New Cisco Partner Accelerators: Revving Up Cross-Platform Sales

Major Cisco partners that focus on business architecture opportunities and invest across various Cisco lines will get more resources this year for targeting cross-platform sales of products and services from Cisco and its strategic allies.

It's all part of a branding initiative Cisco describes as Smart Solutions, in which it will offer advanced training and channel support for partners that design, sell and implement major solutions around Cisco-led architectures.

The concept was first mentioned at the Cisco Partner Summit in April, with the idea being that Cisco partners that invest in several major Cisco lines, and sell relevant technologies from Cisco "ecosystem" partners such as Citrix, could use more of a backstop from Cisco's sales and technical teams to help them design and implement those more-sophisticated, architecture-centric customer solutions. The incentives themselves are described as Solution Partner Accelerators.

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Cisco has identified Smart Solutions in the areas of virtual desktop infrastructure, BYOD and remote management. The idea is that each Smart Solution will draw on several Cisco and partner technology buckets -- mobility and collaboration, for example, are both key to BYOD solutions -- and partners will position them not as a set of products but as solving a particular business problem.

Smart Solutions, conceptually, is not a traditional Cisco program as much as it is a way to organize Cisco's cross-platform products and services and identify how Cisco can help partners sell with them in mind, according to Paul Mountford, senior vice president, global enterprise market, who confirmed more details of the Smart Solutions initiative in an exclusive interview with CRN in July.

"Technology used to be a black art: people prepared to pay for connecting everything together, and that's how it was done," Mountford said. "But today it's more about, 'How can you deliver it and then stay with me to make it a core part of my business?' We're reflecting the view of the customer and the view of Cisco here. These are big deals. They aren't like buying a hamburger."

The first Solution Partner Accelerator launched June 25 and focused on virtual desktop infrastructure, specifically the Cisco Virtualization Experience Infrastructure with Citrix's XenDesktop VDI platform. Solution Partner Accelerators relevant to BYOD and remote management frameworks will begin to arrive later this fall, according to Cisco, San Jose, Calif.

Cisco requires nothing "extra" of partners to access the Solution Partner Accelerators; what they need is the relevant Cisco and third-party vendor certifications to sell the necessary technologies and services.

NEXT: Smart Solutions And Cisco's Architecture Approach

The Smart Solutions concept has roots in the philosophy Cisco has been pushing for years now: an architectural approach to selling IT, based on the idea that the network is the central focus of various platforms and frameworks for solving technology problems in communications and infrastructure. In Cisco's view, as CEO John Chambers has described on several occasions, sellers of technology have to think about IT problems holistically and as line-of-business conversations vs. stand-alone, product-by-product sales and piecemeal troubleshooting.

Using that model, Cisco a few years ago organized its various product lines around three so-called architectures -- Borderless Networks, Data Center and Collaboration -- and in 2011 retooled its partner specializations to align with those architectures, requiring partners to have met new certification requirements by August of this year. The shift mainly affected Cisco Gold-level partners, who now need to attain all three architecture specializations to maintain their status.

Gold- and Silver-level partners that support more than one or two major Cisco lines are naturally able to target bigger, more-sophisticated customer needs because they can offer, say, data center solutions as well as collaboration, unified communications or network security.

Therefore, Mountford explained, it was his organization's priority to figure out how Cisco could better equip those partners to sell with a solution-focused mentality.

"The role formed because we wanted to really start to think about how our customers want to consume technology cross-architecture," Mountford explained.

Mountford is a well-known figure among Cisco partners. He was the networking king's channel chief from 2002 to 2005, succeeded by Keith Goodwin, and ran Cisco's emerging markets theater for many years after.

In June 2011, as part of Cisco's global restructuring, Mountford took the newly created senior vice president-level position heading up Cisco enterprise. He reports to Rob Lloyd, Cisco executive vice president, worldwide operations, and various technology architecture leaders that previously reported to Lloyd now come under Mountford.

"We've never had a head of global enterprise before, and how we define it is that it basically covers everything that isn't service provider," Mountford said. "It's essentially the verticals, all the way up through different ends of the enterprise, and then small business all the way up to our GET [Global Enterprise Theater, representing Cisco's top 30 customer] accounts."

Mountford's global team is about 875 people, including Cisco's technology sales leads for Borderless Networks, Collaboration and Data Center architectures, along with the engineering teams that do validated designs for Smart Solutions, a go-to-market team that manages all the various enterprise sales apparatuses, and a competitive insights team that works on market research and intelligence.

Mountford stressed that Cisco will continue to reward partners that can move beyond the traditional product-resale mind-set of channel selling and approach customer business problems with architecture-based solutions.

"These areas like smart security, collaboration applications, they run across the whole business," he said. "So we came up with the idea that these solutions needed to be big enough for our channels to move the needle for them."