Cisco Eases Path To Collaboration Market For Midmarket VARs

Cisco Tuesday continued to quench its partners' thirst for a greater midmarket play, rolling out a number of updates to both its collaboration portfolio and partner certification programs aimed at making it easier for partners to target smaller- and mid-sized companies.

The midmarket -- which Cisco defines as organizations with 100 to 1,000 employees -- is brimming with opportunity just waiting to be seized by the networking giant and its partners, particularly when it comes to the collaboration and telepresence space, said Richard McLeod, senior director of Cisco's Worldwide Collaboration Channel Sales.

"[Getting into the midmarket] has been a very strong thrust for us over the last two years," McLeod told CRN, pointing to the midmarket-focused Partner-Led program Cisco launched last April. "We have invested tens of millions of dollars in tools and programs and support infrastructures to aggressively fuel our penetration into midmarket, and now we are layering on top this collaboration specialization and portfolio to support that."

One of several moves Cisco is making to help its partners cash in on the midmarket -- a space the company values at a whopping $7.1 billion -- is the launch of a revamped version of its Business Edition 6000 collaboration portfolio targeted specifically at smaller- and mid-size companies. In addition to touting built-in support for Cisco TelePresence Video Communication Server (VCS) and Singlewire InformaCast paging, Business Edition 6000 can now be sold with a 25-user licensing agreement, rather than requiring the 50 or more licenses it has in the past.

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For solution providers like Tim Savage, principal and managing director at ENS Group, a Fort Wayne, Ind.-based Cisco partner, this means smaller- and mid-size companies -- not just the enterprise -- are potential Business Edition 6000 customers.

"I think this is a game changer for us," Savage said, explaining that SMBs and midmarket organizations make up the bulk of ENS Group's business. "We didn't really feel like there was a Cisco product for below 50 users, and this Business Edition 6000, which is, of course, their enterprise product, is now just licensed down for midmarket and lower. It's a perfect fit."

Savage said ENS Group had been asking Cisco for a collaboration solution tailored to the midmarket for "quite a long time," especially after noticing the untapped business potential for a tool like Business Edition 6000.

"The more we talked about it and talked about the business we were losing -- which was in the millions of dollars in this area -- [Cisco] listened," Savage said. "And I really respect them for listening."

Ryan McCoy, vice president at Springfield, Mo.-based solution provider and Cisco partner Layer 3 Technologies, felt the new 25-user licensing agreement for Business Edition 6000 underscores Cisco's dedication to its smaller partners targeting the SMB and midmarket space.

"It's huge news for us, dropping [Business Edition 6000 licensing] down to 25 users. It puts us on the same playing field as the bigger guys," McCoy said, continuing: "I have been asking for Cisco to be a better partner in the small and medium business space for years. And over the last couple of years they have done a really good job in the market, and this seems to take it to the next step."

NEXT: Cisco's Midmarket Partner Certifications

Cisco also unveiled Tuesday Express Collaboration Specialization, a fast-track program for partners to earn Premier-level collaboration certification. Cisco said the idea behind the initiative is to attract new collaboration partners and also to streamline the process by which existing -- and especially smaller -- partners can earn Premier certification in Cisco's Collaboration program.

The Express Collaboration Specialization program works by slashing the training requirements solution providers must meet to earn Premier certification by more than half, said Marc Inderhees, senior sales business development manager of Cisco Worldwide Channels.

"We are very much bringing this to market to address the great opportunity that we see in [the midmarket] segment. It's a new entry point into our Collaboration Partner Program, one that is roughly 50 percent less from an overall partner training and investment perspective as compared to our larger, more enterprise-focused program, the Advanced Collaboration Architecture Specialization," Inderhees said.

"Previously, to sell this portfolio, our partners were required to complete the larger Advanced Collaboration Architecture Specialization program," he continued. "But now we significantly lowered the barrier to entry."

Inderhees said solution providers would need to complete "just north" of 300 training hours to earn Premier-level certification with the Advanced Collaboration Architecture Specialization. With the Express Collaboration Specialization program announced Tuesday, however, that number has been trimmed down to roughly 150 hours.

That said, partners who land this Premier-level certification through the new Express Collaboration Specialization program will receive the same benefits of those who complete the advanced program, including Cisco's technical support and participation in Cisco's Value Incentive Program (VIP).

Layer 3 Technologies' McCoy said his company will definitely strive for Premier-level certification now that the training requirements are more feasible for smaller organizations like his own.

"This will be our next step. Traditionally, to hit the Premier authorization, it was just too big of a jump for us," McCoy said. "Even though this will still be a big jump, it's going to be attainable, and it will open up a whole product line that I haven't been able to sell in the past."

A similar fast-track certification program was announced for Cisco telepresence partners, also targeting the midmarket space. The company's Refreshed TelePresence Advanced Technology program, like the Express Collaboration initiative, scales back on the training requirements partners must meet to earn Premier-level certification for Cisco's Telepresence portfolio.

Lastly, Cisco unveiled new marketing and demand generation tools partners can use to accelerate their push into midmarket organizations, along with an updated Cisco Midmarket Collaboration Promotion, which offers partners one-step deal registration and discounts on select Cisco Telepresence solutions.