Cisco To Partners: Break Down The Barrier Between Your Marketing, Sales Teams

With the rise of trends like social media and business-outcome selling, partner marketing organizations are playing a very different -- and more critical -- role than they ever have before, Cisco executives told partners Tuesday.

"The role of marketing is changing," said Sherri Liebo, vice president of Cisco Global Partner Marketing, in her opening session Tuesday at the Cisco Velocity event, taking place this week in Chicago. "We are becoming more strategic within our companies. We are moving from a traditional role of communications and sales support to a role where we are identifying new opportunities for our sales force, we're engaging with customers across new touch points, and we are driving pipeline."

The theme of this year's Velocity event -- an annual Cisco conference designed specifically for partner marketing professionals -- is "Be What's Next." The focus of this year's event, Liebo said, is to help channel marketing organizations do just that, by not only leveraging next-generation marketing tools like Twitter or LinkedIn, but through "revenue marketing," the process of aligning marketing campaigns more closely with sales and business objectives to generate a more measurable marketing ROI.

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"We need to realize that our role is changing within our organizations, and how critical it is to break down any lingering barriers between sales and marketing and, in fact, [between] any other function inside the company -- anything that gets in the way of building a seamless connection with our customers," Liebo told partners.

To help partners embrace revenue marketing, Cisco at its Global Partner Summit last year committed to generating $1 billion worth of qualified leads to hand over to partners in one year. According to Liebo, Cisco, less than a year later, has generated $2 billion in leads, 21 percent of which, she said, have already been converted to partner revenue. Twenty percent of those deals, she said, were net new to Cisco.

"We have made fantastic progress on our revenue marketing journey together," Liebo said.

Haley Montgomery, director of marketing and partner development at TekLinks, a Birmingham, Ala.-based Cisco Gold partner, said her biggest objective is to strengthen the TekLinks brand, making it as recognizable to customers as the company's OEM partner brands are today.

"Unless you have been sold a TekLinks product or know a TekLinks salesperson, you might not know who TekLinks is," said Montgomery said, noting that she recently kicked off a new social media strategy as a first step. "We are kind of starting from scratch, in a lot of ways, which is kind of a bad thing and a good thing."

NEXT: Business Value Practitioner

In addition to breaking down the silos between marketing and sales teams, Cisco Tuesday urged partners to evolve their marketing strategies in other ways, such as selling to line-of-business and other non-IT executives, and adapting their customer conversations to do that.

"Every conversation I have with customers these days, they want us to talk to them in their vernacular. It's not, tell me about their collaboration technology, [or] tell me about your data center technology," said Bruce Klein, senior vice president, Worldwide Partner Organization at Cisco. "It's about, 'Tell me how you are going to help improve the productivity of my organization.'"

To nudge partners toward these new conversations, Cisco in August introduced its Business Value Practioner partner certification, which helps partners map Cisco technology to specific business outcomes, and then communicate those outcomes to partners. Last month, Cisco made its Business Value Practioner certification a requirement for Gold-level partners.

Finally, Klein suggested partners develop internal marketing and sales teams that are focused on select vertical markets like health care or retail, to ensure, again, that they are selling customer-specific outcomes, rather than just technology.

Klein said Cisco's recently launched Solution Partner Program, designed to host Cisco technology and ISV partners, is intended to help partners bulk up this vertical expertise. The idea is that these ISVs and vendor partners will develop industry-specific solutions and applications, certified to work with Cisco technology, to be sold through the Cisco channel. Cisco is building an online marketplace to help solution providers find and team up with these third-party vendors.