Know The Score: We Crunch The Numbers Behind Each Channel Champions Win

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In terms of meeting channel partners' needs, Cisco has been tops. The company received the highest partner satisfaction scores in nearly all support and financial criteria -- in some cases by substantial margins. Even more impressive was the fact that Cisco earned those scores in converged infrastructure and videoconferencing products  -- two technology categories outside Cisco's core networking hardware portfolio.

The runner-up to Cisco in many of the support and financial satisfaction criteria was Polycom, which scored high in pre- and post-sales support, enablement and technical training, increase in sales, and product margins, rebates and spifs.

In a keynote speech at Cisco's recent Partner Summit, CEO John Chambers argued that the company's competitors don't have "an attitude toward partnering like you see at Cisco." This year's Channel Champions scores suggest that's not just bluster.

"We're very predictable and we're very consistent in our partner support and financial assistance," said Sherri Liebo, Cisco global partner marketing vice president, when asked in an interview about the company's high scores. As for why the high scores in new product areas such as converged infrastructure, she pointed to Cisco initiatives such as the Value Incentive Program that helps partners quickly develop solution practices around new technologies.

That helps explain Cisco’s early success in its dogfight with Hewlett-Packard, Dell, IBM and other vendors in the burgeoning market for converged infrastructure. Given its sweep of this technology category in this year's Channel Champions scores, Cisco seems to be winning the battle at least as far as partners are concerned.

Cisco also swept the enterprise networking infrastructure, videoconferencing and unified communications technology categories. But it was denied a sweep of the SMB networking hardware category in which Dell/SonicWall scored higher in financial satisfaction. And Cisco came in fourth place in a field of five in midrange servers -- a marked change from its No. 1 spot last year.

Microsoft swept this year's partner scoring for business analytics, a technology category in which the company has been battling hard with SAP, IBM and Oracle for years. Microsoft also took most of the top scores in CRM software. Perhaps most heartening for Microsoft is the top overall scores it won in cloud security and cloud office productivity -- a sign the company's efforts to move into cloud services is paying off.

In cloud office productivity, in fact, Microsoft earned high scores in richness of product features/functionality, enablement of technical training, marketing support, services attach and increase in sales.

"The primary message is that we continue to invest heavily in cloud-based incentives," said Phil Sorgen, Microsoft corporate vice president, worldwide partner group, in an interview. He said the vendor helps partners transition to cloud business models, provides technical and presales assistance for cloud products, and offers partners internal-use rights for Microsoft cloud products. And he said the company doubled the incentives it paid out for cloud-related sales over the past 12 months.

As for Office 365, Sorgen said the cloud application suite is Microsoft's fastest-growing product and reached the $1 billion sales mark faster than any other product in the company's portfolio.

CRN reported that starting Jan. 25 Microsoft reduced the fees it pays partners from the Online Services Advisor Incentives program, angering some partners in the process. That could have been a factor in that while Microsoft won the overall cloud office productivity category, IBM scored higher in partner financial satisfaction.

The 2014 Channel Champion scores also provide some insight into what's happening in the competitive markets for midrange servers (more than $25,000 in price) and volume servers (priced less than $25,000).

IBM took most of the top scores in midrange servers with HP coming in at No. 2 (and No. 1 in financial satisfaction). That's a big jump for IBM, which was No. 3 in 2013. This technology category was also Cisco's only real stumble this year: It was No. 1 last year, but tumbled to No. 4 this year because of lower technical, support and financial satisfaction scores

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