Cisco Silver Partners May Be Going For The Gold

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Mixed feelings are what Cisco Silver partners have over the company's recent decision to retire the Silver certification as part of a broader shake-up to the Cisco Channel Partner Program revealed last month, they said.

Some partners said they view Cisco's decision to nix the Silver level as a sign of "tough love," a move that, in some cases, will require them to embrace cloud and managed services faster than they would have done otherwise. Others, however, see it as a move that underplays the importance of smaller, more midmarket-focused, partners.

"I think it's a big mistake, especially when [Cisco] says they are trying to get into the midmarket, and we are the guys who do their midmarket business -- the smaller partners," said one Cisco Silver partner, who chose to remain anonymous.

[Related: Breaking It Down: 10 Big Changes Partners Should Know About The New Cisco Partner Program]

Cisco revealed plans to retire the Silver status at its 2014 Cisco Partner Summit in Las Vegas last month. That change was one of several that was made to the Cisco Channel Partner Program, which now requires all Gold partners within the next two years to be actively selling a minimum of four Cisco cloud or managed services offerings, with those four including at least one cloud service and at least one managed service.

Cisco said it has roughly 70 Silver partners in the U.S., and about 285 around the world. These partners will have until April 1, 2016 to choose one of two paths: move up the stack to Gold or move down to Premier status with a Master specialization. Cisco said these Master specializations, which partners can earn for a specific technology area like Collaboration or Data Center, are designed for Cisco partners with a deep expertise in a certain product line.

Cisco at the Partner Summit said that it will start promoting these Master specializations as being "as good as Gold" to help drive recognition of them in the marketplace.That's easier said than done, said one executive at the Cisco Silver event.

"The issue for us is that they have done nothing to promote Master specializations They mean nothing in the marketplace," said the partner. "So, from my perspective, we have made all these investments in Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert certifications and now [Cisco] is going to basically, in the marketplace, present me the same way as the guy who has one CCIE and is Premier."

Cisco is already taking steps to make the Master designation more prominent in the market, according to Sherri Liebo, vice president of Global Partner Marketing at Cisco. For instance, Cisco is starting to train its own internal sales force to direct customers who need specific expertise in unified communications, security or other areas, to partners with Master specializations, she said.

"Today, [customers] look for Gold first, and then if they need a specialty, they look for Master. That was not through any marketing -- we didn't have a marketing campaign around 'Go for the Gold' -- it was just sort of learned behavior over time. So we are going to embark on training our own sales force to understand that master is as good as Gold," Liebo said in an interview at Partner Summit. "[The recognition] isn't there today, but we absolutely need to get there."

Other Cisco Silver Partners Mulling Their Options

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