Partners And Priorities: Cisco's Channel Chief Talks Exclusively To CRN


As Bruce Klein succeeded Keith Goodwin atop Cisco's Worldwide Partner Organization a few months ago, Cisco partners told CRN they wanted continuity and consistency: two hallmarks of what remains one of the industry's most highly regarded channel programs.

To hear Klein tell it, that's exactly what partners are going to get, along with a continued evolution that aligns Cisco's tens of thousands of solution providers and integrators with major Cisco priorities in cloud, data center, video and software-defined networking.

It's a big job for Klein, who most recently was Cisco's senior vice president, U.S. public sector. He's spent the past few months in "listening mode," meeting with Cisco partners at forums such as Cisco's Partner Executive Exchange (CPEE) to set strategy in the WWPO.

 

[Related: The 10 Biggest Cisco Stories of 2012]

Klein recently joined CRN Editor-at-Large Chad Berndtson for an exclusive interview on those priorities as the new calendar year got under way. Excerpts of the discussion follow.

CRN: You've been on the road for the last few months meeting partners and hearing their stories. What are your priorities for the Cisco channel this year?

Klein: Since taking the reins in August I've been on the road pretty much every week and I've attended a lot of CPEEs and SPEEs and spent a lot of time listening to the partners, yes. Our mission is to continue to evolve the program and help partners accelerate profitability and growth. That's the theme of our organization: building on that, and building on the best channel program out there.

That focus on profitability has to be key because understanding how they profit is how we build our programs and the way we're going to continue to approach technology leadership and innovation. We talk a lot about that and what's going on from a market perspective and the megatrends like cloud, video and mobility and what Cisco's role is going to be. Those discussions go really well with partners because they see how they can drive their relationship with Cisco and what they can provide to the end-user customers.

Within the channel program, there are a number of key initiatives we're working on. Around cloud, we've come to market with a cloud program, [and] the partners tell me we were one of the first to come up with a program that incents them to work with us. Many new partners started a relationship with us because we were the only ones that had a program for them. As the market starts shifting and moving to more cloud -- both public and private cloud -- it's how do we help our partners transition.

The second area is around services and how important services are to the profitability of our partners. We've done a lot of consolidating of services into one, channel-friendly program that has both back-end rebates and front-end discounts just like our product channel programs do. So it's the ability to integrate product and service and eventually software as one program.

The third area is distribution. Distribution, for us, is a tremendous asset -- we do about $13 billion annually in distribution, and that's grown significantly from about $9.6 billion a few years ago. So it's how do we look at where distribution helps from a back-office perspective but also helps improve ease of doing business.

A couple of the other areas we are working on are to create strategic partnerships that will provide value for the channel and capture market opportunities. The technology partner work we're doing with SAP around HANA, or how we're going after big data and data analytics, that's a distinct advantage. We look at areas like Vblock that have been big or the tremendous growth with NetApp with FlexPod. We're looking at how to enhance the relationships we have and also look at new ones that can give our channel partners more to sell and more ways to grow their business.

I was a field leader for so many years. So coming into this job, I have a different lens on how we at Cisco run a big, big partner organization and what's of value to the partners. There is definitely room to deepen our field engagement. Our field executives don't know or aren't aware of some of the investments our partners are making in Cisco and how important it is to develop that level of trust. So we're doing a lot of communication and training, and looking at partner preferrability and how to integrate account plans with our partners and making sure our [salespeople] know what's important to them. We have a Partner-Led model to go after that [midmarket] space. We think we'll bring a unique value and incentives for our partners to work with us and connect much closer in the field.

The last one I'll mention is around where we've got to get comfortable selling both to IT and also to line-of-business managers -- how to have those conversations. We're offering business training to partners and what they can take to the line-of-business manager around mobility, around video, and all of those areas.

NEXT: Is SDN A Big Topic For Cisco Partners?