Business and Sales Skills Come of Age: Cisco Partners Increase Investment in “Soft Skills”

September 8, 2009 at 7:13 pm 1 comment

Beth Vanni

Beth Vanni

Cisco Gold, Silver and Premium partners are bullish on sales growth this year.  According to the recent Cisco Bi-Annual Talent Survey, they expect sales growth of between 11 – 20% in the coming year.   As a result, maintaining and growing their top talent is a big priority.

A full 78% indicated that they are still hiring technical talent at this time.  Another 84% indicated they are investing heavily in employee development programs.  And their top priority for growing their people’s talent (and their business impact) is solution selling and “soft” business skills.   Despite budgets being tighter, nearly half of these top Cisco partners  (42%) are increasing their investment in their employees’ customer management, selling and business process skills.

This data supports other research done by Amazon Consulting and Channel Insider in June of this year.  When some 500 end-users were asked what type of skills they look for most when selecting a solution provider, certified business practices such as ITIL, Six Sigma and ISO900 quality management skills were all ranked at nearly 35% (just a hair behind vendor product-specific technical certifications).   Further, the top 7 most important overall qualities end-user respondents look for in solution providers in this same study all pointed to customer management, service delivery and pre-sales “soft” skills.   Technical certifications ranked #8 on this list of end-user preferences.

Top qualities sought after when doing business with a solution provider.

Top qualities sought after when doing business with a solution provider.

Source:  Amazon Consulting/Channel Insider 2009 Training and Certification ROI Study

When working with vendors on evolving their indirect partnering strategy and programs, it’s not uncommon to hear vendors express some dissatisfaction with their partners’ pre-sales and solution delivery skills — especially when the vendor becomes maniacal about positioning their technology to line-of-business execs.   Cisco is embarking on this journey fervently with their recently announced solution architectural plays.   Even for vendors with strong and mature channel technical certification programs (think Sun, Oracle) what the role of the vendor should be in partners developing their selling and solution delivery skills is an elusive topic.   In the case of Cisco, the networking giant has invested heavily in making partners soft skills their problem.   They hold regular partner job fairs, have a robust portal called Partner Education Connection and actively offer employee referrals.  For at least three top Cisco partners on a recent analyst call (CompuGen, Force3 and Worldwide Tech.), the inter-dependence of partner to vendor in finding the right combination of technical and business talent was remarkably intertwined.

But, can every vendor actively assist partners develop their selling and solution skills?   To date, partner feedback on traditional vendor sales training has been lackluster.   Many partners express dissatisfaction with the level of product feature/function included.   In the Training & Certification study previously mentioned, partners revealed the top qualities of their most impactful sales certification in the previous 18 months.   The top three dimensions of these certifications revolve around a focus on services requirements, a focus on applying the technology to specific customer pain-points and a discussion of technology integration toward creating a total solution.

Attributes of partners’ most valued sales certification programs

Attributes of partners’ most valued sales certification programs

Source:  Amazon Consulting/Channel Insider 2009 Training and Certification ROI Study

Even though many vendors cannot afford to invest in their channel community at Cisco’s levels, vendors will do wise to watch the precedent set by Cisco in their stewardship of partners.   Helping partners prepare for the inevitable economic upturn, either directly or indirectly, can do nothing but assist the ultimate end-user community in solutions deployment and the staying power of the partners with the right vision for investment.

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Entry filed under: Industry Perspective. Tags: , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Martin Schultz  |  September 8, 2009 at 11:21 pm

    Just shows that in good times or bad, sales and marketing skills and performance have the greatest impact on results. Also apparent from the survey results, that there are special qualities in sales and marketing people, required in some market that won’t necessarily apply to others.

    But at some time someone has to at the very least ask that most basic of questions. “Want one?” Although most solutions oriented sales people are more sophisticated than that.

    When people review a business they are considering buying, they need to devote a lot of their attention to how the business acquires potential customers, and monetizes them. Is there a system or process in place so that customer acquisition and monetization is easily transferable to new ownership? That means the process must be effective.


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