In North America, this is likely going to be a tough year for anyone selling just about anything into the U.S., because both companies and consumers will have fewer dollars to spend. What consumers and IT buyers are likely to favor is anything that saves them money.
On the consumer side, another potential benefit to the PC segment is that while people are cutting back on travel and driving, they seem to be increasing their use of the Web for entertainment and communication. This would mean that messaging that surrounded increased entertainment value and power conservation would resonate with consumers. For IT, a broader expense-reducing argument should shift buying behavior. Dell, HP and Lenovo are all solidly on the conservation path but Lenovo did something a little different. It put a finance guy in to run sales.
The Power of "Leveling"
Back when I took my own sales training, one of the lessons that stuck with me was the power of "leveling." This is where you match the demeanor, background, and skill set of the person doing the selling with the person they are selling to. Increasingly this year and moving into the next, the person you are really selling in an IT purchase is the CFO, who is desperately looking for ways to spend money intelligently to improve his corporation's bottom-line performance. This means he or she is focused solidly on economic benefits. This doesn't mean that green and other initiatives won't be important, but compared to saving money in a hard year, they will likely be less critical in North America.
Given this problem, the best person to craft the sales messaging, help create training programs, and personally close large enterprise business would be someone with a strong accounting background. Someone who is used to talking to CFOs in their own language so that the message had the highest probability of resonating.
And that is exactly who, six months ago, Lenovo put in to head its Americas sales organization.
My Interview with Scott
I spent this morning chatting with Scott DiValerio, the senior vice president and president of the Lenovo Americas group. I had met him years earlier during my quarterly finance calls with Microsoft when he was the corporate vice president of finance and administration and chief accounting officer. I think few can argue that from an accounting standpoint, Microsoft has historically been very well run. Prior to Microsoft, Scott had worked at The Walt Disney Company, one of the best-run companies in the world, and spent around 15 years at PricewaterhouseCoopers, where he would have come into contact with CFOs globally.
For the last six months, Scott has been systematically improving the efficiency of Lenovo's sales organization, which you would expect from someone with his background. He has brought in heavy hitters from AMD and Sony/Ericsson to improve both corporate and consumer efforts. In chatting with Scott, who questioned me about my outlook for the coming months as much as I questioned him, it struck me that he was in an ideal place and that Bill Amelio, Lenovo's ex-Dell CEO, has shown incredible insight by choosing someone who has a finance background to run a unit that will be selling mostly on a finance message for the next couple of years.
In hard times like the ones that North America is in, traditional sales organizations can get into trouble because they over-aggressively try to game the incentive system and/or bypass company policy to record unprofitable deals or make promises the company doesn't agree with and can't stand behind. Sales typically lives from quarter to quarter, but to address a problem like the one we currently have, the solution needs to be strategic; tactical rule bending can create catastrophic problems for the vendor and the customer.
In the end, Scott came across as capable and uniquely qualified to address both the leveling opportunity and prevent the normal misbehavior that often occurs inside sales organizations at times like these. I remain impressed with Bill Amelio's strategic moves.
Interesting way to start the week.