Cisco Distributors Ready To Roll Up Sleeves With Brown

Cisco's top distributor partners are roundly impressed with Scott Brown, who this week was named vice president, worldwide distribution at the networking heavyweight. In a series of interviews. they urged Brown to focus on tightening Cisco's go-to-market relationships with its distributors and continue to strengthen its supply chain oversight, too.

Brown, who succeeds Dave O'Callghan in the role, will be in charge of Cisco's $11 billion worldwide distribution business, which accounts for about 28 percent of its overall revenue and includes close ties with a number of major distributors.

"My initial impression is very positive. He's polished, professional and has tons of experience within Cisco," said William Corbin, executive vice president for global vendor relationships at Comstor, the Cisco-centric unit of Westcon Group. "His background enables him to continue what Dave O'Callaghan put in place, and expand upon those initiatives for partner profitability and making distribution a much more integral part of the supply chain for Cisco."

Brown was in attendance at this week's Global Technology Distribution Council (GTDC) Vendor Summit in Newport Beach, Calif., where he met with many of Cisco's top distribution executives for the first time. In an exclusive interview with CRN Wednesday, Brown said he would seek "the external view" of Cisco's distributor channel and base his initial priorities on that feedback.

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"We got introduced and I got to spend some time with him," said Chuck Bartlett, vice president and general manager of the Advanced Infrastructure Solutions group at Tech Data. "He's extremely well connected to the sales teams and he can accelerate the things that Dave O'Callaghan did. Dave did a really good job talking to the theaters about the value-add Tech Data can bring to the market. In a lot of cases when we deal with a very large vendor like Cisco, with tens of thousands of partners, it's hard to get our message out that we do more than the broadline, pick-pack-and-ship side of the business."

Bartlett, who was vice president of Tech Data's Cisco Solutions Group through May of this year, said there's a lot more Tech Data and Cisco can do to collaborate, especially as Cisco continues its push into the data center on the strength of its Unified Computing System (UCS) and releases more products and services around video and collaboration.

One thing the two companies have done is create an event for "next generation" Cisco partners that work with Tech Data. That conference, dubbed Tech Data Cisco Ignite, will kick off near San Diego next week and bring together about 100 partners who know Cisco, but aren't actively involved in Cisco's partner community and aren't taking full advantage of either Cisco's or Tech Data's full capabilities.

"We can educate and enable the partners on Cisco, but also be able to give them the ability to go in and solve end user problems," said Angie Beltz-Norrie, the new vice president of Tech Data's Cisco Solutions group, who said that Tech Data would look to do more types of events and programs like Ignite with Cisco.

Next: How Cisco's Brown Can Tighten Relationship

Dan Schwab, co-president of D&H Distributing, said he also met with Brown at GTDC and also had a good first impression.

"What's really good to hear from a channel perspective is that he's looking to continue on the successful strategy that Dave O'Callaghan and Julie Hens [senior director of U.S. and Canada distribution] had already been executing on. They're investing in partners. Cisco is a channel company, and reiterating their core values will be encouraging to the channel, so I hope they double down on the things that have worked well for them."

D&H's role for Cisco is particularly important given its reach with the SMB-focused VARs that Cisco covets. Cisco invested $100 million in specific resources for SMBs nearly two years ago, and its small business strategy, including products and services and channel support, has started to win them new VAR business, Schwab said.

"They have tremendous traction in VAR recruitment and deeper penetration," he said. "I think it took multiple quarters for the message to get out there and for them to test the water in the small business community. But they're really at the point where they're hitting critical mass with that."

Several distribution executives urged Brown to be as actively invested as possible in the marketing and training programs distributors offer to VARs around the Cisco portfolio.

"We extended an invitation to Scott to come to our Tempe location to understand our capabilities. Until you see it and dig into it and understand the impact it can have on your business, you can't really internalize it," said Chris Swahn, vice president and general manager of the Cisco business unit at Avnet. "I like the idea of his involvement and understanding in our strategic areas like energy, retail and finance, and our [vertical market] programs like HealthPath and GovPath."

Avnet became a Cisco distributor last December, and will be the first Cisco UCS distributor to offer fully assembled Vblock packages, the pre-configured data center architectures that include networking and data center products from Cisco, EMC and VMware. Avnet's data center focus was a big reason Cisco took them on, Swahn noted, and a tight relationship with Brown will be key to keeping that business successful.

"I am a fan of prescriptive behavior, and to me, that's not uni-directional, that's bi-directional," Swahn said. "If we're very clear to each other what the prescription is, we can be precise and accurate with our actions and lead to accelerated growth."

Ken Bast, vice president, vendor management for Ingram Micro, also urged Brown toward continued business planning with Ingram around segments, be they geographical, customer-based, technology-based or vertical market-based.

"Having spent the last two days with Scott I am certain he will provide us with the support and investment opportunities we need to drive mutual success," Bast said.

Brown told CRN this week that the relationship between Cisco and its distributors is strong. The supply chain constraints that rocked the Cisco channel for much of the past year frustrated distributors, but they also spurred Cisco toward better planning and inventory management with their distribution partners.

"The last year was a bit painful for everybody," said Comstor's Corbin. "I know Cisco felt a lot of pain on it and no one saw it coming. But it forced us to become more transparent to make sure we're not in that situation again, and we're coupling tightly with Cisco."

Corbin echoed a notion held by most of Cisco's distributor executives that there's more that can be done around market strategies and partner enablement.

"We've come a long with Cisco over the past few years from a go-to-market standpoint," Corbin added. "I think we've only touched upon what we can do. There's a whole lot more we can do out there from a service delivery, go-to-market and supply chain management perspective."