Cisco Systems is drawing a line in the sand and showing that it recognizes the importance of the channel and will rely on and invest in it even more throughout this period of economic uncertainty.
Case in point: The networking giant recently promoted its North American channel chief, Wendy Bahr, making her a senior vice president of U.S. and Canada channels. The promotion comes roughly a year after Bahr was named vice president of U.S. and Canada channels, a position she filled in January 2008 after it was vacated by Chuck Robins. Bahr is the first woman to hold the North American channel chief post at Cisco.
Throughout her nearly eight-year career at Cisco, which she joined on the sales side before jumping in the channel four years ago, Bahr has had a hand in growing Cisco into a company where roughly 80 percent of products and services go through the channel. Before taking on the role of North American channel chief, Bahr spent two years as vice president of U.S. field channels for Cisco. Previously, she was Cisco's vice president of U.S. commercial sales, leading the vendor's U.S. SMB channel business.
Before joining Cisco's channel team, Bahr spent about five years as an operations director within Cisco's field organization. Prior to Cisco, Bahr spent 10 years with Verizon, most recently as sales director for its enterprise sales group.
"What a wonderful opportunity for me to grow my own personal career and a wonderful opportunity to expand my experience," she said, adding that shifting to the channel helped her learn more about the company.
Since taking the lead of U.S. and Canada channels, Bahr has worked diligently to protect the delicate and complex balance between direct and channel sales and foster a strong level of communication, while also working to understand the impact of the channel on Cisco as a whole.
"Our partners' success is Cisco's success," Bahr said.
In her new role, Bahr has vowed to continue keeping an eye on partner profitability and to reward partners' investments in value-add, while also ensuring that channel partner programs and their execution are designed for mutual success.
Bahr has consistently maintained an open, two-way dialogue with partners and has created flexible programs that morph to partners' needs. That was evidenced by Cisco's 2007 launch of its Select certification for SMB partners, a level between Registered and Premier that is now 2,000 members strong and a certification in which Bahr played a strong role in getting off the ground.
"There did seem to be a growing need for specifications and certifications in the SMB market," she said. "This offers a new route to market."
Bahr was also instrumental in launching Cisco's Virtual Channel Advisory Board, a group that meets via Cisco TelePresence to hash out issues and concerns without requiring board members to eat the expense of travel and time spent on the road.
Bahr is also working toward building a more scalable and collaborative channel, where partners work together across their core competencies to score bigger deals. The collaborative channel initiative, she said, will continue well into 2009 and beyond to help Cisco's channel and sales teams work closely with solution providers.
"My vision moving forward is a more collaborative channel; take it broader," she said, adding that Cisco is working to foster Cisco-to-partner, partner-to-customer and partner-to-partner relationships.
And while Bahr's title implies that she works only in the U.S. and Canada, she said that in her new role she will work closely with the global channel team.
"I'll continue to represent partners' needs and growth opportunities and become more engaged from a global perspective," she said. "As the world continues to flatten and the multinational opportunities continue for partners we want to make sure to promote a global effort."
Bahr said the promotion is still sinking in and she looks forward to further broadening her channel horizons.
"We have a very robust, complex channel, and that's what makes it fun and exciting," she said.