down its North American strategy. In fact, one Canadian distributor told me that only at PartnerWorld did Lenovo agree not to force it to adopt terms and conditions similar to U.S. distributors. It recognized Canada is different.
Will Lenovo be a channel-friendly organization? Mostly, but not exclusively.