CEO Robbins Thinks Cisco's Channel Religion Will 'Rub Off' On Apple

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Cisco's channel-centric sales strategy will influence Apple to become more channel-friendly as the partnership between the two companies gets underway, said Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins on Tuesday.

"I think we'll rub off on Apple," said Robbins in an exclusive interview with CRN, regarding the perception that Apple does not have a strong focus on working with channel partners. "[Apple CEO] Tim [Cook] came to our sales meeting, and he was on stage and saw the magnitude of this organization being together, and I think he realized what we can do in the enterprise. I know Tim well enough to know that he will be looking to us to help them think about what is the go-to-market motion that we need to make this successful, and so I think that will certainly bring the partners into play."

on Aug. 31 to optimize Cisco networks for Apple iOS-based devices and apps while also working to create a better business integration between Cisco voice and video environments and the iPhone. Many solution providers were concerned that it would be a direct sales play as they don't see Apple as a channel-friendly company. Apple inked an enterprise-focused deal with IBM last year that does not include a channel sales piece.

Cisco has said the deal will include both direct and indirect channel sales, but details thus far have been scarce on its partner go-to-market strategy. The channel has had limited engagement with Apple in recent years, but Robbins for his part appears to have faith that Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple's relationship with the solution providers in the future will improve.

"I think you will see a shift. I'm happy to tell Tim that he needs to get more active with [partners], especially in light of this announcement and the IBM announcement," said Robbins on stage at The Channel Company's Best of Breed Conference on Tuesday.

Cisco channel partners are becoming more optimistic about the partnership after hearing Robbins and now see a possible future working with Apple.

"If Apple and their team have a channel-focused company or started that segment, we will reap benefits because we can be out there not just pitching the endpoint, but the overall architecture around iOS and other pieces they bring to the table," said Faisal Bhutto, vice president of corporate strategy at Houston-based Computex Technology Solutions, a Cisco Gold partner ranked No. 130 on the CRN 2015 Solution Provider 500 list.

Bhutto said Apple devices in the consumer world tied with Cisco's collaboration experience in the enterprise shows promising opportunities for solution providers if Apple agrees to play in the channel.

"I do see a future with Apple," said Vincent DeLuca, CEO of Logicalis, a New York, NY-based Cisco Gold partner ranked No. 27 on the . "Apple is driving the shape in the end user experience in how we work and how we do things. So if that bridge between what they do in the consumer space intersects the enterprise space in a material way connected with Cisco, then I think there's probably relevance there and collaboration will be shaped very differently then we know it today."

Robbins said customers are asking for seamless integration of Cisco's enterprise video platforms with Apple iOS devices, a fully integrated endpoint for those devices in a unified collaboration platform and native traffic prioritization so that iOS apps take precedence over "somebody watching a cat video in the cube next to you."

"Tim's view is that they need to be more enterprise-centric, that they need to respond more to what enterprises need as these devices have proliferated in the enterprise, and I think it's smart. He’s looking for the top players," Robbins said.

Partners said Cook, a former solution provider executive, understands channel concepts and strategies but has failed to implement positive initiatives inside the company as CEO over the past four years to drive partner profitability. Forming a partnership with Cisco, now led by channel veteran Robbins, might light a fire under Cook to begin focusing more on the channel, according to solution providers.

"There could be huge opportunities to come," said Bhutto. "Yes, our customers are buying Cisco phones, video, and Telepresence, but they also use Facetime on the side. Imagine being able to pick up your phone and do a Facetime call to a corporate boardroom on a Cisco platform -- that's a beautiful thing."

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