Cisco Puts Its Midmarket Offensive In Full Swing

Cisco Tuesday reaffirmed its commitment to the midmarket, unveiling a series of new resources, promotions and products meant to help solution providers win over more smaller and midsize accounts.

The new tools and incentives, which were announced at Cisco's annual Partner Summit taking place this week in Boston, are part of the networking giant's broader Partner-Led sales initiative for midmarket growth.

"The midmarket opportunity is a huge opportunity for all of us and we have to work together to grow our market share and capture that market," said Bruce Klein, senior vice president, Worldwide Partner Organization at Cisco.

First, Cisco announced plans to double its investments, year-over-year, in Partner-Led efforts and Partner Plus, its partner program for solution providers targeting the midmarket and SMBs. Specifically, Cisco vowed to pump $150 million into Partner-Led over the next 12 months, a figure that's double the $75 million it invested in the initiative last year.

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Part of this investment, Cisco said, will be used to build what it called better "customer intelligence" tools for partners. Cisco said it is creating detailed profiles for almost half a million customer prospects, and then sharing that information with partners to help them zero in on the prospects most relevant, and most promising, to them.

Cisco also pledged to invest more in the growth-based incentives awarded to partners through Partner Plus. These growth-based incentives, which are awarded to partners based on the volume of midmarket-focused products and services they sell, can be tapped into on top of the Value Incentive Programs (VIP) Cisco also offers.

Partner Plus partners can use the money they earn through these growth-based incentives to invest in marketing resources, Cisco training materials, or to put toward their bottom lines. Cisco said it has seen 50 percent of its Partner Plus partners earn a growth-based incentive each quarter this year. There are currently 2,000 Partner Plus partners around the world, and roughly 650 in the U.S.

In addition, Cisco said it's rolling out a "Customer Conversation Guide" to help midmarket-focused partners have more successful business-focused conversations with customers, along with a Sales Winner's Circle, a Cisco-hosted event to reward its highest-selling midmarket-focused partner sales reps.

Mont Phelps, CEO of NWN Corp., a top national Cisco enterprise partner headquartered in Waltham, Mass., said Cisco's deep midmarket investments are paying off in dramatic sales growth for his company.

"It is absolutely huge," he said of Cisco's investments in the channel. "There is no confusion with regard to Cisco's channel commitment. It is 100 percent [commitment] -- period. They have traditionally and continue to concern themselves with partner profitability, which really translates back into the investment we are able to make to collaborate and work together with Cisco to penetrate a market. They always step up for the channel."

Phelps added that this clear channel commitment is really what separates Cisco from other vendors.

"What's impressive with Cisco is their partner strategy is a key part of their overall strategy," he said. "With other vendors sometimes it feels like it is an afterthought."

Cisco's growing focus on the midmarket stems from the massive, untapped opportunities it sees in that space. The networking giant estimates there is $25 billion to be had in product-focused midmarket sales, along with an additional $30 billion in services sales. Cisco said there are roughly 1.4 million midmarket customers -- meaning those with between 100 and 1,000 employees -- around the globe, and that it currently only does business with about 30 percent of them.

NEXT: Cisco's New Midmarket Demand-Gen Initiatives, Products

Apart from doubling down on its Partner-Led investments, Cisco is also upping its demand generation efforts around the midmarket. Coming out of Partner Summit this year, Cisco said it will commit to driving a total of $1 billion in sales-qualified leads for midmarket partners over its next fiscal year. These leads are expected to come from both Cisco's internal sales reps and partner sales reps, but will be handed over to partners.

To meet this goal, Cisco said it plans on increasing its own marketing initiatives around the midmarket, particularly through social media platforms and co-marketing campaigns with partners. Cisco also committed to continuing promotions around some of its midmarket-focused products, including the New Account Breakaway Promotion for its Unified Compute System (UCS), which rewards partners for independently finding and driving UCS sales in new customer accounts. A new Breakaway Special Pricing campaign also is being rolled out for Cisco Unified Access customers, incenting them to upgrade the platform to Cisco's latest, BYOD-ready version.

Lastly, Cisco announced a series of product enhancements aimed at fueling its midmarket growth, including a refreshed family of its Catalyst 2960 Series Switches. The new Catalyst 2960-X Series Access Switches, Cisco said, deliver twice the bandwidth of its older siblings, along with built-in support for software-defined networks and BYOD environments. The new switches, available in July, also provide application visibility and control capabilities, and will allow partners to develop their own applications that can be tightly supported and integrated with the network.

While the Catalyst 2960 also is targeted at larger enterprise accounts, the series has found a sweet spot in the midmarket; it lacks some robust features, such as integrated wireless controllers found in some higher-end Cisco switches, but, as a result, is priced more competitively for smaller and midsize customers.

In addition, Cisco is rolling out a Managed Services Dashboard partners can use to increase the services play around Cisco's Meraki wireless networks. The Managed Services Dashboard will give partners access to configuration tools, analytics and monitoring capabilities for fully managing a customer's Meraki deployment in a Network-as-a-Service model.

Learning more about the services opportunities around Meraki was a priority for some Cisco partners heading into Partner Summit.

"I am really hoping to find out if there is a service provider play [around Meraki], from a managed services perspective," said Michael Girouard, executive vice president of sales at TekLinks, a Birmingham, Ala.- based solution provider, in a recent interview with CRN. "If this controller is in the cloud, why can't I offer wireless as a managed service?"

Cisco said the new Managed Services Dashboard will both streamline Meraki deployments, and open up new recurring revenue streams for partners. The dashboard is slated to launch sometime this month.