Cisco's Unified Computing System (UCS) is by nature a disruptive data center product -- one that Cisco's distributors and VARs acknowledge requires a convincing conversation to sell top customer executives on the idea of replacing their existing data center infrastructure with Cisco's architectural vision.
Acknowledging that it takes a little something extra to make that conversation happen, Comstor, the division of Westcon Group that houses the distributor's Cisco business, has in place a program called Executive Relevance Selling (ERS), which teaches sales associates how to engage customers in those types of business conversations.
The idea, according to Comstor, is that data center sales in the cloud era now involve CEO, CIO and CFO-level executives, not just IT workers making procurement decisions. ERS teaches VARs how to engage with the high-level decision makers, as well as create demand generation activities and model return-on-investment scenarios specific to a customer's situation.
Comstor's thought is that as Cisco pushes more responsibility for customer leads to VARs -- through it's much-touted Cisco "partner led" initiative -- it's the distributors that have to pick up the slack with value-add training programs on the more sophisticated product lines.
"If we're going to grow our partners beyond a pick-pack-and-ship mentality, and in turn grow the Cisco business, we need to focus on building a specialty practice," said Andy Banks, vice president, North America at Comstor. "It's a scaleability issue for Cisco, because it's very expensive for them to have a direct relationship with the partner. As they move toward partner-led and the [solutions selling], they're relying heavily on distribution."
The program has been favorably reviewed by the 40-or-so VARs that have been through the training so far, which include about 500 individual sales professionals, Banks said. What's more, ERS has also attracted Cisco's attention -- the networking titan is now using Comstor's program for training its own global Data Center go-to-market team, teaching those Cisco sales specialists the most effective ways to sell UCS and have that data center revamp conversation with prospects.
"Everything is now being elevated to the executive suite," said David McNicholas, director of strategic business development for Comstor. "So how do you use that to drive market share around UCS? ERS focuses on process improvement, and when you take the innovation Cisco has put in UCS and talk about it with that process improvement engine we have with ERS, you're empowered."
"The speeds and feeds conversation is a 10-year-old model of sale," added Banks. "Budgets are tight now, data centers are being consolidated. The technology is not the leading driver, the end-user business problem is the leading driver."
Comstor just launched ERS for VBlock -- the pre-assembled data center configuration comprising Cisco, EMC and VMware products -- and also for Cisco Contact Center products. There are program modules related to other Cisco technologies, as well as the various, pre-configured ways of selling UCS, such as with Vblock, and with FlexPod, the version that uses NetApp storage technology.
ERS further includes specialized audits and other tools, as well as direct-upload integration with Cisco's corporate SIRE system for tracking network assessments.
To use ERS, Comstor VARs pay a one-time cost of $2,500 per license. They need to be certified on Cisco's B-series UCS products and also sell virtualization to qualify for the program.
Comstor Worldwide, which was formed by consolidating Westcon's various Cisco-centric Comstor business units in 2009, represents about 50 percent of Westcon's roughly $4 billion revenue pie and accounts for about $700 million in the U.S.