Cisco's Channel Architect Stresses The Value Of Solutions Providers
(San Jose, CA) — On a recent trip to Cisco's corporate offices, I had the opportunity to sit down with several of the company's channel executives, including Surinder Brar, senior director of worldwide channels. It has been an exciting 18 months at the network giant, with major revisions made to its channel program following its 2006 Partner Summit. Those changes included Cisco's move to partner tiers based on VARs' capabilities rather than their sales volume. The program modifications include expanding the breadth of technology offerings to reach higher levels (entry level is Premier, intermediate is Silver, and the top rank is Gold) and creating specialization tracks that offer solutions providers additional benefits.
When Cisco's partners complete the final certifications required for the transition to the new specializations and program tiers (required by March 2008), it will be the culmination of many years of planning. In 2001, Cisco switched from a pure volume-based incentive program to one with greater emphasis on and rewards for trained and certified VARs. "While the core transition of the program will be complete in March 2008, we will continue to add technical offerings, training, and incentives for our partners," added Brar. Cisco's program also gives incentives for vertical applications, migration services, and partner demand creation.
Under the new program, Gold status is reserved for VARs with a breadth of integration skills, including UC (unified communications), security, wireless, and routing/switching. While some Gold partners under the previous program may not be able to (or want to) retain that status and offer all of those technologies, other program components were added to provide additional sales opportunities. Three specialization tracks (Express, Advanced, and Master) and a VIP (advanced technologies incentive program) were created to encourage and reward solutions providers with skills in certain areas (such as security or UC). To reach a specialization, a solutions provider must have a minimum of three employees certified, including an account sales member, a sales engineer, and a field engineer. The Master designation requires a VAR to participate in training and support requirements beyond those of the Advanced tier, including the preparation, design, implementation, and maintenance of Cisco solutions. "The Master title requires significant training and may be achieved by few partners, but those who achieve this status will be considered experts in Cisco technologies such as security or UC," said Brar.
Customer Service Is A Key To Program Success
How will Cisco's increased focus on the expertise of its VARs and delivery of its solutions to their customers translate to increased sales? "With the move to greater partner technical capabilities and specializations, we expect customer satisfaction and revenue to increase," said Brar. The roots of Cisco's channel changes were customer driven, based on feedback on the types of expertise, services, and solutions end users desire.
Cisco wants to ramp up its SMB sales, and customer service is one of the key differentiators required for VARs to grow in this business segment. Vertical-specific solution growth and a breadth of technical capabilities, which are elements of the new channel program, should help VARs reach more of these smaller customers. Cisco spent years refining its channel plans, and the process of implementing the changes won't be painless. As other large companies with extensive partner networks (e.g. HP, IBM) have experienced, it's difficult to make major revisions to channel programs without some bumps in the road. "We projected that more than half of our partners with an interest in specialization would complete the training by now, and we are pleased to be on track," added Brar.