Cisco Partner Marketing Chief Says To Expect Wider, Deeper Marketing Programs This Year

When Amanda Jobbins took over as Cisco's vice president of global partner marketing last summer, step one was to ensure Cisco solution providers that the vendor's highly acclaimed partner marketing machine wouldn't miss a beat during the transition.

With that transition finished as of last fall, Jobbins and her team set about broadening the number and depth of marketing resources Cisco partners already had. To hear Jobbins tell it, attendees at Cisco's upcoming Partner Velocity conference will see many of the fruits of that labor first hand, particularly around Cisco's promised cloud marketing blitz.

"My goal is to make us the world's preferred partner marketing experience," Jobbins told CRN this week, noting that she'd organized Cisco's partner marketing resources into buckets such as brand and value, online and communities, marketing enablement, demand marketing and ecosystem marketing.

WIth definite exception, solution providers are notoriously poor marketers, and Jobbins said what she hears most often from many Cisco partners is either that their marketing is handled by a very junior person on staff, or they don't have much or any marketing staff, or they're asking Jobbins for resumes of marketing professionals.

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Cisco didn't hold a Partner Velocity in 2011 following its 2010 Partner Velocity in Barcelona, but the show was rebooted for this year and is set to take place in Las Vegas February 28 to March 1. Partners pay to travel to the event, which is by invitation only, but aren't charged to attend. Jobbins said Cisco expects representatives from 245 partners this year.

Scheduled external speakers include Sally Hogshead, author of Fascinate and an expert in persuasive marketing; Dr. Martha Rogers, who is credited with creating the concept of one-to-one marketing; bestselling author and journalist Daniel Pink; and Peter Hinssen, author of The New Normal and a specialist in digital revolution studies how consumers adopt technology.

Jobbins has also changed the format from former Partner Velocity conferences -- Cisco partners will now also hear from in-house Cisco marketing experts. Traditionally, part of Partner Velocity's hook was that Cisco partners would listen to third-party marketing experts and not be subject to a Cisco marketing pitch, but Jobbins said some Cisco partners also sought marketing techniques and marketing-related discussion tailored to Cisco, not high-level advice.

"There was a huge focus on the external speakers in the past and the best practices they could share," Jobbins said. "But some partners attending have trouble differentiating themselves and articulating their value proposition in business streams. So each workshop will have a Cisco marketer who has executed a campaign and a partner who's used some of these best practices, along with the external speakers."

Partner Velocity attendees can also elect to receive one of three offers from Cisco: an infusion of joint marketing funds, high-touch assistance with social media, or the opportunity to work with a marketing consultant on an integrated campaign, from a professional audit of their current marketing strategy to executing the campaign itself.

There's a lot more to come from Cisco's partner marketing group this year, Jobbins said, including that Cisco will offer partners virtual marketing consultants -- effectively, a resource who a partner can contact over the phone to help build a marketing plan -- as part of a program. Pricing and access to those resources is still being determined, she said, though Cisco has been piloting them with hundreds of partners over the past few months.

Cisco has also made good on its promise to align partner marketing to Cisco's current marketing campaigns, which target three CIO "care-abouts": cloud, the bring-your-own-device trend, and the data deluge. It's a way to make sure Cisco partners can be sure their marketing lines up with what Cisco is dong at a corporate level.

"They know they'll get more bang for their buck," she said.

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Along with marketing workshops, Cisco also hosts an ongoing series of virtual events called Velocity On Air that are open to all Cisco partners. Partners are more motivated now than ever to get their social media and Web marketing strategies whole, Jobbins insisted.

"You have to have a clear set of objectives, and a certain target audience you want to reach and awareness you want to create to move someone along the buying cycle," she said. "A lot of them have just been in the mode of, let's get that page up, let's participate. Now that everyone is more comfortable with participating, they have to think more strategically about how to use that interaction to move customers from one stage to the next."

Thanks to analytics tools applied to social and digital media, a lot of that interaction is much easier to track now than it used to be, she said.

"It's a hell of a lot more measurable," Jobbins said. "The beauty of the social and digital age is that marketers can really prove their contribution."

Krissy Kelley, vice president of marketing for Force 3, a Cisco Gold partner based in Crofton, Md., said Force 3 embraced a lot of the programs Cisco rolled out at prior Partner Velocity events, and also a lot of the advice it's received from Cisco marketers.

"We've taken advantage of every single one of them, especially video, which Cisco made loud and clear you need to be using as a key marketing medium," she said. "It can be hard as a smaller partner or a midsize partner to jump out, so they have had a huge impact on our ability to do these things, particularly be social."

Kelley said Force 3 not only strengthened its use of various social networking platforms, but also started using analytics and a marketing automation tool to track traffic via those platforms to its Web site and how that traffic was translating into inbound sales inquiries.

Facebook, Kelley said, is now in Force 3's top three sources of referred traffic, whereas none of the social networks appeared in its top 10 as recently as a few years ago. Force 3 also tracks metrics such as the time users spend on Force 3's website -- a number that increased by 50 percent in terms of how long users were looking through the site, Kelley said, adding that Force 3 has changed its website and where it puts certain items based on analysis of how many minutes users spent on certain pages.

Kelley admitted that marketing ROI -- especially via social networks -- is a slippery concept, and she'll be participating in a Partner Velocity track covering exactly that subject. From Cisco, she's seeking more marketing tools specific to federal government customers, the area in which Force 3 specializes, and also awaiting Cisco's promised cloud-centric marketing tools.

"We're champing at the bit for that one," she said. "I think we've reached the point where cloud is one of those things you can't not be a part of, you have to have some type of offering."

Jobbins and her team haven't missed a beat since Cisco's partner marketing organization changes hands, Kelley added.

"I was excited to see that Velocity was going to continue, and we weren't sure about that with Luanne's departure because that was part of her legacy there," she said. "All this emphasis on [partner] marketing is a differentiator for Cisco, and they provide an enormous amount of education here that you don't see from other manufacturers."

As successful as the Velocity shows have been, Jobbins added that it may be the last one. No, the show itself isn't going away -- quite the opposite -- but Jobbins said she thinks it's time for a name change.

"We're definitely changing the name next year," she said. "I'm not too pleased with it because for all this marketing capability, it doesn't really mean anything. We also have a segment of our Partner Led model that is called Velocity, and covers [sales] that are more transactionally oriented. So we're in the process of looking at the branding."