Five Highs, Five Lows: Cisco's Channel In the Goodwin Era

Changing Of The Guard

Keith Goodwin, senior vice president, Worldwide Partner Organization at Cisco, confirmed to CRN this week that he will retire at the end of Cisco's fiscal 2012. As Cisco's longest-tenured channel chief -- he first got the job in 2005 -- Goodwin's presided over some of the Cisco channel's most memorable highs and disappointing lows. Here's a look at five of each.

HIGH: Aug. 2005: Change Is Good

In his first major interview following his appointment as channel chief in Aug. 2005, Goodwin told CRN editors that his goals were to continue the channel momentum Cisco had built in recent years and to make partners more profitable. He also laid out the idea that Cisco's major incentive programs -- VIP, OIP and SIP -- had become too complicated and that regional and partner-specific planning could stand to be more efficient.

"Sometimes the processes themselves associated with the programs just aren't very efficient for the partners," Goodwin said. "They're too Cisco-centric, and they need to be more partner-centric."

HIGH: Nov. 2008: SMB Pledge

One of the major accomplishments during Goodwin's reign as channel chief is the greater acceptance of Cisco in the small business networking channel. There have been a number of program developments in the last five years in particular, including Cisco's pledge to invest $100 million in a global small business channel initiative. Many partners point to that investment, first announced in Nov. 2008, as Cisco's SMB stake in the ground.

LOW: June 2009: Flip Explained

Cisco's March 2009 acquisition of Pure Digital, maker of the once-popular Flip video camera, seemed like a ballsy move at the time, with Cisco furthering both its consumer and video technology ambitions in one swift M&A move. But fast forward a few years, and the Pure Digital buy seems misguided, with the Flip itself destined to be remembered as a symbol of how Cisco got frustratingly distracted from its core networking priorities.

Still, Cisco executives talked a good game about Flip. In this June 2009 video interview with CRN, Goodwin described Flip as a "very strategic acquisition" for Cisco that would "get partners thinking about how to get video integrated into their strategic offerings."

HIGH: June 2009: Help Is On the Way

When Cisco Partner Summit 2009 kicked off in Boston, solution providers were less than a year into a business-squeezing economic downturn, and much of the conversation in the channel was shifting toward how much of a role vendors should play in ballasting their partners. Cisco went open-arms to its partner base, offering what was then described as a partner stimulus package -- providing VIP program enhancements, a new managed services channel program or limited lifetime warranties to spur Catalyst switch sales -- and expanded marketing support.

Goodwin talked up targeted Cisco efforts like Navigate to Accelerate and Cisco's Core Accelerator program, all of which were warmly received.

HIGH: Aug. 2009: Channel Exec Of The Year

Goodwin was named CRN's Channel Executive of the Year in 2009, widely saluted for how Cisco's channel organization helped many partners stay profitable and align more closely with Cisco even with a challenging business environment. Cisco, a perennial high-scorer in CRN's Annual Report Card and Channel Champs surveys, has had consistently high marks for making partners feel like they matter, and a lot of that has happened on Goodwin's watch.

LOW: Feb. 2010: Adios, HP

Cisco spent much of its 2009 Partner Summit in attack-dog mode against Hewlett Packard, throwing down the gauntlet between the two once-friendly vendors by virtue of the fact that Cisco was barging into HP territory with its UCS play and HP, through its expanding networking footprint, was starting to take switching and routing deals away from Cisco. Partners felt pressured to choose sides, and by the time February 2010 rolled around, many solution providers were already sick of the non-stop mudslinging between Cisco and HP.

Still, leave it to Cisco to draw blood just as things seemed to be calming down a bit: a very public cutting of ties with HP as a reseller partner. Goodwin and other Cisco channel leaders spent a lot of time that spring telling the channel it was overblown -- Goodwin himself told CRN that the media had made too big of a deal out of it -- but it's something that rubbed partners, particularly those that spend a lot of time playing Cisco vs. HP diplomacy, the wrong way.

LOW: April 2010: Supply Chain Apology

No question, it was the nadir of Goodwin's tenure as Cisco's global channel boss: a stopped-up supply chain and nearly year-long shortage of key Cisco products that forced Goodwin to take the stage at Cisco's 2010 Partner Summit in San Francisco and apologize to the Cisco faithful for such a tumultuous nine months.

It wasn't that year's "write the rules, own the game" Partner Summit tagline that partners remember; it's Goodwin's -- and Cisco's -- long-overdue public addressing of the supply chain problem and just what a problem it was for Cisco partners, distributors and customers.

LOW: April 2010: TIP Sputters

Cisco's Teaming Incentive Program (TIP) was announced at the 2010 Partner Summit as Cisco's first new major channel incentive program in more than six years. The idea was a new offering that would reward partners for their work early in a sales cycle. But TIP was problematic right from the start, with partners complaining that it was too challenging to align resources with Cisco's field sales team in a way that would help them recognize TIP rewards.

Jim Sherriff (left), Cisco's SVP, U.S. and Canada partners, told CRN in January 2012 that Cisco was finally training its field reps on how to play nice with partners seeking TIP points, and solution providers at Cisco Partner Summit in April said they were finally seeing a smoother TIP process. But, that's a solid two years after TIP was first announced -- and a lot of time spent ironing out wrinkles.

LOW: Jan. 2011: A Big Exit

Many partners forget that it was at the beginning of Goodwin's tenure when Cisco created a new leadership role for worldwide channels marketing -- a move many other vendors have copied and a position that has proven an important function for Cisco's WWPO.

So Goodwin had to have been smarting when Luanne Tierney, Cisco's former vice president, worldwide partner marketing, jumped ship from Cisco to Juniper in January 2011. Not only was Tierney, a popular figure among Cisco channel partners, heading to a direct competitor, but up until that point, the executive exodus out of Cisco had largely spared the WWPO.

Luckily, Cisco had bench strength in Amanda Jobbins (left), who in the year since being named vice president, worldwide partner marketing, has been warmly received by the Cisco channel and saluted for her aggressive, no-B.S. style.

HIGH: Sept. 2011: Partner-Led

No question, Goodwin is exiting Cisco on a high note. Despite Cisco's massive restructuring -- and the removal of $1 billion in operating expenses from Cisco's balance sheet over the past year -- the Cisco channel is actually receiving more, not fewer, Cisco resources than previously, and attempting to drive more deals through solution providers through newer programs and sales strategies like the Partner-Led approach to midmarket and small business accounts.

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