At channel conferences, vendor partner shows and here in the pages of CRN, we all espouse the characteristics of a good channel program: consistency, predictability, transparency and support from the very top.
A lot of vendors talk the talk, but few walk the walk. The one exception is Cisco.
Cisco has been selling predominantly through the channel for close to three decades. Eighty percent of its business goes through the channel, and it has always been a leader when it comes to forward-thinking and innovative programs. It was the first vendor to push technical specializations and, as VARs moved into these specializations, Cisco then evolved its programs and organized them around architectures. Remember, it was Cisco talking about cloud builders and cloud providers three years ago and, more recently, the company has been advocating for packaged solutions. Specifically, Cisco had the first major channel program for converged infrastructures and has been offering training and best practices around building professional services arms.
And while channel conflict is a common occurrence for other vendors that must manage an aggressive direct sales force while growing a channel, Cisco has little conflict in the field. The biggest complaint about Cisco is the pressure it exerts on its VARs to sell its complete offering and be a Cisco-only VAR.
Yet Cisco and its CEO, John Chambers, have been second-guessed time and time again. Cisco's future and hefty margins were questioned as competitors attempted to make inroads into its leadership position in the networking and infrastructure space. The industry wasn't convinced it could be successful in the server market. And while it has made mistakes (think supply chain snafus and 20-plus adjacencies), when the chips are down, Cisco has proven that it knows how to regroup, refocus and get the company back on track.
In fact, within the past year Cisco has regained significant market share in switching/routing, wireless and security. As a reflection of channel confidence, Cisco had a particularly strong showing in our Annual Report Card awards this year. It proved the naysayers wrong and took the Midrange Servers win away from the traditional hardware manufacturers as its UCS offering swept the category. In all, Cisco earned 14 awards with other sweeps in Unified Communications and Enterprise Networking Infrastructure, and awards in SMB Networking Hardware and Network Security Appliances.
So it comes as no surprise that when we met with Chambers for an hour earlier this month, he was confident and more aggressive than in previous interviews. He touched on the competition, which he said is remarkably weaker now than it was two years ago. He mentioned Juniper's recent layoff announcement and seemed less concerned about Huawei as a threat to Cisco's hold on the switching and routing market.
Instead, he was almost chastising those critics and priding himself on Cisco's transparency and accuracy in predicting broader IT trends. Instead of looking back, today he seems to be preparing for the future, trying to make for a seamless transition for the next CEO -- a tall order considering he has been the personification of Cisco for 17 years.
But as Chambers says, Cisco knows market transitions and has proven the industry wrong more than once. If Chambers continues to execute like he is today, he may ride off into the sunset as one of the greatest high-tech executives of our time.
BACKTALK: Kelley Damore is SVP, Editorial Director for UBM Channel. You can reach her via e-mail at email@example.com.