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In a world where most of the bread and butter IT products that the majority of solution providers in the channel sell have become a commodity, it’s clear that in order to compete against mass market retailers and online e-commerce sites there needs to be a reason to engage a solution provider that goes beyond features and price.

Left to their own devices customers will continue to do as they have always done unless someone directly engages with them to show them how IT can be used to make their organization more productive. That means instead of selling products, solution providers need to sell an experience that improves the way the customer works.

In the wake of the consolidation of its printer and PC groups Hewlett-Packard today took its first tentative steps in that general direction with the launch of 80 new printer and PC products. The channel generally welcomes new products from a major vendor such as HP. But in an age where PC and printer products are increasingly viewed as commodities, competing on price has been especially problematic for HP partners.

At the same time, however, it’s increasingly clear that companies such as Apple are having success selling an experience. That experience is clearly anchored around a few core products, but it’s still a unique experience that creates most of the interest in Apple’s product line. HP’s goal is to create a similar experience across its PC and printer products with a special emphasis on improving workflow in an age where mobile computing devices have complicated the everyday workflow experience.

Mitigating that complexity should give solution providers aligned with HP something to sell that goes beyond pushing the latest new product. Of course, the HP story in this regard is still a work in progress. But the latest HP printers do serve to highlight the potential benefits of a unified workflow experience based on simply reducing the number of steps required to print and email a file regardless of the mobile computing or PC device involved.

As John Solomon, senior vice president for imaging and printing in the new HP Printing and Personal Systems Group, puts it, rather than having a race to the bottom HP is trying to create not only opportunities to sell higher margin products, but also create consulting opportunities surrounding, for example, the digitalization of paper records.

The challenge facing HP is that this is a high touch sell. It really requires solution providers to physically show potential customers how these products and technologies can enhance their workday experience in a way that actually improves productivity. It remains to be seen how much air cover HP can provide the channel in terms of getting that message out. HP historically has been an engineering company that expects customers to discover the merits of its products on their own.

HP, of course, has been trying for years to get the channel to tell a “better together” story by providing incentives that are designed to induce solution providers into bundling HP PC and peripherals. The good news is rather than trying to force that to happen via coercion in the channel HP seems to be putting more effort into giving customers a reason to actually want to do that. The consolidation of the printer and PC divisions, adds Solomon, should be seen as a way to reduce costs in a way that frees up the funds needed to actually make that happen.