MCI Drives Into SMB, Taps Cisco Partners For Managed Services

With its future still uncertain, MCI last week began offering managed services through Cisco Systems channel partners.

The two companies are recruiting Cisco partners with IP communications and security expertise to sell a bundle of MCI's SMB-focused Advantage hosted VoIP and managed firewall services in exchange for a monthly commission.

The services could help Cisco partners close sales even if those customers don't have the funds for new equipment, said Bob Urick, president of Network Resources, a Premier Cisco partner in Chantilly, Va.

"A lot of clients, because of their size, don't have the money or the personnel to have someone on staff to take care of all these technologies," Urick said. MCI, Ashburn, Va., has dedicated personnel to support the initiative and is offering channel-neutral compensation to its sales reps on SMB deals that involve Cisco solution providers, said Phil Meeks, vice president of MCI's strategic ventures and alliances. Compensation neutrality will also apply to larger deals if partners register them, he said.

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"We've been working through our MCI branch offices to make sure [MCI personnel] have been trained so they understand how the Cisco VAR program works, what's in it for them, what's in it for the Cisco VAR, ensure that everyone understands the bundle and understands the compensation neutrality as well," Meeks said.

Cisco partners will need to adapt their business models to successfully sell managed services, so the two companies are providing training, said Nigel Williams, vice president of worldwide service provider partners at Cisco, San Jose, Calif.

"Let's just recognize that up front and be clear with our partners that, although extremely profitable, there's work you've got to do to put some skin in the game here," Williams said.

Who will acquire MCI was still up in the air last week. Verizon Communications earlier this month agreed to purchase the telecom carrier, beating out a higher bid from Qwest Communications International. Last week, however, Qwest submitted a sweetened offer.

Despite the turmoil, MCI has forged ahead, recently launching a partner program geared to drive SMB sales.