Cisco Forges Tighter Links Between Sales Team, Partners

At the behest of Chuck Robbins, vice president of U.S. channels, Cisco has redeployed individuals previously responsible for high-touch relationships within named accounts and focused them on developing sales prospects in tandem with Cisco partners.

It has also transferred at least 60 people previously in direct-sales roles into channel account management positions, said Robbins.

In the past, certain territories relied too heavily on a small handful of elite partners to drum up new business, said Doug Dennerline, senior vice president of U.S. enterprise, commercial and federal sales at Cisco, San Jose, Calif. Now, the sales incentives for Cisco's territory account managers will depend on partner satisfaction and their teams' ability to reach deeper into a region's partner base. Salespeople now must include a partner on every call.

"You can't make your goal if you don't have a partner in front of you," Dennerline said. "We've been really dependent on top-tier partners."

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Cisco partners viewed the reorganization with cautious optimism. Some Registered partners said they have yet to see engagement, while some top-tier Cisco solution providers were worried about the criteria that Cisco's sales team will use for pulling partners in on joint sales calls.

Only 31 percent of the survey respondents strongly or somewhat agreed with the statement that Cisco's sales force poses no threat to their business, while 56 percent somewhat or strongly disagreed. Thirteen percent were neutral. The survey was conducted even as the reorganization began taking effect.

"The discrepancy I've experienced with Cisco over the years is the channel group has been telling [us] one thing, and the reality is the direct-sales force has not accepted what seems to be the stated company mission," said Steve Fuller, president and CTO of NetWorks Group, a Brighton, Mich.-based Cisco Premier partner.

While communications on the engineering and executive management levels are strong between Cisco and Network Computing Architects, a $15 million Cisco Premier partner, ties to Cisco's sales reps often are strained by distrust on both sides, said Tom Gobeille, president of the Bellevue, Wash.-based solution provider.

Clyde Collins, president of DSi, a $12.5 million Cisco Silver partner in Greensboro, N.C., said he believes partners' relationships with Cisco's sales force will improve as a result of the restructuring. "The smart account managers at Cisco are looking at their go-to partners and getting them more engaged collaboratively. We're seeing earlier engagement than ever before," he said.