Cisco Streamlines The Channel Experience With Partner Program Makeover

Cisco Systems is shaking up its partner program by launching a simplified strategy for deal registration and specializations, as well as new incentive programs.

"Simplification is always good, and you can see here just how much Cisco is focused on it," said Michael Girouard, executive vice president of sales at TekLinks, a Birmingham, Ala.-based Cisco partner. "These are welcomed changes."

The San Jose, Calif.-based networking leader unveiled the changes Wednesday at the Cisco Partner Summit, being held in Dallas this week.

[Related: 8 Things Partners Need To Know About Cisco's Revamped Partner Program]

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The company is evolving its channel strategy to help partners capture new opportunities, refine software and services skills, and differentiate themselves in the market, according to Marc Surplus, vice president of strategy, planning and programs for Cisco's Global Partner Organization.

Cisco has fundamentally simplified its deal registration process by streamlining the approval process and lowering the amount of input needed, Surplus said. The company is consolidating its 15 hunting and teaming program tracks to just two. In addition, Cisco is reducing the number of incentives around account takeout or new account acquisition referred to as "account breakaways,"

Cisco also is drastically changing its specialization portfolio. The company has reduced its 10 Express-level specializations to one, cut the number of Advanced Specializations from 13 to five Advanced Architecture Specializations, and is retiring all Advanced Technology Specializations except for Advanced Video.

The simplification effort will remove redundancy, refresh content and streamline the process for partners, according to Cisco. The company will embed more technical capabilities, such as Internet of Things, into its Advanced Architecture Specializations.

"We're streamlining the overall partner experience. We're trying to get partners to the right discount faster to optimize business," Surplus said.

Cisco also unveiled a specialization that will be key to its intent-based Intuitive Network platform strategy: the Master Networking Specialization. The new specialization, which will become available in March, emphasizes skills around analytics, programmability and automation.

Cisco also launched a slew of new incentive programs during Partner Summit to boost the channel on the software and services fronts.

The networking giant's new VIP Annuity program provides partners with up-front rebates for landing a Software-as-a-Service deal, as well as expanding or renewing SaaS deals with existing customers. The program applies to enterprise networking, data center, security and collaboration sales with performance-based recurring revenue rebates. The entry bar for the program is $1,000 in monthly recurring revenue.

TekLinks' Girouard said the new VIP programs are a "good concept" that Cisco needs to continue to embrace.

"Annuity revenues help limit the lumpiness of traditional equipment sales and provide predictable cash flows, sales and profits," he said.

Cisco also unveiled VIP Activation that adds back-end rebates on software deployments for Cisco ONE and Digital Network Architecture (DNA) Advantage suites, as well as for Cisco Identity Services Engines (ISE) and Cisco Stealthwatch.

"[VIP Activation] is for partners who get the software turned on when they land the deal, and that is generally through a professional services engagement," said Sandra Flinders, senior director of Cisco's Worldwide Services Partner Programs. "For products such as ISE, Stealthwatch and DNA Center, partners can earn considerable rebates for getting all those three software applications turned on."

The third new program is Cisco's Migration Incentive Program (MIP), which provides partners with an incremental discount on all qualifying hardware, software and services migration opportunities. The program is designed for selling newer technologies into Cisco's install base and includes additional accelerators on specific technologies.

Cisco said the program updates are designed to help the channel more effectively shift business to software and recurring revenue.

"These changes should make life easier for partners," said Surplus. "The evolution of our partner programs reflect our shift towards a software and a services skill set, and making sure partners succeed in owning the digital transformation space."