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I got an unexpected and curious letter the other day from John Thompson, vice president and general manager, Solution Partner Organization – Americas, at Hewlett-Packard. Actually, it was addressed to Pedro Pereira of our Channel Insider staff, and I was merely cc’ed on it. But still, it does appear to have come directly from the desk of Mr. Thompson. It even has his return e-mail address.

Now I know that I have been a bit hard on HP and its channel message over the past year, and I believe for good reason. However, I must say hearing directly from Thompson himself outlining the strides HP has made in the past year in its channel programs really piqued my interest. The thought that it may be a form letter sent to a slew of us tech journalists never even crossed my mind (wink, wink).

Regardless, while I am sticking to my guns that HP has made some wrong turns this year as it relates to its channel relationships, the company does seem to have gone the extra mile as of late to reach out to channel partners and create programs with more opportunities than downside. With that in mind I turned to Thompson’s letter with a somewhat optimistic and curious eye.

First off, let me say that I always like a proactive approach as opposed to a reactive one. The letter sent to me by Thompson demonstrates the executive and the company are looking to proactively get the word out about what they accomplished this year as it relates to reseller relationships and programs. That offensive makes good business sense.

Thompson has been heading HP’s Solution Partner Organization in America for about a year. He claims through the company’s third fiscal quarter, it has experienced “healthy growth” in its channel business “with HP Americas now delivering seven consecutive quarters of year-over-year growth in channel partner revenues.”

He emphasized how HP achieved this by having its Solution Partner team conduct more than 1,000 one-on-one meetings with its channel partners. “The common thread in those conversations was a simple truth: It’s all about relationships,” the letter states. I couldn’t agree more, and I have been hammering this drum forever. To its credit, HP has been engaging its channel partners more during the past few months after sending mixed signals earlier in the year. Thompson deserves kudos for that. Managing damage control is never an enviable position, but Thompson and his team seem to have turned a corner here.

In addition to saying how important the channel is to HP’s future plans, Thompson outlined what he believes have been strides in improving partner relationships. And on these accounts, again I have to agree.

The changes to its PartnerOne structure with its new Network Tool make it easier for VARs to sell and bundle HP products, and by adding more products into the mix, HP may even be helping VARs increase their margins a bit. This of course is always welcome.

Thompson again explained HP CEO and President Mark Hurd’s stance on having partners commit more to selling and servicing HP solutions, saying, “The more opportunities there will be for them to add greater value and improve business growth.”

He also gave a little insight into what HP is planning on doing in the next few months regarding its channel programs and on paper, or at least my computer screen, and it sounds like moves in the right direction.

Is HP VAR partners’ collective patience running short? Click here to read Elliot Markowitz’s column.

“As we move into our fiscal 2006, which begins next month, we’ll continue our focus on the high-growth SMB segment, which is highly dependent on services and solutions delivered through the channel. HP’s differentiator in this competitive market is our reseller network with 90 percent of HP’s SMB sales worldwide going through channel partners,” Thompson stated.

And with regard to the enterprise segment, HP appears to be finalizing a plan that aligns its Technology Solutions Group U.S. alliances and partner sales team with those channel partners focused on enterprise products as of Nov. 1. Getting these two organizations working together without cannibalizing each other’s business is the key to success here. We’ll see how this turns out.

Thompson summed up his intentions by stating that as HP moves into the next year the company is focused on driving profitable growth and opportunity for its partners; leveraging its innovation with its partners to deliver solutions and technology for customers; and continuing to demonstrate its commitment to partners in exchange for their loyalty and commitment to HP.

“As we head into 2006, I’m focused on strengthening core partner relationships. I believe we at HP are more invested in that success than any other company in the industry,” Thompson stated.

That, to me, sounds like a solid commitment to the channel. And I have it in writing.

Elliot Markowitz is editor at large at The Channel Insider. He is also editorial director of Ziff Davis Media eSeminars. He can be reached at