Cisco Launches The Next Evolution Of Its Partner Strategy

Cisco's global channel chief Wendy Bahr Tuesday said she is evolving the networking giant's partner strategy to focus on simplification, better alignment and a new value exchange between Cisco and its channel community. To start the evolution, Cisco launched new software roles, a suite of digital marketing services and announced it will significantly simplify its popular backend rebate program VIP (Value Incentive Program).

"With the speed that we're acquiring new companies and broadening our portfolio, we must absolutely get to a holistic program that represents products, services and software that's easier for you to understand and use and helps us exchange value in better ways," said Bahr to more than 2,200 partners during her keynote address at the 2016 Cisco Partner Summit in San Diego. "It's going to be a journey."

Bahr said the San Jose, Calif.-based company will drastically simplify its VIP program, beginning with its partners' highest profitably segment: security.

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"In the past we had over 4,600 SKUs for security in VIP. We had seven different payout levels," said Bahr. "Now we're going to have four categories and four payout levels."

When asked whether a partner would get higher financial incentives for an apples-to-apples security solution under the new simplified VIP structure, Bahr said, "There are more incentives now in security than there have ever been before."

Partners cheered Cisco for its effort to simplify VIP, saying it will drive profitability.

"There's a lot of SKUs and we have to make sure we track the SKUs, and there are also different payouts depending on the SKUs. So the simpler they make it for us, it's easier for us to position the right products," said Vinu Thomas, chief technology officer at Presidio, a New York-based Cisco partner. "It's great news, and it's going to be good for us."

The four categories will include hardware products, one-year license, multi-year license and perpetual license, with an associated payout for each category. Bahr said security is just the start as more market segments in VIP will soon follow suit.

Cisco also unveiled at Partner Summit a new suite of digital marketing services the vendor is making available to its entire global partner community. The new tools, services and resources are designed to enhance partners marketing expertise in order to engage customers and drive revenue by leading a company through its digital transformation.

Anoj Willy, vice president of product development at Trace3, an Irvine, Calif.-based Cisco partner, said the digital marketing suite opens the door for new opportunities around digitization.

The network leader built a new Partner Marketing Central platform that offers more integrated and personalized digital marketing materials for partners where solution providers. Cisco also revamped its Cisco Marketing Velocity programs to give partners access to marketing best practices and thought leadership designed to accelerate sales, sharpen skills and keep up with new marketing trends, according to Bahr.

"It's going to allow you to reach more customers, drive more demand, offer analytics and best-in-class [marketing] campaigns," said Bahr.

Cisco also announced two new optional software roles for partners: Lifecycle Advisor and Software Integrator, which will both become available to the channel on May 1. The advisor role is about building capabilities and practices to do adoption and expansion of software and renewals. The integrator role is based around programmability, integration, API management and DevOps.

"We're going to exchange value with you when you set up these practices through performance-based incentives, access to higher discounts and many other benefits," said Bahr. "This is going to bring more stickiness and relevance inside your customer base."

Brian Ortbals, vice president of advanced technology at World Wide Technology, a St. Louis-based solution provider and Cisco Gold partner said Cisco is answering to customer demand in the market around software services.

"It's a requirement that our customers need now," said Ortbals. "As the portfolio shifts to software, its not about hardware maintenance anymore [or] SMARTnet, it's much more around … ultimately trying to create more value for our customers. Having these new roles and services in our portfolio is required to deliver those types of things for our customers."

Cisco also unveiled a new ACES (Accelerating Cisco Ecosystem Sales) framework to drive greater alignment with best practices, tools, training and video workshops. Bahr said ACES will ensure a better go-to-market method between Cisco and its ecosystem partners.

The networking giant will also be moving its annual Partner Summit event to the fall starting this November in order to better align with the timing of Cisco's global sales conference.

"We will adapt and evolve together and we will continue to grow and be profitable together," said Bahr. "We will enable our customers' digital transformation."