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Cisco
Systems has made plenty of changes to the focus around its
product lineup and key market segments this year, and now the company is
introducing a new selling model that will put even more focus on its mid-market
and SMB resellers. Cisco is calling its new initiative Partner Led, which is
itself being led by long-time Cisco channel sales head Andrew Sage.

As
Sage, who has taken on the new role of vice president for worldwide Partner Led
at Cisco Systems, said in an interview with Channel Insider, changes to Cisco’s
strategy this year have narrowed its focus to fewer priorities, and the company
has trimmed a couple of inches around its waistline since its annual Partner
Summit event in New Orleans earlier this year. Sage said Cisco is now
“extremely focused,” and one of a key element of its new strategy is empowering
its mid-market and SMB partners with the Partner Led initiative.

“Partner
Led is a selling model at Cisco, and as part of the overall simplification that
we’ve gone through, the company you’re talking to today is a different Cisco.
It’s the next Cisco compared to the company you talked to at Partner Summit,”
Sage said.

Cisco
has long been known as a leader in channel partner initiatives, and currently
more than 80 percent of its business goals through the channel. With all the changes
going on at the company, one thing that is absolutely not changing is Cisco’s
commitment to helping its channel partners grow their revenue and find new
opportunities. The company is making a significant investment in the SMB
channel even as it’s trimming $1 billion out of its expense run rate, Sage
said.

Partner
Led is a change in the way Cisco approaches its sales coverage model, and the
initiative is designed to put even more emphasis on being a channel-based
go-to-market vendor. Cisco will rely even more on partners for sales to the
mid-market and SMB spaces, and to make that happen, Cisco will reward partners
for their investments in the SMB and mid-market.

“My
job is to accelerate that Partner Led model, to accelerate that Partner Led
model to create new growth opportunities for partners and Cisco with partner
benefits and finally with an evolution of our field deployment that creates a
more collaborative approach in selling to these SMB customers,” Sage said.

The strategy is broken down into three core elements.

  • First, Cisco wants to scale the high-touch customer experience through partners into the SMB and mid-market so they get better responsiveness, a higher level of technical expertise and better consultative selling.
  • Second, Cisco plans to extend its 280,000 partner account managers and SEs to better enable the channel.
  • Third, Cisco will leverage its marketing in a way it’s never done before so partners really understand how to engage with Cisco and make money with the vendor. Cisco will also market through partners to create more demand for its products.

Putting its money where its mouth is, Cisco will be investing $75 million in fiscal year 2012 (which began in August) to accelerate partner growth. There are five key areas the company plans to invest in.

  • Cisco will work with its top 1,000 partners in the mid-market in marketing. In the next three to six months, Cisco plans to launch an MDF-like program that reinvests partner-generated revenue in marketing, training and demo capabilities. A certain percentage of each partner’s sales revenue will be reinvested back into the individual partners.
  • Cisco will continue to invest in its small business advantage approach by scaling Partner Advisor (an initiative launched at Partner Summit earlier this year) and its Fast Track 2 program (which will drive simplicity – something SMB-focused partners feel is critical to their success).
  • The vendor will enable partners to be better marketers either by helping them or doing it for them to find new opportunities and customers.
  • Cisco will provide focused resources for both SMB and mid-market channel partners. One of the most important ways it’ll do so is by opening up its Technology Solutions Network pre-sales system engineering service to partners. To date, TSN has only been available to Cisco’s sales engineers, but as of November 1st, Cisco will pilot the program with 300 partners. The program will be generally available to partners by the second half of Cisco’s fiscal year 2012.
  • Finally, Cisco will provide an infrastructure of tools to enable all of the above. “The primary focus will be on a system we call Partner 360, and Partner 360, at its heart, is a partner relationship management system. What that will do for us is really automate the interactions between the partners and their sales team with our sales team,” Sage said. The real purpose is to provide information sharing between Cisco partners and the partner enablement team.

“The
net-net is we want to accelerate that Partner Led space, and we’re putting our
money where our mouth is here,” Sage said.

Basically,
this leaner, trimmer Cisco is once again simplifying its operations and its
product lines while focusing on one of the fastest-growing segments of its
business – a business segment that is driven in large part by the channel.

“The
catalyst was the simplification of the selling model. We had not really established
a clear direction around how we were going to create intimacy with our largest
customers while at the same time creating scale with our mid-size and small
customers.”