Cisco SVP: Marketing Has Moved From 'Fluffy Function' To Major Moneymaker

Cisco is taking big strides to redefine its marketing organization and is urging solution providers to evolve along with it, Karen Walker, senior vice president of marketing at Cisco, told CRN Wednesday.

"We are really going to reposition marketing as being a business partner and a revenue generator versus a fluffy function," said Walker, who also heads up Cisco's global go-to-market organization.

This concept of revamping marketing organizations and, specifically holding those organizations more responsible for revenue generation, was a major theme at Cisco's eighth annual Velocity Partner Marketing Event, taking place this week in Chicago.

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

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It's a concept known as revenue marketing, or setting specific revenue goals for marketers -- and holding them responsible for those goals -- much like is done in sales organizations today. Put simply, it's the process of evolving an organization's marketing department from a cost center to a revenue center.

Embracing revenue marketing, a concept Cisco first introduced to partners at its Velocity event last year, is a "journey," Cisco said, and not something that can happen overnight. It involves tearing down the barriers between marketing and sales teams, holding marketing responsible for providing high-level leads to sales and, in most cases, establishing clear service-level agreements between sales and marketing organizations that dictate how those leads are handled.

But the payoff, Cisco said, is great. In Chicago this week, Cisco executives said embracing the concept of revenue marketing has allowed it to generate $2 billion in sales qualified leads for its partners, in less than a year. The original goal set by the marketing team was only $1 billion.

"It's been a huge, but very empowering shift, for our marketing team," Walker said.

Now, Cisco's attention has turned to helping its partners embrace revenue marketing in their own organizations.

"Last year [at Velocity], as lovely an experience as it was, was an eye-opener for a lot of partners," Walker said. "But they got the vision and what this could mean for them very, very quickly."

Walker said that to date Cisco has worked hand in hand with partners to help them generate $419 million in pipelines through partners' own revenue marketing-driven campaigns. "We are trying to teach them how to fish," she said.

Partners told CRN this week that Cisco's Velocity event really sets the San Jose, Calif.-based networking company apart from other vendor partners.

"This even is somewhat unprecedented in the industry," said Jed Ayres, chief marketing officer at MCPc, a $262 million Cleveland-based national solution provider ranked No. 89 on CRN's Solution Provider 500 list. "It’s a great opportunity for marketing professionals around the globe to get together and really talk about where marketing is going, where the trends are going and what we need to be thinking about."

"[It helps us] become differentiated in the eyes of the manufacturer and, more importantly, more differentiated in the field," Ayres continued. "If we are elevated in the Cisco ecosystem as a world-class marketer, it translates into a lot of positive."

Tony Balistrieri, president of MCPc's western region, agreed.

"[Cisco] truly sees the importance of the channel," Balistrieri told CRN. "And by giving us tools to help us become better, they know that, ultimately, that’s going to make their channel sales go up. They see that they need to feed the front end of the engine to make the sales happen in the back end. I don’t think there are any other companies that do that."

Lori Koch, director of field marketing at NWN, a Waltham, Mass.-based solution provider and No. 88 on CRN's SP500 with $266 million in annual sales, said Velocity is one of several ways she's noticed Cisco engage more with NWN.

"I would say Cisco is becoming more engaged with the percentages of our business and understanding our business a little bit better," Koch told CRN. "We also have higher access to executives. That's beneficial to us because we can tell them what we think from a partner perspective, but also represent our customers in those conversations."

Cisco Wednesday said this year's Velocity event included 250 Cisco partners from 28 countries.