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Cisco Systems is continuing its march downstream with changes to its channel program that could add 10,000 SMB-focused solution providers to its Certified Partner ranks and is also rolling out a new VoIP system for 16 or fewer users.
The push comes as part of Cisco's stepped-up focus and investment in the SMB space as the company drives to gain more market share there, said Keith Goodwin, senior vice president of worldwide channels for Cisco, during a press conference Tuesday at the Cisco Partner Summit in Las Vegas.
"We do over $1.5 billion currently within the SMB space. However, our market share within the SMB is significantly less than all of the other customer segments we participate in," Goodwin said.
At the conference, Cisco unveiled plans to add a new fourth tier to Cisco's Certified Partner program, its first new certification in 10 years. The new Select partner tier will become the entry-level certification for the program, which currently includes Premier, Silver and Gold badges. It fills the gap that currently exists between Premier and lower-end Registered partners, which have to do little more than sign up to begin working with the networking vendor.
As a result, Cisco expects to admit close to 10,000 Registered partners to its Certified Partner ranks over the next three to five years, giving them access its full breadth of training, sales resources, rebates and incentives for the first time, said Andrew Sage, senior director of worldwide channels marketing at Cisco, San Jose, Calif.
The 5,000 current members of Cisco's SMB Select program -- a marketing initiative launched in 2004 to help recruit and support small-business focused partners -- will have six months to meet the requirements of the new specialization. Some 4,200 SMB Select partners come from Cisco's Registered Partner ranks, with the rest coming from the Premier level of the Certified Partner program, Sage said. Cisco's 30,000 worldwide
"What we need to do is double the number of partners that have verified [SMB] capabilities, and we want to triple the amount of business the average partner in the community does with us," Sage said.
Solution providers said the new certification level will bring them tighter ties with the vendor.
"It's a no-brainer for us," said Martin Gendell, principal at Apogee Technology Services, a Cisco Registered and SMB Select partner in Alexandria, Va., of the new Select certification. "I wouldn't say we felt like an orphaned step-child, but it's nice to have a more formal recognition that we do cater to the SMB market, and also from Cisco that they are taking it seriously."
It makes sense for Cisco to pursue the SMB opportunity through a fresh set of partners, said Dana Zahka, president and CEO of Select, a Cisco Gold partner in Canton, Mass. "The investment for us in our Gold status is so large that it's difficult for us to go after the SMB space," Zahka said.
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