Cisco Canada growth opportunity is partner-led: channel chief

Mike Ansley

Cisco Canada channel chief Mike Ansley.

Sometimes, timing is everything.

For Michael Ansley, new vice president of Cisco Canada’s partner organization, timing meant he inherited the job of channel chief for the company during a great quarter for Cisco Canada, a quarter so good that the subsidiary earned a shout out from CEO John Chambers on the company’s earnings call for its 36 per cent year-over-year growth.

“I’m very fortunate to have been brought in during such a good quarter and to be following the good work [former channel chief] Donna [Wittmann] did,” Ansley said.

But there’s a caveat – and an opportunity – in that growth rate. Ansley said that “the majority” of that 36 per cent growth is coming from what the company calls “Cisco-led” business – business is done with and through channel partners, but that was ultimately found and developed by Cisco itself. It’s the core enterprise business on which Cisco has been built.

But Ansley said there’s an opportunity to raise that growth rate by increasing the amount of “partner-led” business the company does.

Partner-led has been one of the biggest mantras for Cisco’s worldwide partner organization this year. The company has put longtime SMB chief Andrew Sage in charge of the effort and snapped up Wittmann to join the worldwide Partner Led team. In Cisco’s parlance, partner-led is the selling motion into SMB, and it’s where Cisco is leaning more heavily on its partners to find and develop business. In return, the company is investing an additional $75 million into building tools and programs for partner-led business.

“We have a very strong sales force, and we’ve really focused on building demand preference relative to other manufacturers,” Ansley said. “Where we’ve not done as well is in partner-led, in asking partners to take responsibility for demand preference for Cisco, in helping partners reaching the finish line alone in the partner-led segment.”

That means reaching out and doing a better job selling to and selling with a diverse variety of partners, including large direct resellers, service providers, and the large number of partners in the Premier and Unregistered tiers of its partner program.

“If we do a better job working with them, we think we can grow our business in the SMB marketplace,” Ansley said.

With DRCs, Ansley said Cisco has to get better at “treating them as a unique route to market,” an effort which has been taken up by longtime Cisco Canada channel executive Rebecca Leach. Likewise, Ansley would like to see Cisco “do a better job” with service provider, who already “do a great job for us” but for whom he believes Cisco can do more.

“Our message seems to be resonating with the DRCs and with the service providers,” Ansley said. “They’re pleased to see we’re taking our R&D and helping more of the market benefit from it.”

Among the broad base of partners in the Unregistered and Premier spaces, there’s a lot of work to be done, and a lot that’s been done already. Ansley said the company has made significant ground with its Canada-based call centre for partner sales, but there’s still a lot left to do.

“Where we need to improve is around enablement,” he said. “We need to build confidence in the Unregistered partner, we need to create the right incentive structures, extend our CRM to the partner base and get them registering opportunities much earlier.”

The challenges in the space now defined as partner-led have emerged, Ansley suggests, because historically Cisco has failed to build products that really meet the needs of the mid-market and high-end SMB customer. That’s changing with the product mix, he suggested, and now those changes need to reflected by the channel to customers – it’s why Ansley is such a big advocate of making the company’s solution providers into evangelists for its wares.

“Historically, we’ve built great enterprise-class products, but we’ve not build as good a value proposition for the mid-market,” he said. “We’ve had it in our technology portfolio, but we’ve done what we’re good at doing. We haven’t challenged ourselves to really take it to the mid-market. Now we’ve got the technology, we’ve just got to build the system and build the belief in our partner base.”

Part of that effort is making sure partners are educated and fluent in the company’s big “architectural” plays, areas like data centre, cloud and borderless networks that take major families of products and marry them by purpose and by target market.

“I’d like to see more partner focus on architectures,” Ansley said. “We’ve been really good at selling boxes and selling the feature benefits of those boxes relative to our competitors. But we’ve got to be thinking beyond that, and architectures do a good job of anticipating tomorrow’s problems as opposed to applying today’s bandage.”

And with the need to focus more on architectures, Ansley said his own technology background – he most recently headed up solutions for Cisco Canada prior to taking the channel chief role – will come in handy.

See, it really is all about timing.