8 Things Partners Need To Know About Cisco's Revamped Partner Program

Cisco Partners Take Notice

At Cisco Partner Summit 2017 today, the networking giant unveiled significant changes to its Partner Program that include new incentive programs, specializations and a simplified deal registration process.

Revamping the partner program is aimed to better enable and incentivize the channel around product refreshes, software, lifecycle management and driving recurring revenue services, according to Marc Surplus, vice president of strategy, planning and programs for Cisco's Global Partner Organization.

"We're streamlining the overall partner experience. We're trying to get partners to the right discount faster to optimize business," said Surplus, in an interview with CRN. "But we're also trying to move them away to the land-only model and for them to profit from selling across that customer lifecycle of adopt, expand and renew."

Here are eight things Cisco partners need to know.

VIP Annuity

Cisco VIP Annuity is a new incentive program that provides partners with upfront rebates for landing a software-as-a-service (SaaS) deal, as well as expanding or renewing SaaS deals with existing customers. The program applies to enterprise networking, data center, security and collaboration sales with performance-based recurring revenue rebates. VIP Annuity is replacing Cisco's legacy VIP SaaS program.

"It also has a contract-value bonus, and a renew bonus," said Sandra Flinders (pictured), senior director of Cisco's Worldwide Services Partner Programs. "Traditional VIP tracks have a pretty high entry bar, but for VIP Annuity, the entry bar for a partner to participate in is $1,000 in monthly recurring revenues."

New Master Networking Specialization

Cisco's new Master Networking Specialization revolves around the company's intent-based Intuitive Network platform launched in June that Cisco says anticipates actions, stops security threats and continues to evolve and learn. The new master specialization, which will become available for partners in March, includes software, automation, analytics, services and programmability skill development.

"It's all the things that our technology and networking innovation is going to provide for partners to differentiate themselves," said Surplus.

Simplified Deal Registration

Surplus said Cisco has "fundamentally simplified our deal registration" process by reducing the number of account breakaways, streamlining the approval process and lowering the amount of input needed. The company is consolidating its 15 hunting and teaming program tracks into just two.

"We want partners to find the right set of incentives that are stackable to give them the best discount possible quickly," said Surplus. "It really does optimize their profitability across their discount and registration programs so they can focus more on selling."

VIP Activation

Another new incentive program is VIP Activation that adds back-end rebates for Cisco ONE and Digital Network Architecture (DNA) Advantage suites, as well as for Cisco Identity Services Engines (ISE) and Cisco Stealthwatch. The program is meant to incentivize partners to activate software in a customer's environment.

"It's for partners who get the software turned on when they land the deal, and that is generally through a professional service engagement," said Flinders. "For products such as ISE, Stealthwatch and DNA Center, partners can earn considerable rebates for getting all those three software applications turned on."

Expand Lifecycle Advisor

In 2018, Cisco will expand the portfolio of offers available in Cisco's Lifecycle Advisor program. The company previously focused the program on collaboration and security, but will expand it to include "all of our architectures," said Flinders.

"You're going to see us bring in double or triple the amount of partners we have today and add a lot more of our software to the mix where partners will be incented for adoption, expansion and renewal on all of that software," she said. Cisco's vision is for partners to transform their practices to focus on the lifecycle selling motion of land, adopt, expand and renew, according to Flinders.

Migration Incentive Program

Cisco's new Migration Incentive Program (MIP) provides partners with an incremental discount on all qualifying hardware, software and services migration opportunities. The program is designed for selling newer technologies into Cisco's installed base. MIP will also redirect used equipment away from the gray market.

"It allows a partner to upgrade a customer to 125 percent of their installed base. This is applicable across all technologies," said Surplus. "Then it provides a rebate on the back end to get that old gear out of the market, so it doesn't go in the gray market.'

Streamline Specializations

Cisco is cutting down its specialization portfolio in a move to remove redundancy, refresh content and streamline the process for partners. The company is retiring all of its Advanced Technology Specializations, except for Advanced Video, while also reducing the number of Advanced Specializations from 13 down to five. Cisco said it would embed more technical capabilities throughout the remaining Advanced Architecture Specializations.

"For example, we are taking IoT specializations and embedding them in other Architectural Specializations because we think IoT is going to be a critical set of skills for our partners in the future," said Flinders.

Recognition For Industry Expertise

Cisco is pushing partners to demonstrate expertise in specific areas which will start with healthcare, retail and manufacturing. Beginning Nov. 1, partners who meet specific criteria in those three verticals may begin enrolling. After achieving an industry recognition with Cisco, the partner will become the 'optimized search" in Cisco's Partner Locator making it easier to differentiate themselves, said Surplus.

"So if a partner has a business plan targeting an industry, a marketing plan, a set of resources dedicated to headcount in that industry -- then Cisco wants to recognize that partner," said Surplus. "We'll do that through optimize search in our Partner Locator, which will provide them greater visibility to customers and to other ecosystem partners looking for vertical expertise, and most importantly, our own sales team so they know the partners that they can work with to drive industry solutions with their customers as we go to market together."