SP500 Roundtable: Who's The Most Channel-Centric Vendor?

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During the Solution Provider 500 Roundtable at CRN parent The Channel Company's Best of Breed Conference, much of the discussion focused on broken channel strategies and and dysfunctional partner programs. But the top executives of these SP500 companies, CRN's ranking of the top solution providers in North America by revenue, all pointed to one company in particular as a shining example of a vendor that knows how to treat its partners.


Ron Dupler, president and CEO of Kittery, Maine-based GreenPages Technology Solutions, No. 154 on the SP500 list, said Cisco is the clear leader from a partner program perspective. "They incentify partners; your rewards are commensurate with your investment in their business," Dupler said. "And they're very well-aligned. And they make it worthwhile to invest heavily in technical talent around key new areas, and that's important."

Harry Zarek, CEO of Richmond Hill, Ontario-based Compugen, No. 58 on the SP500, said the key to Cisco's success with partners is that the company knows how to collaborate and build a two-way relationship. For example, he said, Cisco knew how to lay the foundation for its new server business by working with partners.

"They knew when they moved into the server area that they didn't have either credibility or experience," Zarek said. "They didn’t drink the Kool-Aid about saying, 'We're Cisco, we're great, obviously we'll be great in servers.' They realized that there was a lot to learn. And it set up the right type of relationships with the channel."

Dupler agreed, and said Cisco has a proven track record for staying on top of new technology markets and making sure it gets partners up to speed to be able to deliver solutions around those areas, too.

"I think over the years, they've been involved for many years in driving new, complex technology solutions," Dupler said. "They're very experienced in doing it and they're intelligent in the way they approach that game."

For Majdi "Mike" Daher, founder and CEO of Redmond, Wash.-based Denali Advanced Integration, No. 116 on the SP500, Cisco's channel excellence comes down to a simple approach: The company doesn't make a since move without thinking about how it will affect the partner ecosystem. And with a strong partner ecosystem, he said, Cisco can invest more in technology and strategic areas instead of spending money on sales and support staff.

"The thing that's so unique about Cisco, and I've seen it, is that they don't plan anything without having a place for their partner. So they're extremely dependent on their partnering system to actually deliver technology," Daher said. "And if you look at even some of the aggressive cost-management things that they've been doing and some of the investments that they've been making, they've been doing that very bullishly because they know that they have a very strong partner ecosystem."

And the key, Dupler said, is Cisco's leadership. "The channel is embedded in their DNA," Dupler said. "Whether this comes from John Chambers -- and I think it does -- he and his management team get that the health of our organizations as Cisco partners is key to their success and they get that more than any other major player in the industry."

The roundtable participants said being a top Cisco partner carries some tough requirements, especially for Gold Certified Partners. But Daher said it's all worth it because the vendor truly sees the channel as an extension of Cisco's own team.

"For us to be a Cisco Gold [partner], we carry a tremendous investment. And I've had root canals that were a lot better than a Cisco Gold audit. It's brutal," Daher said with a laugh. "They analyze you, and not just how you run your business. They really come in and do a great job of studying your business and they give you a grade at the end of the day. So they trust that, even if they cut on their capability from a sales perspective, they have [partners] that can do it. Cisco has tremendous loyalty to partners."


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