Partners: Three Critical Things Cisco's Next Channel Chief Needs To Bring To The Table


Cisco Systems partners have a few clear ideas about what the networking giant's next channel chief's priorities should be.

Channel chief Wendy Bahr announced her resignation Friday and she'll stay on until her successor is named. The company said it intends to have a new channel chief in place in time for its massive Partner Summit event in mid-November.

Solution providers already have begun speculating about who might replace Bahr, an 18-year Cisco veteran and global channel chief for the past three years. Partners who spoke with CRN said they'd favor in-house candidates, and floated names like Nirav Sheth, who as vice president of worldwide sales and systems engineering for Cisco's partner organization, already works for Bahr and leads the company's overall sales and technical go-to-market strategy.

Partners also said Cisco Senior Vice President, Americas Partner Sales Rick Snyder should be considered. Snyder has been with Cisco about 13 years and in his current role for about three.

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Regardless of who Cisco chooses to lead its global channel strategy, partners say the chosen executive will have to get a few things right, and the job won't be easy considering the company's ongoing shift toward the multi-cloud market and a more recurring revenue and software subscription-based revenue model.

Here are three key attributes partners want to see from Cisco's next global channel chief.

Trust And Respect

The leader of just about any solution provider will tell you that the trust and respect of vendors' partner organizations is the foundation of any good channel relationship. It may be especially important for Cisco, said Kent MacDonald, vice president at Long View Systems, a Calgary, Canada-based solution provider that works with the networking giant, because of the broad-based changes taking hold in the vendor's business model, sales strategy and portfolio. "They have to make sure the programs go forward and involve the partners and ensure that partners are sustainable and viable as we go through this digital transformation from transactional business to recurring revenue," MacDonald said. "It's a heavy lift, and [the next channel chief] has big shoes to fill."

Partner Profitability And Loyalty
If anything, the competitive landscape is becoming even more intense for solution providers as digital transformation initiatives take hold among a growing field of customers. For Cisco's next channel chief, that means keeping partner financials top of mind, said Faisal Bhutto, executive vice president of networking, cloud and cybersecurity at Houston-based solution provider Computex Technology Solutions. Profitability and a sense that Cisco has the partner's back goes a long way toward building loyalty in the channel, Bhutto said. "As long as they're a channel advocate, that's what we need," Bhutto said. "Loyalties are built over the years, and they have to make sure they keep the partner community loyal to the Cisco brand. That's something they should be thinking about every day."

A Clear Road Map
Partners are along for the ride with Cisco as the company transitions toward new revenue models based on new portfolios from switching to automation and security, among others. As such, they'll need the company's next channel chief to be clear and communicative about that road map as it evolves, said Gary Berzack, COO and CTO of eTribeca, a New York-based solution provider that works with Cisco. "The interface between the business units, the marketing messaging and the partner road map are critical over the next couple of years in terms of clear messaging, programs and education," Berzack said. The next channel chief must keep a close eye on everything "from certifications to product availability with a realistic future road map and increased assistance for these new platforms. They need to be an advocate for all levels of partners both by sales revenue and by complementary engineering capabilities."