In the last three years, IBM has built a loyal following in the channel by working to eliminate conflict between its direct business and partner sales.
So when the Armonk, N.Y.-based computing giant said in December it is selling its Personal Computing Division to Chinese manufacturer Lenovo Group Ltd., channel partners worried.
They worried that the advances IBM had made in building solid channel partnerships might be undone, and they worried that they would be forced to deal with a company about which they knew very little.
However, as IBM prepares to make the sale final before the end of this quarter, partners say they now feel a lot better about the change.
This is because most of the channel team from the PC group is moving to Lenovo and the executives who will be in charge of partner relationships are promising that the channel strategy will not change.
VARs and distributors also are hopeful that Lenovo will integrate its own low-cost and reputedly well-engineered products with the IBM line, giving them low-priced quality products they can use to fend off direct-selling vendors such as Dell Inc. and Gateway Inc.
"I do think that Lenovo has a good shot at being successful in growing the business due to their low-cost manufacturing and the intense focus they bring to the business," said Steve Raymund, chairman and chief executive at distributor Tech Data Corp.
As of now Lenovo sells no products in North America, and the company has not disclosed what it plans to do with Lenovo-branded products here after completing its purchase of the IBM PC business.
Greg Spierkel, the co-president of distributor Ingram Micro Inc., who will soon take over as chief executive, is hopeful about the prospects. "There's an interesting opportunity for us in maybe getting access to Lenovo product," he said.
Details of any Lenovo brand plans will come after the deal is sealed, said Stephen Mungall, the IBM vice president in charge of distribution who will run direct and channel sales for the Americas at Lenovo.
"Will there be Lenovo-brand machines? The expectation is high that there will be but there is no definitive answer now," Mungall said.
Pete Peterson, vice president of systems and software product marketing at Tech Data, said he believes Lenovo's priority when it starts integrating the IBM PC group will be taking costs out of manufacturing and delivery processes. Only after that is accomplished should we expect to see Lenovo bring its own machines to North America.
Next Page: Lenovo will keep the Think brand.