New Cisco Partner Program Centers On Differentiation, Not ‘Catch-All’ Gold Partner Designation

‘Our own partner program was heavily weighted towards resale, which served us in the industry very well for a number of years. But with the shift to recurring revenue and managed services, we needed to expand the roles partner play while giving our existing partners lots of degrees of freedom to evolve,’ Cisco’s Marc Surplus tells CRN.


Cisco Systems’ recently simplified partner program will now recognize and reward the four different roles that partners want to play with customers, according to the company.

The tech giant in October said that it would be making the biggest changes to its partner program structure in more than a decade. The new structure, said Cisco, would help partners better target life-cycle and Everything as-a-Service opportunities. Cisco at the time said it would be dropping the number of partner programs from upward of 12 disparate programs to one unified program centered on the four primary partner roles.

Cisco Wednesday revealed the program requirements and deadlines for the Integrator and Provider partner types, as well as updates on the coming Developer and Advisor roles.

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“We recognize our partners play different roles for customers. Our own partner program was heavily weighted towards resale, which served us in the industry very well for a number of years. But with the shift to recurring revenue and managed services, we needed to expand the roles partner play while giving our existing partners lots of degrees of freedom to evolve,” Marc Surplus, vice president, strategy, planning and programs for Cisco’s Global Partner Organization, told CRN.

[Related: Cisco Webex: From ‘Stodgy’ To ‘Cutting Edge’ As Tech Giant Takes Aim At Zoom]

Across each of the four roles, Cisco is offering its sought-after Gold status. The company said it will also be differentiating more distinctly between Gold, Premier and Select partners. And while the Cisco Gold brand represents partners’ deep commitment and investment in Cisco, Premier partners are also among Cisco’s fastest-growing and rapidly evolving partners, Surplus said.

Cisco told CRN that partners would be able to select the role or roles that best describe their business. There will be a “healthy Venn diagram” of partners that identify as more than one partner type, Surplus said. The new structure will also allow partners of different types to work together based on the customer need, he added.

Under the new program, solution providers that fall under the Integrator role—or Cisco‘s “bread-and-butter” longtime partners—and are Gold-level, will have to have achieve Cisco’s Customer Experience Specialization by April 7, 2022.

To help Premier-level integrators stand out more, Cisco is now requiring these Integrator partners to qualify for either two advanced architecture specializations or one advanced architecture and one business specialization. Additional rewards will follow Premier achievements, including VIP, Perform Plus and marketing benefits, Cisco added.

The provider role, which was built with the MSP partner in mind, will now better identify and recognize partners based on their investment in managed services and as-a-service solutions. Gold and Premier providers will be differentiated from the Select provider partners. Cisco is also upping its investments in Provider partners, with predictable pricing; deal registration for managed services; more flexible consumption options; dedicated investment and business development funds; technical support enablement; and co-marketing, the company said.

Cisco Gold used to be a “catch-all” designation, but one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to Cisco Gold partners, said Kent MacDonald, senior vice president of strategic alliances for Calgary, Alberta-based Long View Systems.

“There’s a difference between selling a product and delivering it as a service. As Cisco pivots to more recurring revenue programs and consumption-based IT, this program will address the growing appetite in the market for those solutions,” MacDonald said. “There are clearly partners that are good at ordering and transacting, and those that are good at the services and life-cycle support.”

Long View Systems is a Cisco Gold partner across both the Integrator and Provider partner tiers. The new Provider partner tier covers the former Cisco Cloud and Managed Service Provider (CMSP) program, which was retired in February.

“It was really overdue to make that more differentiated for partners with managed services competencies,” MacDonald said. “I believe it was the right pivot for Cisco to make.”

As partners develop and differentiate their own businesses, building on top of the Cisco platform is becoming more interesting to more partners, and Cisco wants to reward these partner types. To that end, the Developer role will become a “full-fledged” part of the new channel program, with the Cisco brand distinction and rewards that come with it.

Specifically, Cisco will offer more technical training and tools, solution development, co-marketing, access to Cisco sales resources, and the DevNet Specialization to more Developer partner types, Surplus said.

Lastly, for Advisor partner types, Cisco will bring Advisor partners more deeply into the Cisco partner ecosystem and is scaling up the rewards for these partners, who used to be part of Cisco‘s Consultant partner program. Cisco is also providing technical and strategic development resources, cooperative business development, co-sales and access to Cisco events for Advisor partners.

The Advisor role opens up Cisco to more partners that haven‘t wanted to engage in a reseller model, such as agent partners, Surplus said.

ScanSource-owned master agent Intelisys in June unveiled a partnership with Cisco that opened up Webex to Intelisys sales partners for the first time.

The Integrator and Provider partner roles are now live, while Developer and Advisor will be live later this summer, Cisco said.