After 15 years with Sony, Vince Hanning is close to witnessing a full turn of the wheel. Joining the consumer giant when it made its major push into the IT space with its Unix workstation, Hanning is now witnessing a return to his origins, overseeing Sony's push into the business solutions space. As national sales manager, Hanning has been responsible for moving the channel behind Sony's new strategy for the corporate and government sectors. Using the Vaio notebook as a wedge, Sony hopes to open up the market for the rest of its converged offering, and prove that it is more than just the darling of the retail space.
ARN: Your current role is focused on sales, yet you began your career on the technical side of the IT business. Do techies make good salesmen?
Vince Hanning (VH): In lots of situations, yes, because they are quite methodical about how they go about business. The big thing is to leave the technical role behind and give it to someone else, but to still use those processes of going through things methodically and leaving a lot of the language behind.
What are the current challenges facing Sony as it moves into the business solutions market?
VH: The big challenge for the business solutions division is in establishing ourselves as a business partner. People know Sony as a retail vendor with a strong retail channel, so over the past eight months we have restructured ourselves to better focus on business, hence the creation of the Sony Business Solutions division.
How does the business view of Sony differ from retail?
VH: When a retail customer walks into a store and buys a Sony product there is a sense of a personal relationship. We are trying to recreate that in the business arena and have created a number of business development roles. This becomes the human face of Sony Business Solutions then drives the business back through the channel.
Business customers are approached differently and expect as much of a one on one relationship as possible with Sony. We need to drive efficiencies, which is where the channel comes in for the supply of solutions. My role is looking after channel sales.
How does the Sony channel model differ from other companies?
VH: Our model is influenced by the range of products we do - everything from humble consumables trough to complex audio and product gear with lots of IT and AV in the middle. We are not really focused on product sets, but more on who buys them, and for us that's a business buyer.
Why has Sony not gone after this business before?
VH: We have been going after it but in a less structured way. For example, through our distribution business which we have been driving for 12 years, or through our AV, broadcast and production channel for longer than that. We've really just stepped back to find the best way to go forward, and that was to structure ourselves around the most efficient way to address an end-user. The channel is a big part of it because, in my division, it is responsible for 75 per cent of sales.
What initiatives have you overseen this year?
VH: The main thing we have rolled out this year is the introduction of Vaio to the reseller community, where previously it was purely a retail strategy. That was part of the start of a corporate business strategy. The Vaio is a core item in the sense that you sell in the one product, they get comfortable with it and the brand, then you can sell in complementary products.
We have also tried to educate the channel on not being product centric. We are telling them to think a little bit broader when providing a core item. What else is complementary that you can sell at the time or later because you have established a relationship?
How about over the coming year?
VH: We are six months into a change and this doesn't just happen. We need to make it work through critical review and modification. Over the next twelve months we will be working with channel partners to make sure we have all the interaction right, that they are skilled up to a level that's appropriate for their business. We will also keep working away at customers in government and corporate to make sure they are after Sony product. In some areas we are ahead of the game, but we really need to get our heads around how to provide the channel with the expertise they need to manage convergence. It needs to come across to the end-user, that while they are not experts at everything, they know what they claim to know.
What do you feel you've achieved in your 15 years at Sony?
VH: I didn't go into working with the company with the famous five-year plan, but with this kind of role it is always about the next challenge. That is what sales people and sales managers do - I'm getting close to this goal, so what's the next one? If you think that you have made your goal and you can relax, then maybe you're not doing the job you should be doing.