New Cisco Certifications Help Partners Sell To Line-Of-Business Execs

That's why Cisco Wednesday rolled out new partner certifications aimed at helping solution providers communicate more effectively with line-of-business leaders and to demonstrate the business -- not just the technical -- value of Cisco's networking portfolio.

"For years and years, our partners, and partners in general, meaning the entire reseller business for IT, has really focused on the IT department, or the CIO- or CTO-led organizations," said Tejas Vashi, director of product management at Cisco, San Jose, Calif. "Traditionally, that's where our field and our partners have been really focused. But now, with this shift in spending, and the lines of business becoming more and more relevant in the decision-making ... they need to have a better understanding of these requirements for these customers."

[Related: Cisco's Chambers: Layoffs Were Needed Because 'Market Is Moving So Fast' ]

Vashi said this shift is being driven largely by the cloud and other emerging technologies that allow end users to employ self-service models and rely less directly on IT. Vashi cited industry research that suggests this shift is set to accelerate, with line-of-business leaders projected to impact as much as 80 percent of an organization's IT purchase decisions over the next 18 months.

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Cisco partners, as a result, need to change their sales strategies to focus less on speeds and feeds and more on the business relevance of a Cisco product, Vashi said.

"A CMO isn't worried about are we getting the right routers or the right switches," Vashi said. "They are [worried] if marketing campaigns are targeted at the right audiences at the right time."

To help solution providers hold these more business-focused conversations, Cisco is introducing three new Business Transformation Certifications for partners: Cisco Transformative Architecture Specialist, Cisco Business Value Specialist and Cisco Certified Business Value Practitioner.

The first of the three, the Cisco Transformative Architecture Specialist, is focused on mapping certain business requirements to specific Cisco architectures and Smart Solutions, Vashi said. The other two certifications -- the Cisco Business Value Specialist and Cisco Certified Business Value Practitioner -- cover material related to quantifying business benefits and ROI, securing stakeholder buy-in for IT projects, and building business cases and road maps.

All three certifications require partners to take a course and pass an exam. Partners can, however, choose to bypass the course and just take the exam instead, something Vashi said would be a good option for partners already experienced with business consulting.

Completing the Cisco Business Value Specialist exam is a prerequisite for taking the higher-level Cisco Certified Business Value Practitioner course or exam, Vashi said. There is also a fundamentals course called "Understanding Cisco Business Value Analysis Fundamentals" that partners need to complete as a prerequisite for both higher-level Business Value certifications, but it is not being recognized as a stand-alone certification.

Mike Gleason, partner and director of the Cisco practice for GET+Netrix, a Chicago-based solution provider, said he is definitely seeing a shift in IT decision-making among his clients.

"It's happening in every conversation that we are having," Gleason told CRN. "We're training our sales staff to not ask [clients], 'Do you need routers and switches?' but to ask them, 'How do you want to consume, how do you want to pay for, and how do you want to support your technology?' "

Vashi said he expects these new Business Transformation Certifications to be rolled into Cisco's broader channel specialization requirements sometime next year, meaning certain partners will be required to obtain them in order to hold other Cisco specializations.

The new exams and training courses are available now.