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104 |  Award-winning channel marketing: Lenovo's partner-first strategy

30 min listen

Tune in to Lenovo's award-winning channel campaign 'Broaden your Horizons'. 

The amazing Wilhelm Frank, Commercial Marketing Director for EMEA, joins us on The Tech Marketing Podcast for a brilliant discussion around the intricacies of this campaign.

We explore goals, success metrics, and the challenges of steering partners from hardware to solutions. The crew explore the crucial role of education and incentivization and shed light on exciting creative strategies such as Formula One-themed gamification.

Since recording, this campaign has won silver for 'Best Channel Marketing Initiative' at the B2B Marketing Awards!

Tune in now:


View the full transcript here

Jon Busby: Welcome again to another episode of the tech marketing podcast. I'm thrilled to have a client I've worked with for many years and has worked with together for many years.

I'm joined in the booth by Wilhelm Frank. Commercial Marketing Director for EMEA at Lenovo.

Willie, if you don't mind me calling you that welcome to the tech marketing podcast, it's great to have you here. 

Wilhelm Frank: Thanks for the invitation. Hello.

Jon Busby: And so in this podcast, we're going to. Be diving into this award winning a case study for this fantastic piece of work called broaden your horizons.

But before we jump into that, Willie, you've worked with us as a client as a friend for over a decade now. I think you, and you've been with Lenovo even longer than that, 16 plus years, I think from marketing managers, commercial director tell us what have you loved about your marketing journey with Lenovo so far?

Wilhelm Frank: I Think, the key thing is that it has never been boring, right? So you always have new challenges to accomplish and to take for several reasons, either when, if the business is changing with new. Where you also have frequently new challenges to come to accomplish, but also the companies is transforming.

So there were lots of changes within the company with mergers, with merger acquisitions, but also changes within the organization as well that led to lots of new things. And obviously with our new products, solutions, new offerings that we brought to the markets, it never got boring. And I believe the key thing, why it's really.

That enjoyable at Lenovo is especially because of the people as well. So it's the culture that makes it different. That really makes it fun to work with. Were you two working together

Harry Radcliffe: 10 years ago? Were you at were you here together Busby doing all that?

Jon Busby: So I've, I think, Willy, what year did you join Lenovo, if you don't mind me asking?

Wilhelm Frank: I joined Lenovo 2007.

Jon Busby: Yeah, so I joined together in 2008. So we've been at our respective organizations for, yeah, for about the same time, which is crazy. And I would agree with everything you've just said, like it's. I'd stay, I say I stay together until I stopped learning and we haven't stopped doing that.

And especially this year, like this year has probably been the most innovative technology focused year to date with, without artificial intelligence and everything. So it's, I completely agree with you. What would you say the biggest transformation has been as part of the, those 16 years at Lenovo?

You mentioned acquisitions, cultures, but what's the biggest change?

Wilhelm Frank: Lots of changes. I think now, we had 2015, a big change when Lenovo bought the Motorola business group. So Motorola the mobile phone business with the smartphones together with our I was ser with the IBM server business, the er, IBM, server hardware business.

So those were the two main acquisitions which obviously resulted in lots of changes from an organizational perspective, right? Because you had to bring in new people, but also different mindsets, different cultures as well to some extent, even though that many of us had some IBM background because also, ThinkPad and the original Lenovo that was founded 2006 was also coming from IBM, the pc.

Hardware business from IBM, but still, you know that different people, different cultures, you had to bring it together. And I believe that was the biggest change in the last yeah, how much, 15 years, 16 years.

Jon Busby: It's crazy amount of time. I still remember the first time I actually met you, Willie, and you may not remember, you may remember the story, but I, this is one of my favorite stories, which is My mutual friend and colleague Alex Norby, who has been on this podcast, sent me out to go and see you in, I think it must have been Bratislava or somewhere somewhere in, in Europe.

And I turned up and just told the receptionist which room we were in. And she was like, Oh, you go find your own way. So I went and found my own way to this room. I'm gonna walk into this room. It must have had about 45 people in it. And I realized at that point I've really made it like I've underestimated how prepared I need to be.

You were, it was a much younger version of me at this point, of course and they were talking about some incredibly complex business process. And I was like I have, I've really messed up here. I remember being sat at the back. bring it, bring out my non Lenovo device as well, which was even more of a problem and trying to like slightly understand what was going on.

I think at that point you then called me and went, Oh no, the meeting room changed. I Don't know if you, yeah, it was the wrong meeting room. So I was sat in this meeting for, it must've been about 25 minutes going, what have I done? But I still remember that. That was that was, yeah, it was fantastic at the time.

We're recording this right now on the. 6th of November. I think the awards are next week. So award nominated channel marketing campaign. Broaden your horizons. It's shortlisted, of course, at the B2B marketing awards here in Europe. We think it'll have a great result on the day of broadcast, but we'll find out at that point, before we dive in, that nomination is a huge achievement, firstly, you must be very proud.

Wilhelm Frank: Absolutely. No it's a great honor. And yeah, nice thing to, to be awarded again. It's, it was also not the first award, right? So we had over the last 10 years already several occasions to at least tend in campaigns for awards, right? And some of them also won some awards. So that's that's great.

That's always great.

Jon Busby: And I think it's especially great when it's whenever it's anything to do with the channel because for me, the channel gets forgotten about far too much. So I just, I think this is great that it's a channel award. You know what, let's dive into kind of the challenges that we were trying to answer with this brief.

What led you to briefing in this particular campaign?

Wilhelm Frank: So this campaign is also which originating basically from also from a transformation that we have maybe not as big as it was 2015. What I mentioned before, but also very big because we are currently in a transformation phase where we really want to address.

And position ourself rather as a solution provider rather than a pure PC manufacturer, PC seller which was originally our background. And that was basically the main intention of the campaign to ensure that. We target our business partners, our IT resellers, our distributors, our value added resellers across EMEA or EMEA market Europe, Middle East and Africa to showcase that we are not just a PC vendor and also not just a server vendor, but we provide an end to end offering from pocket to cloud.

And that was the key thing EMEA. We thought, we need to really start here with the German partners and we need to really talk through that as part of a really unique and really impactful campaign. And that's, that was the background for it.

Harry Radcliffe:

What were your goals going into this? How are you defining success?

Wilhelm Frank: The success part or the KPIs that we had for this campaign was primarily focused on first of all, engaging with our partners, our existing resellers, but also target new resellers and also win new resellers as part of the campaign that are not yet selling our Lenovo offerings. Because We might not have them in our program because our program is more focused on PC or servers, server sellers and resellers, but not so much on the solution part, right?

So we were also actively looking for targeting and gaining new partners that are more focused on solution selling, but especially focusing on the existing partners and engaging with them first, ensuring that we change the perception. And ultimately drive cross selling. So ultimately on the channel side, especially the ultimate results always need to be also sales related.

That was a strong final KPIs as well in terms of cross selling and the number of actively selling resellers.

Jon Busby: So engagement and sales, like it's those are the two factors. Shifting partners from selling hardware to solutions is it's hard, right? But it's a trend that we are seeing across the entire industry.

You achieved this rather, we achieved this together actually in six months, which is no small feat. When we think about it being able to change that engagement and demonstrate the impact on sales. This is and the team have been just great to take me through this. This strategy was based really on those three areas of changing attitudes, driving behaviours towards and towards outcomes.

So I just love how this is such a partner first approach as well. So for partners, that means the campaign was founded on this. I think you mentioned the word incentivization in this process of education and incentivization. So let's talk first about education, right? Because that's absolutely key for making sure they understand these solutions, making sure they're engaged.

Like, how did your approach help both?

Wilhelm Frank: I Think, the most critical thing is first of all, to ensure that the, to address the partners and inside the partners, the sales people of these resellers of these it resellers. And to ensure, first of all, before we do anything else to clear, to ensure that they understand our offering that they understand also our value proposition versus our competitors.

In order to enable them to sell our offerings, right? So that's, of course, the key thing. Of course, they know us or most of the, a T reseller normally should know Lenovo, but we wanted to ensure that they not only know Lenovo from a PC perspective, but they know us as an end to end provider, and that was the key challenge and the key task, first of all, and we did that.

Through a number of trainings and education series, both physical trainings, but also virtual trainings to ensure that they understand where we're coming from, what is our key value proposition and why we are the right provider from pocket to cloud, but also to ensure what are the benefits for them if they put, if they work with us even closer, right?

Because it's not just showcasing how great we are, but also to ensure what is in it for me as a seller. And that was the key part of the education element, right? Not only showcasing how great we are and what is in there for the, for their customer base, but also what is in there for the business partner salespeople.

Jon Busby: It's I completely agree. Every part of program really should start with education. Because you have, they have to understand the product. In fact, one of the first ever channel projects I ever worked on. It wasn't with you actually, Willie. It was with one of our other clients.

And we tried to deploy a whole bunch of marketing activities across their across their channel partners. This was a series of partners that were. Most definitely not marketeers. Their primary job was something completely different. And we knew that and we, and the take up was just minuscule.

Like we saw nothing. And we found that we had to go right back to the beginning and start educating them on the product first and educating them on how important it was. In this case, it was actually a solution based product. So you mentioned a couple of things there that I thought was really interesting.

You mentioned, did you mention virtual and face to face training? Is that right? Can you tell us when you educate, when you're educating these partners, which channels and approaches and tactics work best for you?

Wilhelm Frank: At the end, it's a mix of different elements, right? So face to face trainings. And here, the key thing is to ensure we provide to the local teams because the partners on local side, right?

So my team is on each on headquarter side. So we ensure that we have the right kids, they have the right training. And event kits so that the local teams can activate them with local classroom trainings, local events and partner trainings they do. But on the other side, and they need to be consistent, obviously, right?

So that we have a consistent kit that they can execute locally. But the main part of this campaign was an e learning. SO that's because through this e learning approach, we were also able to incentivize the sellers, right? If they do trainings we might talk to about that later, but if we do, if they do the trainings, they also get incentives in terms of bonus points and part of a compound.

That's right. And with this digital approach, this virtual trainings, where we're able to connect the dots here and to really make it scalable and also working across multiple countries. And that was the main part. So it was not just an e learning module. It was also a gamification part in there just to make the whole thing more interesting and connected then also with an incentive model as well on top.

Jon Busby: Did they get the same, just out of interest, did they get the same points if they? attended a face to face session as if they'd attended it.

Wilhelm Frank: We just provided points in that case for the virtual ones. So the face to face trainings were just for local events, but and where the basis then just to introduce the whole program, our whole approach to the partners.

But for the contest itself and for the program in that case, they had to do the virtual ones to gain further and participate in the contest as well.

Jon Busby: I think what I'd certainly as we've come out of the last few years, I've definitely noticed, people need that face to face time is just as important as the incentivized learning as well.

So let's come on to this,

Wilhelm Frank: especially, after COVID timeframe, it was then also the first, basically the first time, when people were able to get together again in a room, right? So that's why we had to let's get started. To work on a hybrid approach based on classroom trainings, but also based on virtual trainings.

Jon Busby: Yeah, I know. I think having that, I call it an omni channel learning approach, I think is key where, some people prefer to learn on their own being sat in front of any learning module. Some people prefer to be part of a classroom and being able to cater to both is key.

So let's come on to the incentivization piece, like. How did you incentivize them? So I think you mentioned as they got points for going through this training, what did those points mean?

Wilhelm Frank: So basically the whole the whole contest was based on a kind of a bonus point program, right?

So we have we also introduced at the same time a cross segments platform, a loyalty platform for partners called Leap. It's called, it's a learn and earn portal where the partner, the sales people from on partner side, we're able to capture points for the training, for e learning trainings and tests they do online, but also for the sell out of the products.

And that was this kind of concept was that also utilized for the campaign and for the specific contest that we had as part of the campaign. And ultimately the partners gain points like in a. Frequent flyer program of airlines, right? In that case they just had to sell our products and especially cross sell across the segments for the cross selling part They gain more points than just selling pcs obviously because that was the main objective of the whole of the whole campaign But also for trainings they did and the trainings part.

We are not just boring boring online trainings with a test with some test questions, but also some gamification elements where we also utilized Formula One themed method to, to access that and to make it even more, more fun,

Jon Busby: of course, like Lenovo's how many times, how many years have you sponsored Formula One now?

I think it must be two years,

Wilhelm Frank: two years, Formula One. And before we, we sponsored Ferrari as well, the Ferrari Formula One team. But since two years, we've sponsored Formula One.

Jon Busby: The yeah, just a shame for our Ferrari's World Championship title always seems to be a year away, but the definitely seeing Lenovo branding a lot more, which, of course, makes leveraging that partnership so much more fun.

Like I know our team really loved working on it. And surely a partner, having anything to do with Formula One can be super engaging. What did partners get any special? prizes related to Formula One?

Wilhelm Frank: Absolutely. So the whole theme and the whole campaign the online contest was very much aligned to the Formula One topic, right?

So we had a digital an online gamification element that was a race court. And so depending how long they got in the race court and how much long it take, it took for them. They gained them the points there as well. We also called it they were also able, everything was then utilizing the formula one vocabulary as well and words as well.

So every visual of course was used with formula ones formula one cars as well. That was really the, the overall concept was very much based on that topic. And obviously we all, we always had a formula one prices. The main price was a trip to Abu Dhabi. So for the best 10 salespeople after the three month contest based on a mix of sellout, but also, trainings and the gamification elements where they were able to gain points, the best 10 sellers were then invited.

To a very exclusive trip to Abu Dhabi for the first Formula One race of the year. So that was one part. And then obviously we had some side prices. I think also one key element and success factor was that we not just had either one big price at the end, but really a number of prices and especially then also monthly prices to really ensure we.

Keep it active also during each month during each week, also with regular communication, email, social communication to really feature new elements, new parts of Lenovo C60, of our one Lenovo approach of our value proposition of our offerings, but also new trainings and other stuff that they were able to gain extra points.

Jon Busby: I think that's a key. I, firstly, I'm gonna think, I'm gonna have to sign up to be an innovo partner after this, 'cause I really could do with going to Abu Dhabi. But the so if you are, if you're thinking of becoming an Innovo partner, please sign up now and participate in these. But the and of course you've just sponsored the Austin Grand Prix Exactly.

Last weekend. As we record this I think you even had quite a few partner events around that, if I remember correctly.

Wilhelm Frank: Yes. No, there are lots of activations happening across during those formula one races across the board.

Jon Busby: But there's an element there that I always, whenever we talk about the channel, I, I personally always worry about.

You, we have. You have these really big prizes and those big prizes tend to go tend to always go to those that sell the most You know by breaking things down into the monthly prizes and smaller kind of milestones how did you balance that? Rewarding the kind of, I'm going to talk about the CDWs and the SoftCats and the really big partners versus the smaller partners that would be much more digitally focused and innovative.

How do you balance those two?

Wilhelm Frank: What we try to do is to ensure that partners get quite equal chances to win a prize. And we used therefore not just one bonus point scheme, but a handicap model. So a part of a larger partner with, larger sales sales force and larger revenue they generate For them, it was harder to get points or they got less points versus a smaller partner, for example, right?

So that was this kind of handicap model to ensure that we have quite equal chances for a large and smaller partners, which was a challenge at the beginning because we had to calculate a lot there and make some tests upfront and some forecastings as well. But that was the whole idea to ensure we provide equal chances for partners.

At a small, large, but also to ensure then still that the cross-selling part is still the main part that should be incentivized and not just the pure PC selling, because then you normally have, then always the same winners that we had also in the past. But we really want to, to what, to ensure to, to incentivize those we resellers that are really selling one of our end-to-end solutions.

So across the segments.

Jon Busby: Yeah, it's it is. So in this case, if I'm understanding it correctly, you did you handicap the larger partners? So that brought a point down? How did going a little bit off topic here? Like, how did they? How did they react to being handicapped? Or did they understand?

You know what, we always win this.

Wilhelm Frank: It was a personalized dynamic content that they received. So everything was after, the look in parts where they got to on, on the partner portal and on this portal they then saw the points, right? So it was nothing that we actively communicated.

It wasn't the TNCs obviously, that it was clear for them that within certain segments they had equal chances, but we then played out with handicaps at the end. Between, silver gold with a different partner levels that we have and within the partner levels, then it was equal, but then the handicap was then for the larger partners.

Jon Busby: I think I, I, handicap is, I think it's exactly right? Because we do, especially with a program like this way, we're focusing on moving towards solutions, those cross sale elements should, would have accelerators or other metrics around them. But I just think it's also the most, the biggest bit that stands out for me is we are seeing this.

Fundamental shift over the last 18 months in, in how it decision makers and b2b buyers research and by, so every step that I can pull out on this, we've now got what 18 between 13 and 18 different people are part of the Buying committee, you know that the buying journey is now taking on average around twice as long the biggest stat here I think is that people are buying online Even your IT decision makers.

They don't want they 64 percent don't want to speak to sales or 68 percent don't want to speak to sales based on the last stat so you know, we have all of this data that's saying that we're moving that way and I think if you purely It's the innovators dilemma. If you've ever, if you've ever come across this, if we purely rewarded just the partners that sold the most at some point, their business models not going to be fit for the target market anymore.

So I love this concept of trying to allow the newer resellers and the newer partners to did you see just out of interest? Did you see any partner do something wildly different that, blew the doors off for this campaign? So did you see anyone, any

Wilhelm Frank: surprises in some in some countries?

And also we saw some countries that were more active, right? So where the partners in countries like Germany, we had, more active partners there that were really cross selling more than in other countries. So we saw some country differences, but also partner differences, definitely. And there were some surprises also in the winner list, which was also then internally, lots of discussion, because then you have the sales teams, they want to push their focus partners, but not always the focus partners are the ones that are winning

in these contests. I

Jon Busby: think it's a real, what's happening in the B2B space is a real leveler.

Of course, the big partners will always remain big partners, but I think we will start to see, new, innovative. Partner types and partner hybrid partners as you call them. People that aren't just a var, there might be a VAR plus an ISV, plus a, probably A-A-C-S-P as well that are delivering that unified solution and doing it in a way that might mean that they never, they sell online and they upsell using various, using other technology.

So keeping out for those surprises I think is super important. So of course we can't talk about channel without talking about the other C the channel is just one of the, one of the wonderful things that we love to talk about, but we also need to talk about creative and with something like this, like boarding horizons, like it's all about being, using that creative element to, to make the campaign much more engaging.

Wilhelm Frank: It was definitely important, right? But I think the creativity is always, It's important that you have that the creativity connects well, perfectly well with the strategy and the goals that you have, right? Creativity of its, for its own without any connection to what you want to achieve doesn't make sense, obviously, right?

So as long as it's really directly connecting to the brief and ultimately then to your strategy and your objectives that you have, then it's really a game changer. And that was definitely A game changer here because it perfectly well connected with with our brief, with our business business situation and business challenge that we had to overcome and and with the overall partner strategy that we had as well together, also connected here with our sponsorships.

That's all our whole framework of our products and solutions, but even our sponsorship agreements the mix out of the out of. All of that was then really perfect. And with that, it was a creative approach utilizing all the different angles in a really great way to ultimately really overachieve our both marketing, but also business goals.

Jon Busby: Yeah, I think I couldn't agree more with what you say. It is, it's the same when it comes to technology. So I'm going to use, obviously being CTR, I'm going to use my technology hat here, just deploying technology or creativity for the sake of it never works. It needs to align with the outcomes that you want to achieve, which is why, this framework of attitudes, behaviors and outcomes that was applied here work, work so well.

So yes, it's always got to creative has always got to align with those with the What you pointed out here, Willie, which is the business like situation. It's one thing to align it with the outcomes, but actually to align it with everything together just. gives it a multiplier effect on its own.

We completely agree. A large proportion of Lenovo's business goes through the channel. I'm not gonna say the percentage but it's a, yeah, it's a large, it's a large amount with it being such an important focus. What channel trends, let's move away from the campaign. What are you seeing now in the channel for the next year?

Wilhelm Frank: What we see is basically a further concentration in the channel, in the IT's WeSeller segment, right? In the, so there are more more and more mergers and and yeah. Consolidations happening for several reasons, right? For business, for financial reasons, but also especially because of skill sets and capabilities, business capabilities, right?

As more and more, as you already mentioned before, more and more requests from IT decision makers are for online services, for online buying For services overall software as well and solutions in general, right? And that is the main trend. And that's why you see lots of companies now moving together the acquisitions happening, mergers happening to ensure that that that the right resources and the right strengths are pulled together.

That's what we can see. And if I may connect again, back to our campaign, that's also why this program and our whole campaign worked at well, because to a certain extent, it improves also the solution selling, selling skills of some of the partners, some of the resellers to further. Extend their positioning in the market, especially those results that are more coming from the PC side.

They were also able and especially the sales people, their employees were able to gain further skills, which they might not have Had before and that was I think also one of the recipes and the great things from the campaign and the program that we had

Jon Busby: There's a lot I want to dive into there. What skills did they learn as part of this program?

You think they wouldn't have had?

Wilhelm Frank: As part of our approach and the trainings that we had the, there was a big emphasis on on services that we have, right. Lenovo services that we offered. And in there we also had trainings around how to sell services, how to sell not only attached services like premium support and stuff like that, but also devices of service as service models overall.

But also digital workplace solutions and stuff like that. That are really not just Lenovo specific, but, provide some more background information and some more insights for a seller that they can benefit from in general, especially when they are just coming from the classical PC selling side.

Jon Busby: Can be, you agree. Do you think some of the, one trend we've seen, I think Forrester gave us this stat as well. One trend that. They've been reporting and I think you're being on the delivery end, out with a cold face, as we would say with these partners, you had a very different way of phrasing it there, which is seeing mergers and acquisitions in order to bring skill sets in.

Do you, would you say the term reseller, VAR, ISV, are they still fit for purpose or is the partner business model fundamentally changing?

Wilhelm Frank: I don't think it's fundamentally changing and we also see and also our program is not purely focused on those selling everything, selling solutions, right?

There will be still segments where they are focusing more on PCs, more on servers and those specialized partners will still remain to a certain extent, right? But yeah, the trend is just, that more, there will be more service focused and software focused resellers. So I believe the, I don't think that there's a big change in the in the reseller types that you will see, but for sure resellers yeah, software ISVs resellers will further grow.

Together with with edit value resellers, right? In, in whatever kind of way that you will see.

Jon Busby: Most partners are now listing kind of MSP or CSP is like their secondary type. So they've, they might still be a VAR or I might say, so what you're saying is these terms aren't going to go away. We're not going to, we are seeing hybrid partners, but we're not seeing just smushed together.

That's fascinating. I think this is going to be. unDerstanding that trajectory is going to be key for the next few years, because per, at the beginning of the year with everything we were seeing with the B2B buyer journey changing with cloud marketplaces, of course, becoming explodes, exploding and growth.

Now that growth is starting to temper a little, I was worried for the traditional value added reseller. They, if you're just a, if you're reselling equipment or boxes, like how do you remain relevant in this way? It's great to hear that they're taking that on board and adding new services, which I think is, was the goal of this program all along.

So if you could sum up this campaign and why it's been so successful in one sentence, what would it be?

Wilhelm Frank: I believe that the key recipe of the success of this campaign was for sure based on our longterm relationship that we have had, right? Because you knew And therefore the perfect understanding of our business requirements that we had our together with our value proposition that we had and that resonated then and resulted in a very innovative and super creative approach.

That resulted in ultimately in a great marketing, in great marketing and business outcomes, right? So that's, that was really, in my view, the the


that's, that made this campaign that successful. So really well done.

Jon Busby: I don't feel like I I'm told I have to talk about our awards.

Otherwise the marketing team hit me with a giant stick. But the, and so I, but I'm also British, so I don't like people being complimenting us. So thank you very much for that. That was really nice. If I was just to summarize some of the fantastic insight you've given us today, it is about bringing together.

Everything about a business. And I think we, we would call that togetherness here at together, which is, it's not just around here is here is an outcome, but it's the business situation. It's your existing partnerships, existing sponsorships is absolutely bringing absolutely everything in.

And the history of course, that we've had together that help. Create a single idea that is much greater than the sum of its parts. And I think that's what's really stood out for me today is that togetherness. So thank you very much Willie, for joining us on another episode of the tech marketing podcast.

It's been, you've been long overdue to join us and I really hope you get to join us. Join us again. And of course, we look forward to seeing the result of this award. I think this podcast will actually go out on the day that it's announced or the morning that it's announced, so fingers crossed. But thank you very much for joining us.

Wilhelm Frank: Thanks a lot for the invitation.

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