As Cisco transitions leadership of its Worldwide Partner Organization (WWPO) from Keith Goodwin to Bruce Klein later this summer, Cisco solution providers crave continuity in not only Cisco's various channel programs but also the type of regular communication they were used to under Goodwin's reign.
Partners interviewed by CRN this week urged Klein to use the fresh energy he brings from outside the WWPO -- Klein is currently senior vice president, U.S. public sector theater -- to continue the good work happening inside it.
"Keith provided a tremendous amount of stability in a business world going through lots and lots of change," said Harry Zarek, president and CEO of Compugen, a Richmond Hill, Ontario-based solution provider. "He's a tremendous listener and also has tremendous empathy for the channel. So it's a loss, because he provided a very steady hand. But Cisco is a great company with a lot great people and I'm sure it will continue in the tradition of Keith and the folks that came before him."
"I think he always approached things as a good listener -- and always with an open mind," said Jere Brown, CEO, Americas, of integrator giant Dimension Data. "A lot of the partner-led-type initiatives were driven under his leadership, and we appreciate what he's done and the team he's built to drive the partnering strategy."
Goodwin spent parts of Monday and Tuesday calling on top Cisco Gold partners, according to several solution providers he spoke with.
"He has a lot of appreciation for the channel and I have all the respect in the world for Keith, who you'll remember had big shoes to walk into after Paul [Mountford] moved into a different role," said Kent MacDonald, vice president of business development for Long View Systems, a top North America integrator based in Calgary, Alberta. "He was always listening and asking, 'OK, what is the problem?' and reacting to that, and he executed."
Waheed Choudhry, president and COO of Nexus Integration Services, a Valencia, Calif.-based solution provider, said the best thing Klein can do right away is assure partners he'll maintain the good things Goodwin brought to channel management. That his core team, including Edison Peres, senior vice president, worldwide channels, will remain in place is a plus.
"In any major transition there will be angst and hesitation, and questions about will there be major changes in the way that Cisco approaches the partner community," Choudhry said. "So I think first and foremost, [Klein] needs a strong message that Cisco remains committed to the partner programs and is committed to investing and evolving those programs to maintain the profitability. As quick as that message can be solidified, you'll get immediate results."
"We need him to execute on what we heard and maintain continuity in the partner programs," Long View's MacDonald said. "I think we all came away from Partner Summit excited -- it was the best Partner Summit in my memory."
Dimension Data's Brown said Goodwin's strength is the value he placed on receiving partner feedback and then governing how that feedback was shared and acted upon within Cisco. The regular Cisco Partner Executive Exchange (CPEE) meetings -- gatherings of top Cisco solution providers in an open networking forum with channel leaders and a range of other Cisco executives -- are one of several Cisco channel institutions that have proven valuable, Brown said.
"You can provide feedback but if you don't turn it into actionable items, it doesn't do much good," Brown said. "Keith built an organization that was willing to listen and also drive partnership with separate Cisco organizations important to partners, like Cisco services."
NEXT: Cisco's Klein No Stranger To Partners
Compugen's Zarek said Klein has been visible at CPEE meetings and other Cisco partner events and understands solution providers. He urged Klein to maintain the focus on Cisco Services and the evolving partner-led initiative, which were the showpiece announcements at Cisco Partner Summit in April.
"I think he has a good sense of the temperature of the channel, and what our priority focuses are," Zarek said. "What the question will be is are we in a mode of moving to more simplification in the channel organization or more depth. Right now it's June, their fiscal year ends in July, so we're not really going to get any perspective until they're well into their new year. But partner-led is critical, what they're doing with services is critical, and I assume they will continue to be supported and receive continuous attention."
Partner-led, into which Cisco has invested some $75 million in new channel resources, ostensibly drives more midmarket and SMB sales of Cisco products and services through solution providers, giving the channel more of a lead opportunity for a segment that accounts for $10 billion of Cisco's overall revenue pie.
Meanwhile, the Cisco Services Partner Program (CSPP) -- unveiled at Partner Summit -- consolidates almost 50 different global services programs into one, reworked umbrella program to better serve Cisco partners as they go after the roughly $200 billion opportunity in more automated, more streamlined services delivery.
Zarek sees both programs as ways in which Cisco is creating more opportunity for partner value-add while aiming to take costs out of the sales cycle.
"The ultimate measure of success will be sales cost reduction, and the ability to cover a larger set of customers at that lower cost," Zarek explained. "You've got to be putting processes together with technology and market intelligence, and it has to work for partners on the value side. In effect what Cisco is doing is funding partner innovation."
Gary Berzack, COO and CTO of eTribeca, a New York-based solution provider, urged Klein to take a long look at Cisco's commercial RFP process as well as continue to streamline the various channel incentive programs and look at ways to foster more partnership between elite Cisco Gold partners and the broader Cisco community.
But clarity and visibility will help Klein most in his early days in the role, Berzack insisted.
"I'd urge Bruce to focus on no more than three big priorities and to do them really well," Berzack said. "Publish your agenda to clients and partners. Publicize it. Make it clear."
Dimension Data's Brown urged similar openness.
"Spend time with the partners -- not just the big partners but a cross-section of partners, especially in the different geographies," he said. "I don't think they're going to be making major changes or that there are any earth-shattering things he needs to do. Bruce is a known entity; many partners already know him. So in their fiscal year 2013, he can clearly continue to articulate and share Cisco's direction and where partners expect to fit into all of that."