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Throughout its restructuring, Cisco also went wider and deeper with partner expertise. While describing collaboration as a potential $42 billion market opportunity, for example, Cisco made significant updates to its collaboration and business video portfolios, including last month's update to the Jabber platform.
It also continued to bolster its services capabilities, winning raves for the lucrative professional services programs it set aside for partners under Collaborative Professional Services and other offerings. And it offered more resources for specialized partners playing in particularly enticing markets. For example, Cisco launched an Advanced specialization and a CCNA specific to solution providers selling Cisco products to second-, third- and fourth-tier carriers and service providers.
But it's the structural changes that are paying the most dividends for most Cisco partners.
"Cisco has evolved -- we see the engine as finely tuned now," said John Convery, executive vice president, vendor relations and marketing, at Denali Advanced Integration, a Redmond, Wash.-based solution provider. "Our growth for Cisco in 2011 was substantial -- almost triple-digit and definitely high double-digit growth. They've spent a lot of time lately understanding what can drive growth and we've seen them make heavy investments in training and awareness. They're putting a lot of wood behind the arrow."
Denali achieved Cisco Gold partner status for the first time this year, notching Cisco Advanced specializations in UC, routing and switching, security and wireless LAN, and integrating Cisco Lifecycle Services into its offerings.
Cisco is engaging more partners like Denali that can sell beyond its core networking technologies and focus on more than one strategic area, Convery said, adding that Cisco in the past year has spent more time with Denali doing joint road map, account mapping and long-term planning.
"Everything they're doing is with a sense of urgency, from the demand generation to the training and how they bring deals to partners," Convery said. "They are investing heavily in the convergence model, and you saw that focus before, but you didn't always see this type of laser-focus on how to do that with strategic partners, at least not with us."
AVI-SPL, the Tampa, Fla.-based A/V integrator and national videoconferencing powerhouse, became more tightly aligned with Cisco following its 2010 acquisition of Tandberg.
While it took Cisco a long time to align its go-to-market strategy with major Tandberg partners that weren't used to such a crowded channel or sizable vendor organization, it has shown willingness to be a good partner, said Mike Brandofino, executive vice president, video and unified communications, at AVI-SPL.
"With Cisco, you have to learn their culture and how they address customers. Our dilemma early on was that we sell so much to the Fortune 500 and those are Cisco's lead accounts, so you find yourself needing to partner up with their elite sales reps," he said. "We do that because we have to do it and we've been successful.
"They are listening," Brandofino added. "They are taking the time to listen to us and ask questions. We have quarterly executive-level discussions to see how progress is going, and it is getting easier."
"Cisco is our go-to-partner," said Robert Betzel, president of Macon, Ga.-based Infinity Network Solutions, which embraced Cisco wholeheartedly about four years ago when things began to look shaky for former vendor partner 3Com. "Cisco seems to have settled out some of the concerns about changing their headcount, and their SMB focus is also settled. I still think they are trying to bear the SMB market out and how exactly they want to serve it -- they've tried a lot of stuff out -- but they're still an innovative company."
Betzel agreed that Cisco had done a good job building its SMB credibility, even if channel conflict hasn't completely gone away.
"There's still a concern that there will be that conflict in the field," Betzel said. "It doesn't happen to us so much, but I do hear from other partners I know who are afraid to take deals to Cisco because they don't want [the reps] to take the deal from underneath them. There are always things they can do to make partners strategically align to them. But we continue to add more and more with Cisco."
Several of Cisco's most important recent initiatives, including partner-led, squarely target the SMB and midmarket segments. In addition to various partner-led-related channel incentives, Cisco in the past year has broadened its portfolio to include SMB-focused Telepresence -- a hosted video service known as Callway -- and a managed services option called OnPlus. More partner-led programs, including a rumored midmarket-focused initiative, are expected to be unveiled at Partner Summit next week.
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