New Cisco Specialization Highlights Partner Sales To Service Providers

Cisco is rolling out a new advanced specialization to address a hugely lucrative market segments most solution providers don't play in but could: sales to second-, third- and fourth-tier service providers.

The specialization, known as the Advanced IP Next-Generation Network (IPNGN) Architecture Specialization, went live on Feb. 13. Cisco solution providers have been selling Cisco products to service provider customers for years, but Cisco wants to formalize how it rewards partners who have had success in that market segment, as well as grow that number of partners.

"This is a business we've been in for quite some time, but we've had a boutique practice in place in each of the theaters," said Bob Gault, vice president of worldwide service provider channels, in an interview with CRN. "This is a tremendous opportunity for Cisco. We can introduce partners into the service provider segment and it's a brand new vertical to them. And that's not just IP NGN. It can bleed into opportunities in service-provider Wi-Fi, mobile Internet and the video-connected home."

Selling to service providers represents a $20 billion worldwide total addressable market opportunity, according to Cisco, and other vendors with sizable service provider market footprints, such as Juniper, have also attempted to steer partners on selling to service providers, particularly smaller carriers and telecom companies.

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Gault estimated that only about 200 Cisco partners focus on the space.

"We never really mainstreamed our program -- it was almost event-driven," he said. "We never created VIPs, OIPs and programs for it. But we had a working relationship with the partners that sell into that segment, and they said, Cisco, you need to make us feel special with a badge we can leverage in the market place and benefits associated with having that badge."

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The specialization covers the full gamut of carrier-class Cisco edge and core products, from the CRS-1 and CRS-3 routers to Cisco's aggregation services routers, mobile wireless routers and optical networking products. Other Cisco offerings that span the enterprise and service provider portfolios, such the IOS-XR software system and the network management tools under the Cisco Prime name, also apply.

Cisco may also count IPNGN specializations toward the requirements for Cisco's highest partnering tier, Gold. As of August 2012, Cisco partners need all three of Cisco's current architecture specializations -- Borderless Networks, Collaboration and Data Center -- to achieve Gold status.

The Advanced IPNGN specialization, however, would take the place of one of those other advanced specializations, making it easier for partners who have already heavily invested in sales to the service provider space to be Cisco Gold partners.

Cisco is piloting that idea with a handful of partners, Gault said. Going forward, Advanced IPNGN partners will also be able to apply their service provider sales to Cisco incentive programs like VIP, OIP and SIP, and also work with Cisco on a more formal basis to build business plans and identify incremental opportunities in the service provider segment.

Gault said he moved into his current role a year and a half ago following a discussion with Cisco's Keith Goodwin, senior vice president, worldwide partner organization (WWPO), and Edison Peres, senior vice president, worldwide channels, about how to engage more partners in selling to service providers. Gault had previously run U.S. service provider channel sales.

Gault said many Cisco solution providers don't focus on the space either because they think Cisco has most of those sales covered already with its own service provider sales and engineering teams -- not the case, Gault emphasized -- or because service providers are customers they're just not familiar with.

Smaller service providers in particular can look a lot like enterprise customers more VARs are used to, Gault said, and have a lot of the same data center challenges. But a lot of partners simply don't speak their language.

"It's a different skill set," he said. "It's selling carrier-class networks, including network management. It's looking at OSS/BSS (operations support systems and business support systems) and having those types of discussions -- finding people who can have those discussions and understanding how a service provider will react to things you say and what it will need for post-sale support. Service providers are demanding, and at times, difficult."

Next: Cisco Solution Providers Will Focus On Tiers 2, 3, 4

Partners who obtain the IPNGN specialization will focus primarily on tier-2, tier-3 and tier-4 service providers in line with Cisco's Partner-Led initiative, where partners take the lead on SMB and midmarket Cisco accounts.

In the U.S., that second, third, and fourth tier segment comprises more than 1,100 potential customers, from regional carriers to cable companies and even some news media and broadcast outlets, Gault said.

Mid-to-large-sized service providers in the tier-2 segment will be a combination of Cisco-led engagements and partner-led deals. The largest tier-1 service providers comprise about 114 customers managed by Cisco as "transformational accounts" -- they map to Nick Adamo, Cisco senior vice president and leader of its global service provider business -- though Gault said partners can be involved in those accounts in fulfillment, support and integration roles, too.

The IPNGN specialization requirements are similar to those of other Cisco advanced architectural specializations. Partners are required to have one account manager complete about 10 total hours of sales training and become an IPNGN sales specialist, and also have a systems engineer with a CCIE or CCNP certification complete sales and product training, and field engineer with either a CCIE-service provider or another professional-level career service provider certification complete product training.

Gault added that the IPNGN specialization will get plenty of focus at the Cisco Partner Summit, April 16-19 in San Diego, and that partners should expect more details about IPNGN-specific incentives later this year.