Panasonic reshapes product portfolio and channel enablement to push deeper into new rugged device markets

Panasonic has made major changes to its product set and its channel go-to-market mechanisms in order to better expand in enterprise markets outside their rugged PC stronghold.

Brandon Williams, Director, U.S. Mobility Channel, at Panasonic

WASHINGTON D.C. – Panasonic is the market leader in the rugged PC space. Panasonic, is, however a relatively minor player in the markets for enterprise rugged tablets and rugged handheld devices, where form factor has been more of an issue. The company is looking to change that, however. They just introduced new product that they believe will make them much more competitive in these segments. They have also overhauled their channel management policies to enhance efficiency. Panasonic is at the CompTIA ChannelCon event here this week.

“In the fully rugged space we are the market leader, with greater than 50 per cent  share,” said Brandon Williams, Director, U.S. Mobility Channel, at Panasonic. “However, in the enterprise space, where the devices are less rugged, we have a much lower market share because we haven’t had the devices to compete.”

Panasonic made a major move to address the device issue a week ago, when they held a major launch for two entirely new devices.  The Toughbook T1 has a thin, smartphone form factor with a 5-inch screen and narrow bezels, but is a durable enterprise device. The Toughbook L1 is a 7-inch model with a landscape format aimed at the tablet market.

“We are moving into other markets where we aren’t strong, and for that, we can’t have big bulky devices,” Williams said. “That won’t work in the enterprise, which is impacted much more by consumer trends than our core rugged market. The new L1 and T1 devices are geared to that space. With the L1, this is the first time ever that we have had a form factor that meets enterprise tablet needs at all.”

In addition to the new product, Panasonic has also made changes to their channel programs. In terms of partner count, the change is basically that the number of partners has been trimmed, in order to provide more support to the better performers. They have two different programs. The Edge program, which used to be the Rugged Handheld program, was split out in July 2017 and has 92 partners. The Advantage program, for mobile PCs – and now tablets, has 160 partners, down from 218 last year.

“We are right-sizing the channel right now to go deeper with the ones who do the most business with us, and pruned the ones who didn’t do much business with us the last two or three years,” Williams said. “We think we will do more with fewer, but stronger, partners. In our traditional rugged market where we have a commanding market share, most of the partners we would want to recruit are already selling our products. However, in these newer markets for us, we are looking to selectively recruit new partners. You never turn down very strategic new partners, but we are looking to find partners already active in those spaces in the new areas where we don’t have much of a presence.”

The changes to the channel itself have been paralleled by complementary changes to the reseller and distribution channel-management teams designed to improve alignment

“In the past, we had separate Panasonic and channel management teams which were two separate entities that functioned together, Williams indicated. “It wasn’t holistic at all. We made good changes to the channel itself, but this year we will work better together. By bringing the teams together, it reduces lead times. We can also do demand planning based on specific needs by resellers instead of on agendas identified by our sales organizations. In the past, we have been told that we don’t provide inventory in the channel that’s ready to go. This will drive that, so we won’t take 4-6 weeks any more to get product, when the channel says that our competitors did it in 2 weeks. This is a big priority this year.”

Panasonic is also looking to hear more from the channel at the ChannelCon event.

“When we relaunched our channel program and hired two channel teams one for Advantage and one for Edge,” Williams said. “Since then, we have been playing a more active role with CompTIA. We have two objectives. First, we are constantly looking for ways to enhance our program and make it more attractive for partners, and we listen to what other vendors are doing here, as well as what partners are saying, Frankly, we are here to steal good ideas. If there are partners who have good ideas, or markets which might be a fit where he haven’t been before, we can find that out at an event like this.”