Cisco's Goodwin: Help Is On The Way

At Cisco Partner Summit earlier this month, Cisco unveiled a host of new programs and initiatives in what it's calling its "stimulus package" for partners, a set of tools to help them save money and remain profitable. Whether it's adjustments to the VIP program, offering limited lifetime warranties on certain Catalyst switch models, helping partners find talent or launching a newly revamped Managed Services Channel Program, Cisco is looking to give partners an edge.

At the Summit, caught up with Keith Goodwin, Cisco's global channel chief, to get a snapshot of what Cisco is doing to help partners and how partners are weathering the economic storm. Overall, Goodwin said partners are optimistic, but that it's up to Cisco to keep them that way and help them prepare for the upturn. Here are excerpts from our chat with Goodwin.

You've mentioned that you've heard from partners about wanting more marketing support. Can you talk about what Cisco is doing to help partners on the marketing side of things?

This was one that I've heard kind of an uptick from the partners around the need for more marketing support. I actually view this one as a positive thing. There's a little bit of a sense from partners around some optimism that maybe things are turning up and it's time to do some lead generation and it's time to get out there and lead a little bit more with marketing, which, again, I'm viewing as a sign that they're seeing perhaps a positive turn in terms of the direction of the business.

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So, what are we focused on? The one thing that we're really focused on that we think is hugely powerful is the use of social media in marketing. We're clearly investing in that area. That's an area where we think our partners can really differentiate by embracing those technologies and embracing social media. We're working with them closely in that area and we'll continue to invest in that area.

You talked a lot about the "stimulus package" you put together in response to the economy. What are you seeing as far as impact on the channel partners?

First of all, [we've had] really positive feedback on the key components of our Navigate To Accelerate initiative. The partners are feeling the positive impact of the increased credit capacity; we've got a lot of positive feedback on the announcement around moving the extended term for partners from 60 to 90 days. That's having an immediate impact.

The Core Accelerator Program that we announced on the first of May as part of the stimulus package had an immediate impact because there's a top-line opportunity there, but the rebates are significant and are clearly impacting partner margin and profitability. That's a positive as well. The stimulus package is definitely having a positive impact and I'm hearing good feedback from the partners.

Are you seeing a lot of solution providers struggling? Are you seeing them go out? What's the real impact been as far as Cisco's specific partners?

It's interesting. One of the things that happens in a challenging business environment, especially as challenging as this one has been, is you do tend to see a lot of times the consolidation of partners, merger and acquisition activity. Quite frankly, we anticipated we would see a fair amount of that activity but have been surprised that there has not been as much of it as we anticipated. Clearly, there is some, but I actually thought there'd be more of it.

One of the things we have done as part of Navigate To Accelerate ... is we have created a [Storm Tracker Initiative]; it's kind of a room where we collect the names of partners who have come to us and said, 'We're in a strong financial position, we want to take advantage of the current environment to make acquisitions, so help us identify partners who might be interested in being acquired.' At the same time, we have a set of partners that have come to us and said, 'We're financially challenged. We're looking for a partner that might be interested in acquiring us.' So we are working to help create matches in those situations and we're getting a lot of positive feedback from our partners in trying to help do that kind of match-making process.

The Storm Tracker initiative is all about getting the names of partners on both sides and trying to create some matches there. Of course, there's a huge benefit to Cisco in that we keep the Cisco partner's investment in Cisco in the family. It's good for the partners, so we think there's some real traction there.

Have any of those matches come to fruition?

They have. If they haven't they're in the process We're aware of some we've helped to facilitate.

Next: Cisco's Talent Initiative

Cisco is doing a similar thing with talent, letting partners who are hiring post jobs and letting people post resumes. Can you talk about that?

That's another interesting one, because it was one year ago at Partner Summit that I announced our new talent portal and really brought some visibility to our focus on talent and our talent initiative. It's amazing how quickly the world changes. A little over a year ago that was the No. 1 issue from the partners. When I asked them the question: What can Cisco do to help you? The first thing they said was, 'Help us find talent.' So that's why we had launched that initiative.

In today's environment, I was expecting to totally back-burner our talent initiative, that the partners would say, 'We like it Cisco, but we don't need it right now.' It's almost been a little bit of the opposite. Partners are still optimistic about the future and are, therefore, viewing this as an opportunity to acquire that talent that they had a very difficult time to acquire a year ago. They're looking for that talent today. More of that talent is available today. And so our talent initiative and our Talent Portal are having a really positive impact for partners because they're still in the talent acquisition business. That was a bit of an a-ha for me, but it makes sense. It gets to the fact that the partners are challenged in today's environment, but one of the things that really struck me in the one-on-ones I've had with partners is they really are optimistic for the longer term and they remain very optimistic for the longer term.

In terms of the new VIP and the fact that some of these emerging technologies are going to be coming into that, does that mean we're going to see a larger number of partners working with those technologies as well?

That's not necessarily the intent for what we're doing within VIP, but to the extent that partners invest in those architectures and look to deliver the full architecture including the ETs [emerging technologies], yes, there would be potential for more partners to participate in some of those ETs perhaps than have been in the past.

Could you expand a little bit on the genesis of the limited lifetime warranty program on some of the Catalyst switches under Navigate To Accelerate? Why are you doing it? What kind of reaction have you gotten from partners?

That's an easy one. We talked to partners and we said, 'What can we do to help you be more competitive in the area of switching?' Because we heard from partners that that business is becoming more competitive. I love asking those kind of questions to our partners because they'll tell us what we need to do. One of the things they told us we needed to do was to have a capability for a limited lifetime warranty for a certain set of switching products in order to be competitive in the marketplace. So we listened, we heard them and we took action.

Are there plans to bring any other products into the limited lifetime warranty fold?

No plans in the short term.

Does that mean they don't need SmartNet on those products?

Yes, fundamentally.

Well, I take that back. At the end of the day, the limited lifetime warranty, certain competitors were really out there pitching that, but customers really need more than the limited lifetime warranty. They need services beyond that. I believe what we'll find with the partners is they might lead with the limited lifetime warranty because the customer perceives that they have to have that for it to be a competitive offering, but it's a great opportunity for partners to sell their own services on top of the limited lifetime warranty to give the customer what they're really looking for in terms of the support they'll need on those products.