Cisco offering four Made-in-Canada partner initiatives

Donna Wittmann videoIn recent discussions, Cisco’s worldwide channel leaders have been talking up Canada.

First, it was Jim Sherriff, who noted after being named the company’s new channel chief for the U.S. and Canada that in previous roles, he loved testing out new programs in Canada for a variety of reasons. More recently, it was Dave O’Callaghan, the company’s new midmarket sales boss, who highlighted the important role Canada was playing in rolling out the company’s new go-to-market model for the 100-to-1,000-seat business segment.

When two top worldwide executives at Cisco mention what’s going on in Canada to that extent, it’s neither a mistake nor lip service. There’s something really going on here.

“We’ve really been using Canada as a testbed,” said Donna Wittmann, vice president of the partner organization at Cisco Canada.

Recently, Cisco Canada offered channel press and analysts (and one blogger) a look at what the Canadian organization is up to in terms of four new programs for partners where Canada is leading the way.

Before we get into the specifics of each of the new programs, here’s a little bit of video to help set the stage. In it, Wittmann, Jodi Munro and Barbara Vaughan explain both the reasons for piloting programs in Canada and some of the details of the programs Cisco has launched.


Here’s a deeper dive into the four new components:

Repatriating channel management

Over the course of 2010, Cisco moved its inside channel reps supporting Canada from a pair of call centres in the U.S. – Raleigh, SC and Salt Lake City – to the the company’s Canadian headquarters in Toronto. At the same time, it figured out all the kinds of resources that those inside reps, and by extension partners, need to interact with and brought them into the same area. By doing so, the company was able to move from reactive to proactive service with many of its partners, according to Jodi Munro, director of inside partner operations at Cisco Canada.

“We truly believe that Canadians buy from Canadians,” she said. “We understand business in this country and we can help them navigate through our systems, help them find through partner tools and more.”

Bringing the program in-country allows Cisco to adapt to the diverse and multi-cultural nature of Canada, offering support in timezones across the nation, and service in 10 different languages – including, of course, both official languages. To ramp up the new facility – subbed the Supercentre by Cisco Canada – it has brought on 44 new channel-facing employees, dedicated to supporting 250 midmarket partners across Canada that were not previously directly managed by the networking vendor.

Munro said the process of staffing up the Canadian Supercentre began on March 1 and by the first of August, all job roles were in country. Canada is, she said, the first place in the world to bring all of its channel supports under one roof, in-country. Cisco’s worldwide channel brass are keeping a close eye on it, and Munro said that the brain trust will be coming to Canada early in the new year to look at how the program is doing, and will be “looking to it as a model to roll out to other large, developed countries around the world.”

Mentoring new partners

Under a program adapted from a similar offering by Westcon Group’s Cisco-focused Comstor division in the U.K., Cisco Canada is offering a greater level of partners looking to build new practices around Cisco technologies. The program particularly is looking to support partners who are either new to Cisco, or new to specific technologies at Cisco.

“It’s a very big deal to take a product focus around one vendor and switch it to a different vendor – we’re helping to make sure the profitability is still there,” Wittmann said.

Under the program, Cisco brings in third-party consultants to help the vendor and member partners identify the best ways for partners to quickly and profitably build up a practice around Cisco technologies. The program is designed to help partners get a Cisco practice up and running and profitable in six months.

“It’s a jumpstart to help ramp your business quickly, and from there on, they’re rocking and rolling in our regular support model,” Wittmann said. “It’s been very successful for us, a good ROI for us and that’s what we always look for.”

Christina DiRago, Cisco practice manager at Eclipse Technology Solutions, a Mississuaga, Ont.-based telecom-centric solution provider, is one of the first partners to have gone through the process. In fact, DiRago joined Eclipse specifically for the purpose of spinning up its Cisco business. She said the extra attention has gone a long way to building up that practice.

“Sometimes when you’re a smaller partner, you don’t get the same level of support as the bigger partners, but what’s really important is that there’s somebody who’ll pick up the phone when you call,” she said. “We don’t want to sell every single Cisco product out there, but we want to be the go-to partner for those Cisco products that we do represent in the market.”

Currently, the program focuses on voice opportunities, but Wittmann said it will be expanded next for partners looking to build Cisco-centric data centre practices. The program currently has five Canadian members, but Wittamann said it’s open to any Canadian solution providers looking to get ramped up on a Cisco practice. “We need to see potential for them to be a significant Cisco partner in the future,” she said.

Getting Avant Garde with partners

When recently chatted with O’Callaghan, who’s building out a midmarket organization at Cisco in the spirit of Andrew Sage’s successful small business group, the topic of Avant Garde was very top-of-mind. The program, being piloted in Canada, is the company’s partner-led coverage plan for midmarket success.

“We need our partners to lead in more of the midmarket space, we need them to be able to sell, deliver and support our technology,” Wittmann said. “We’re saying that our partner sales, technical and services teams are an extension of Cisco. Full stop.”

Under the Avant Garde initiative, the company has 11 territory business managers paired with 11 inside sales account managers and aligned with the company’s partner sales team. Wittmann said the Avant Garde model has five key pillars:

  1. Account analytics – Cisco is building out complex customer databases and analytics both of current customers and prospects, and is laying on top of that third-party competitive data. Wittmann said the company will share “all of the triangulated customer analytics we can get our hands on” with partners to help them locate and understand their customer base. “It’s a huge value-add in terms of knowing where to go in the small and midmarket space,” she said.
  2. Engagement and communications – Cisco will work with partners on business reviews and funnel reviews to make sure the vendor and its Avant Garde partners are aligned.
  3. Sales and technical training – Partners under the program will have access to “anything that comes out from Cisco” in terms of training. “They should be as competent as a Cisco person would be,” Wittmann said.
  4. Sales and marketing tools – The vendor will offer specific demand generation co-marketing tools to partners above and beyond its usual marketing offerings. “We can be their marketing engine and execute on their behalf,” Wittmann said.
  5. Financial – The program will feature both general incentives as well as specific increased incentives for partners that help Cisco penetrate new accounts in the midmarket.

Currently, Avant Garde is being tested with a small group of partners, with the intent to expand that number to between 50 and 100 partners in Canada, Wittmann said. Primarily, members of the community are Cisco Premier partners, but there are also opportunities for Gold and Silver partners who have or are looking to build midmarket-focused sales engines. So far, some 3,000 midmarket accounts in Canada have been identified for a fully partner-led engagement model and the number is set to grow, so the company is clearly looking to ramp up.

“Any partner with a focused effort around SMB, we want to talk to them,” Wittmann said. “This is a three- to five-year journey that will continue to build and grow.”

New enterprise partner enablement

Finally, Cisco is offering a “sneak peek” of a new program it intends to launch to support enterprise-focused partners, developing what Barbara Vaughan, manager of partner enablement at Cisco Canada, called “a much more structured approach to supporting partners through the whole process” of building practices against Cisco’s much-discussed architectural plays.

“As we move to a solutions focus, we’ve got to support our partner base as well, as they move from fulfillment to a true extension of our team, specifically when it comes to enterprise strategic partners,” Vaughan said.

To support those partners, Vaughan said Cisco is developing a framework that starts with business assessment. The company will bring in a third party to “find the gaps” in partners abilities to deliver and support Cisco architectures and help both Cisco and the partner identify places where partners need to devote further resources or training effort to meet demand. It then, of course, offers training to meet those needs.

The program will also offer what Vaughan described as “services mentoring,” Cisco services team members working closely with partners on sales, deliver and engineering services, particularly around newer technologies like Unified Computing Systems. Those mentors will be available to work with partners in their own labs or at customer locations to help ease the process of doing the first few installations.

All of the programs are fully Cisco-funded.

Currently, the company has identified seven partners in its first phase, with plans to expand the program by the spring. Vaughan said that in the U.S., a similar program is engaging about 100 partners, resulting in “a huge uptake in revenues and in partners working much more collaboratively with the Cisco team.”