Cisco Continues SMB Push With Redesigned Partner Specialization, Training Program

According to Steve Benvenuto, senior director of business development for the Strategy, Planning and Partner Programs team in Cisco's Worldwide Partner Organization, Cisco's newly defined SMB specialization bundles the two previous SMB specializations -- Small Business (SB) and Small Business Foundation (SBF) -- into one. Cisco consolidated the two, Benvenuto said, to make the SMB program and specializations process easier for partners to navigate.

"The key thing here was to really simplify the approach for our partners that are focused in this [SMB] space," Benvenuto told CRN.

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In addition to rolling multiple SMB specializations into one, Cisco is trimming down the training requirements partners need to attain that new specialization. Specifically, Benvenuto said Cisco is slashing the number of training courses partners need to complete to achieve the SMB specialization from 15 to four.

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"Over the years, we were adding training and sort of building it on top of specializations that we had in this space," Benvenuto said. "Now we are saying, 'Let's take a clean-slate approach.'"

These courses, along with other SMB partner training resources, are also being updated to include new material specific to the cloud, SMB-level Cisco TelePresence products, virtualization and data center switching, Benvenuto said. The courses still will be available for free within Cisco's Partner Education Connection portal, and Cisco distributors also will be rolling out instructor-led boot camps around these topics.

Cisco currently has roughly 11,000 partners worldwide holding SMB specializations. The redesigned specialization and reduced training requirements rolling out this month reflect Cisco's broader effort to increase the numbers of partners it has targeting the SMB segment, according to Benvenuto.

Robert Betzel, CEO of Infinity Network Solutions, a Macon, Ga.-based solution provider and Cisco partner, said he thinks the new SMB specialization and training program will be especially beneficial to smaller partners, who didn't necessarily have the time or headcount to commit to the earlier requirements.

"[Cisco] wants to provide a way for partners who want to work with Cisco, even those from smaller firms, to do it," Betzel said. "I would have welcomed what they are doing today when I started, and we may have had a Cisco partnership with them even sooner."

Cisco has been putting more weight behind its SMB sales strategy for the past several years, and SMB and midmarket opportunities were a major theme at this year's Cisco Partner Summit in Boston. Cisco, at the event, vowed to pump $150 million -- or double its funding in 2012 -- into new resources for Partner-Led, a Cisco initiative that aims to drive more midmarket and SMB sales of its products and services through the channel.

Cisco also has bulked up its SMB-specific product offerings, launching this year the Cisco Small Business 500 Series Wireless Access Points and RV320 Dual Gigabit WAN VPN Router. Cisco also offers SMB- and midmarket-focused switches and telepresence systems.