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Lenovo chairman Yang Yuanqing says the company during 2006 will roll out a much more sophisticated approach to selling products that will encompass the best elements of the direct and indirect sales models.

According to Yuanqing, Lenovo will seek to work with partners to service its best customers in a way that allows it to own the relationship with the customer, handle the paperwork and deliver built-to-order products directly while partners in this segment focus more of their efforts on integration and service.

But in the SMB (small and midsize business) space, Lenovo intends to work more closely with distributors and channel partners that will own the paperwork and delivery process in addition to handling integration and service opportunities. Within that model, Lenovo is seeking to have some direct touch with customers so that it can more efficiently manage inventory levels in the channel.

“The most important thing is for everybody to clearly understand each other’s roles,” he said.

Lenovo has launched a simplified model of the PartnerWorld program it inherited from IBM. Click here to read more.

Customer information, said Yuanqing, is crucial if Lenovo is going to be successful against Dell and Hewlett-Packard because Lenovo is the only major PC manufacturer that not only manufactures its own products but also brings new innovations to market.

Lenovo’s competitors, he said, either don’t invest in innovation and simply follow market demand, or rely on other companies to manufacture their products, which gives them a lot less control over their supply chain.

“Only Lenovo does innovation and manufacturing across our major competitors,” said Yuanqing. “We can manage the value chain ourselves.”

By working more closely with distributors, Lenovo hopes to be able to rapidly access customer data about changing market dynamics to bring the right products to market at the right time in order to give solution providers an edge over Dell and HP, he said.

Clay Ryder, executive vice president of The Sageza Group in Union City, Calif., said Lenovo may find a sweet spot in the market by bringing out “upper middle class” machines that are not as feature-rich as existing ThinkPads, but which still offer features that are attractive to people willing to pay a slight premium over less feature-rich PCs from Dell and HP.

“I think Lenovo has a real opportunity in the professional consumer space,” said Ryder.

As part of its overall effort to reach out to more solution providers in the SMB space, Lenovo this week expanded its partner network offering.