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Cisco CX Momentum Means More Specializations, Tools To Trigger Double-Digit Partner Profit

Cisco is delivering on the promises it made last year by helping partners operate, organize, and monetize on lifecycle opportunities. The tech giant also unveiled Business Critical Services 3.0 at Cisco Live 2019.

Cisco is hailing its focus on customer experience as its biggest area of joint opportunity with the channel. Cisco is investing in its partner's lifecycle practices through new programs aimed at boosting partner profitability, the networking giant said at Cisco Partner Summit 2019.

Partners that increase their Cisco customer retention by 5 percent increase their profitability overall by 25 percent, but these solution providers need help operating, organizing, and monetizing lifecycle. To that end, Cisco is launching its Customer Success portfolio, including a Customer Success Specialist individual certification, said Rajat Mishra, senior vice president of product management, customer experience at Cisco.

In a crowded landscape, partners need to differentiate. Cisco kept promises it made at last year's partner summit by launching its first business specialization; the Customer Experience (CX) specialization and Advanced Customer Experience specialization in August, aimed at helping partners monetize lifecycle opportunities. More than 240 partners have already achieved the specializations, all of which having already graduated from Cisco's Lifecycle Advisor Program.

[Related: Cisco Partner Summit 2019 Preview: Oliver Tuszik Wants Partners To ‘Own Their Edge’]

Cisco has laid out the roles required for partners looking to build a lifecycle practice, including customer success manager and customer success specialist positions. The company is now taking its own blueprint and exposing it to partners, which will help channel organizations operate their lifecycle businesses and drive more digital renewals, Mishra said.

Hiring and training customer success managers, Mishra said, is the next step. Cisco launched its Customer Success Manager certification in August, as well as its Renewal Manager Verification exam, which were both greeted with "terrific reception" by the channel, Mishra said. To help partners further "organize," Cisco will also be launching a Customer Success Specialist certification next year, he said.

"Just like Cisco led the way in networking with a CCIE certification earlier, We want to lead the way with the customer success manager certification," Mishra said. There are about 50 partners certified as a Customer Success Manager and that number grows every week, he added.

Cisco has been promoting customer experience, especially lifecycle opportunities, for partners since bringing on Maria Martinez, Cisco's executive vice president and chief customer experience officer, and Gerri Elliot, Cisco's chief sales and marketing officer in April 2018.

Many partners already have the hang of customer experience and are building their lifecycle practices further. The partners who have invested in lifecycle capabilities with Cisco are enjoying three times greater sell-with growth rates, according to the San Jose, Calif.-based company. Some partners are still getting there, while others were ahead of Cisco on the lifecycle journey, Mishra said.

"Over the last year, the change we've seen is less partners asking why lifecycle is important. It's more a shift to how do we do it and how do we do it faster," he said. "It's exciting to see the momentum in lifecycle within the whole industry."

Cisco's CX business unit went through a restructure last year when it cut between 200-300 jobs, which the company said was aimed at reorganizing Cisco around software and subscription-based services.

"We have become a lot more tightly connected between sales and CX," Mishra said. "Becoming more customer-centric, emphasizing products and partners together and focusing on renewals, and working closely with sales has been instrumental."  

On the product side, Cisco is unleashing Business Critical Services (BCS) 3.0; its platform that uses analytics and automation to guide customers as they transform their IT environments with insights and data.

Cisco has been making changes to BCS based on feedback from the channel. BCS is now aligned with specific IT roles, such as architect, engineer, or DevOps, which helps open up access to new buying centers for partners. Cisco is also adding guidance to BCS for every stage of the customer's journey to help partners sell more implementation services.

BCS now comes in simple, packaged offers, such as BCS Essentials, which can be resold by partners into commercial accounts, Mishra said.

Cisco wants partners to keep in mind the same message as last year when the tech vendor formally unveiled its customer experience message to the channel: "We want to do it with you, not to you," Mishra said. "We have invested a ton and the 5,000 hours we have spent working with partners globally has helped us build the model together."

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