Back to the Future

September 23, 2011 at 8:21 pm Leave a comment

Cisco’s Partner-Led SMB Model Promises New Customer and Partner Value

Beth Vanni – Vice President, Amazon Consulting

Whenever Cisco talks about new investments in partnering programs or support, it’s always a déjà vu experience for me. They invest so much already and have so many sales and marketing tools for partners, it’s a bit of a brain teaser to remember what’s new. But, there are a few gems of support announced in their enhanced SMB Partner-Led sales strategy that remind me of the infamous “flux capacitor” scene from the movie Back to the Future.

Andrew Sage, the company’s newly promoted VP of Worldwide Partner-Led Sales, brings a great legacy to his new position. He’s been studying how to make Cisco successful with small (really, truly small <100 user) companies for several years. That’s made him a bit akin to Back to the Future’s Doc Brown within Cisco. He’s pioneered new coverage models (Road Warrior), new product sets (Small Business Communication System) and a new way to look at the value of the channel in owning SMB customer relationships within his legacy enterprise-selling organization. Having at one time been a part of the SMB market development team at Cisco, I know personally that’s a tough job.

But, there are two things Cisco announced that could be that secret sauce, their flux capacitor (the device that made time travel in a Delorean possible) in this Partner-Led model.  The first is their plans to build a global partner-led marketing engine. Now, they’ve built some great marketing assets and gotten very grass-roots in the past with their larger VARs and Service Providers on marketing campaigns and automation (for example the Velocity conference). If they can bring that level of lead qualification and passing and field marketing assistance to the more regional partners catering to SMB, that will be a big deal.  

The second thing we think is a Cisco game-changer in SMB is their newly announced Technology Solutions Network. This is a team of inside sales engineers uniquely focused on SMB product sets and the SMB-focused partner. The ability for this team to be highly accessible (albeit on the phone) to help partners’ sales engineers with quotes, architectures and customer presentations could be huge. Many other vendors have tried this, most often in the field. Cisco will start with 300 partners who will have access to this team – that focused approach will be good. But, Cisco’s ability to help prepare partner for the all important prospecting proof-of-concept and pre-sales work will be the lynch-pin of them realizing the returns they want in this partner-led approach.

So, what’s new about SMB partnering at Cisco? The unique focus on enabling partners to do most of the pre-sales and prospecting work, in line with their larger peers. A fire-in-the-belly SMB-centric leader with a strong track record of success. An enhanced set of investments in people, automation and new economic incentives for partners to win deals with/for Cisco in SMB. And, a Wall Street community who’s watching this market-leader and their big-bet investments very closely these days.   

Doc Brown says to Marty McFly when prompted to back up the Delorean in order to accelerate to 88 mph before jumping to time travel, “Roads? We don’t need roads where we’re going!” Cisco’s got an unbelievable set of assets, partnering DNA and passion to take their SMB success to the next level. Their partners’ belief and trust that Cisco can cut through its own complexity and focus outside their enterprise investments to make this a reality is perhaps the networking giant’s real flux capacitor.

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