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Recognizing the importance of the channel in installing complex solutions such as unified communications, Cisco is giving its partners another tool to help sell it, increase the size of potential deals and reduce the burden of fronting the solution cost during the installation.

The improvements come from Cisco Capital’s extension and expansion of its zero percent progress payment program in the unified communications realm.

The finance arm of the San Jose, Calif., networking giant announced that it has extended the zero percent progress payment program through July 26, 2008. In addition, the qualifying period has increased to 180 days from 120 for enterprise deals over $1 million. The program allows partners to perform customer installations without making any payments or accruing any interest until the installation is complete.

Now called “conserve i.t.,” the program, for example, could enable a Cisco partner to save more than $70,000 in interest during a $2 million, 180-day unified communications installation, based on an interest rate of 10 percent. Such savings on deals give partners the opportunity to improve deal profitability.

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The program provides partners with other benefits as well.

“Partners are able to upsell better than they otherwise would be able to,” said Ken Presti of Presti Research and Consulting in Sunnyvale, Calif. “They can offer things above and beyond the original deal. And for customers that want advanced technologies but have tight budgets, it lets them get into that category.”

Maryann Von Seggern, director of worldwide channels at Cisco Capital, said the organization has found that when it offers such financing programs, deal size tends to increase, and those numbers are in line with Yankee Group estimates of 34 percent.

Cisco Capital also announced the launch of a new partner portal, called “grow i.t.,” designed to make it easier for channel partners to access financing offers, tools, resources and training materials.