Cisco's Goodwin: Change Is Good

In his first interview with CRN since taking on the role of channel chief at Cisco Systems on Aug. 1, Keith Goodwin sat down with Editor Heather Clancy and Infrastructure Editor Jennifer Hagendorf Follett at this week's XChange 2005 conference in Orlando, Fla. Goodwin, Cisco's senior vice president of worldwide channels, discusses his plans to continue the work begun by his predecessor, Paul Mountford, to restore profitability to the Cisco channel as well as the inevitability (and necessity) of change. An excerpt of the conversation follows.

CRN: You're only a few weeks into your new job as head of Cisco's worldwide channel organization, but what are your initial thoughts?

Goodwin: First of all, I have to say that I'm really excited to be in the role. Channel partners are just so fundamental to everything Cisco does, and I lived that in my old role running the Americas International theater, where well over 90 percent of our business was through the channel partners. We had the good fortune to have the fastest growing theater in Cisco for the past two years, and I really got to appreciate how instrumental the channel partners were to driving success and growth in the theater. I got to know a lot of the channel partners, I got to experience a lot in terms of the programs and initiatives Paul and the team developed. We were the implementers of those programs in the theater, and so I really gained an appreciation for some of the really innovative things that the team had done. So now having a chance to move over to the other side of it to actually lead the organization is, again, really exciting. I think my challenge clearly is to build on that foundation of success that Paul and the leadership team have built. They've done some really innovative things, especially related to partner profitability, and so clearly we want to maintain that as a foundation going forward but recognizing that the world continues to change, and so we need to continue to be innovative if we're going to continue to be a leader in the channel. So the goal is to drive innovation, but maintain that successful foundation.

CRN: What are your top priorities?

Goodwin: In terms of a couple of priorities, the first one is a personal priority, and that is I want to get out and meet and talk to lots of partners and our field teams around the world. I'm an old field person at Cisco in my previous lives, so I'm a big believer in getting out and hearing first-hand what's working, what things can we be doing better, what are the issues, what are the opportunities. Over the next six months I'm going to spend a lot of time on the road doing just that Then secondly, I would say I want to clearly continue the momentum around the two key messages Paul delivered at the Partner Summit to our partners, or the two key promises. That was around accelerating partner growth and secondly, making Cisco easier to do business with for our partners. Paul established those priorities and I want to clearly continue the momentum there.

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CRN: On partner growth, what does growth mean to you? Is it taking on more technologies, establishing new markets? What do you use as the metric for that?

Goodwin: The metric ultimately is growing partner revenue and then growing the Cisco component of that partner revenue. So revenue is the overall metric revenue growth but as to how we propose to do that, it's really about a couple of different things. Looking back over the last few years we've had a major focus with our partners on advanced technologies, and the partners have invested significantly in building expertise and certification around those advanced technologies so together we could bring those to market and use that to accelerate growth because those key advanced technologies are the fastest growing markets, things like IP communications, security and wireless. Those are high-growth markets. The second component to drive growth, and this would be perhaps not new but you'll see increasing focus from Cisco going forward, is solutions. So [Cisco will be] helping build partner capabilities to sell and deliver solutions to our customers because we think solutions are an accelerator to growth.

CRN: You're talking about becoming easier to do business with at the same time as the solutions are becoming more complicated, as the partners are having to touch more pieces across the Cisco portfolio. How do you deal with those two things simultaneously?

Goodwin: One of the things I heard in my previous role running the theater when I met with partners was, 'We love VIP [Value Incentive Program], we love OIP [Opportunity Incentive Program], we love SIP [Solutions Incentive Program], but maybe they're a little complicated. Maybe you could make them easier to use.' So that would be an example of how do we allow our partners to more efficiently use some of the programs and initiatives we've put in place, take some of the complexity away from them, create some tools that help them to utilize them, again, more efficiently. Regional planning was a major thrust for us over the last few years and that was something we used extensively in Americas International, so making that whole process more efficient through tools.

CRN: When say tools, are you talking about building out the partner portal and making it more automated? Is it systems you're talking about?

Goodwin: Yes, systems, processes. Sometimes the processes themselves associated with the programs just aren't very efficient for the partners. They're too Cisco-centric and they need to be more partner-centric. Perhaps just in terms of my own background and experience, I think if you talk to people, they would see me as more of an operations person, so to the extent I can bring some of that experience to making the processes more efficient and then the systems associated with those processes more efficient, I think that will help our partners as well. Then [it will help] to identify from the partners what are some of the key obstacles to doing business with Cisco, what are the things we do that make you crazy and how can we eliminate those things.

CRN: Are there specific obstacles showing up early?

Goodwin: I'd rather hold off until I make my tour here over the next several months, and then we'll see what the common ones are.

CRN: Are there any differences in who reports into you vs. who reported to Mountford?

Goodwin: There are two changes. The first one is a structural change to the worldwide channels organization that's subtle but, I think, very strategic for us. I know Paul, in the past when asked what are some of the challenges you face in the role, has identified the challenge of driving worldwide or global initiatives or programs. In the old structure, the theater leaders for the channel reported solid line into the geographies and dotted line into Paul. So in the new structure, effective Aug. 1, the theater leaders now report solid line into me, worldwide channels, and dotted line into the geographies. Both reporting lines are very important because you need to have a balance of being able to drive worldwide initiatives but balance that with the need to tailor and customize them to local markets The second change is I've put in place a leader for worldwide channels marketing. That's a function we've not had in place before. The person that's leading that is named Andrew Sage. That's an opportunity to put more emphasis on marketing to, through and with our partners. It's an opportunity for us to shape the marketing programs coming out of the corporate marketing organization while they're being created rather than taking marketing programs after they've been created and trying to adapt them to the channel.

CRN: What do you see as the shortcomings of the channel marketing effort up to this point?

Goodwin: I wouldn't say there were shortcomings. I'd just say that it's clear, especially as we move into the commercial, the SMB space, that it's partner and marketing driven, channel and marketing driven. Marketing is a key component of that, so we just wanted to put some additional emphasis into ensuring that we're shaping these programs up front specifically for the channel as we try to further accelerate the growth in the SMB space.

CRN: A lot of the partners have said they love what's been done by Cisco in the channel up to this point and they really don't want it to change. Is that the directive you've been given?

Goodwin: Clearly not. We need to change. Change is good. One of the things I really respect about what Paul and the team have done over the last few years is their innovation, the new things that they tried, the new programs and initiatives they brought. One of the reasons Cisco has had such a successful channel program over the last few years is innovation, so we want to clearly continue to innovate going forward. We don't want to stand on our past success. Now, having said that, I'm very sensitive to the fact that the partners feel good about the programs and initiatives we've put in place to support partner profitability, so the goal is to maintain that foundation around partner profitability but to create and deliver new programs built on that foundation that drive growth and make Cisco easier to do business with.

CRN: Have you met with John Chambers since taking over?

Goodwin: Yes, I get to see John on a fairly regular basis.

CRN: So what was his message to you in terms of what he's looking for from you and from the channel going forward this year?

Goodwin: Don't screw it up? (Laughs.) No, and, again, I give Paul and the team a lot of credit. They've really raised the visibility of the success and important of channels to Cisco with John over the last few years, so John is just a huge, huge supporter of the channel, and I think John's message to me as I came into the role was, 'Let us know, let me know what we can do to support the channel and to take it to the next level.' John has gotten much more personally involved in the channel, and I think he's committed to do that even more going forward.