Cisco's Sherriff: Cloud, Competition And Who's Making The Calls

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Cisco's been steady in pushing its partner-led strategy and been public about the investment it's made and what the particulars are. Speaking as a sales guy, where it's less about marketing talk and more about numbers, what is the biggest benefit of partner-led to Cisco VARs?

We have Partner Summit coming up, so you can look at a lot of the things we've teed up so far, but expect to have more details coming there on a variety of topics. The meat of it will come out, and right now we're directionally teeing up where we want to go so they can start taking steps to line up with our strategy. What it's about, ultimately, is what allows them to have greater differentiation, better margin opportunities that they can protect, and allows them to better tie in to our lead-generation and marketing efforts.

So there will be announcements specific to partner-led made at the Cisco
Partner Summit?

I'm not going to make any comments about specific things to be announced at Partner Summit -- we do like to have the element of surprise. But if you look at our direction, we typically go out and tee things up, get feedback from the partners and listen to them to ensure we make the right choices.

Talk about the growth of the Teaming Incentive Program. It was unveiled two Partner Summits ago as a way to reward partners earlier in the sales cycle, but I understand it got bogged down in procedural and execution issues. Where are we at with TIP now?

We hit the knee of the curve about 90 days ago, and it has really taken off, with our partner community truly understanding it, and how it's different from OIP [Opportunity Incentive Program]. The biggest challenge was getting our own sales force to understand TIP, and we've started to see the change in that direction. The challenge for everyone is that TIP requires a lot more up-front planning by both our team and their team to execute well. That's more work. But I think the value is not only in the differential of the pricing, but the fact that partners are getting paid for early engagement.

So the challenges around TIP on the Cisco sales side have been sorted out?

Well, everybody's had training. There's a difference between having training and actually getting it done, so I'm not declaring victory yet. But I think we hit the knee of that curve about 90 days ago.

Will Cisco be making other adjustments to the Value Incentive Program and OIP and the other incentive programs outside of the usual, twice-a-year updates?

Twice a year is pretty much where we look to make those adjustments. But you know we always try to use VIP to send a message to partners about where we want them to go, and we almost always do make adjustments.

But no specific changes you can mention right now?

Nothing we can talk about today.

Switching gears, one of the things I brought up with Chuck Robbins [senior vice president, the Americas] last fall was this shift in how Cisco is addressing its competition. For a long time, Cisco wasn't apt to talk about competitors so explicitly, but he acknowledged that Cisco is definitely more vocal now about what vendors like HP, Juniper and Huawei are saying about you in the market. Why is that important?

We're in a number of very competitive markets, and part of the challenge is there is a lot of misinformation that gets out in the marketplace. Ultimately, if we want customers to make the best decisions possible, we have to do a much better job of arming our sales force with information to help set the record straight. We win a higher percentage of deals when we do that, and because of that, we've been more aggressive in arming them so they can talk about what is our differential.

Will that effort by Cisco continue to be reactive -- setting the record straight when you need to? Or will you be going out and making sure to get in front of partners what Cisco brings vs. HP, Juniper and the others?

If I were to net out one of the most important things we have with our partners, it's that we create market opportunities instead of commoditize markets. You will see us continue to focus on market transitions and how to get there early. That isn't changing because when you start a discussion focused on competitors, by nature, you're focused in the rearview mirror instead of what's in front of you. But we do need to make sure our partners and customers don't get disinformation when correct information is readily available.

NEXT: Cisco Vs. The Competition

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