Chambers to Partners: “We’re Not Delighting Our Customers”

John Chambers at Cisco Partner Summit 2013

John Chambers at Cisco Partner Summit 2013

Cisco chairman and CEO John Chambers delivered good news and bad news to the company’s channel partners when it comes to the overall satisfaction of their joint customers. The good news is that Cisco and its partners are earning higher customer sat marks than are competitors. The bad news is that even those customers aren’t exactly jumping for joy.

Delivering a keynote kicking off the company’s 2013 Partner Summit in Boston Tuesday morning, Chambers said the company and its ecosystem is leading the charge, but it’s doing so with marks of 3.7 or 3.8 out of 5.0.

“We’re better than our peers, but we’re not achieving customers goals – we’re not delighting our customers,” Chambers told 2,000-plus solution providers in attendance.

The problem, he says, is that as much as the industry has moved towards selling solutions, it’s not moved nearly far enough. Cisco, and its partners, still have a long way to go in terms of putting their offerings in the language of customers’ business goals – as Chambers puts it, seeing with customers’ eyes and listening with customers’ ears.

It’s a change that needs to be made, though, and the success of the company is on the line. Chambers described “being customer-driven” as a competitive advantage for Cisco, perhaps second only to its vaunted skill at identifying and jumping on market transitions before they happen. So if the company (and by extension its partners) are only getting fair-to-middling reviews from customers, that no doubt has the fast-talking CEO’s attention.

As much as solution providers have made changes over time, largely embracing the solutions-selling model and building the skills to talk to line-of-business leadership as much or moreso than IT executives, Chambers’ data shows that there’s still a disconnect between what customers would like to get, and what they are getting.

For its part, the networking vendor is taking a stab at the problem, introducing what it calls a “Business Transformation Certification,” a program for both partner account managers and system engineers, to help solution providers develop talent that definitely has the skillset to talk to business challenges. The new program is a offshoot of the Business Architect certification program introduced next year, which was much smaller in focus, and has certified just about 200 solution providers worldwide. Cisco clearly has bigger goals for the new certification, as worldwide channel chief Eidson Peres said the company would “help offset the cost” up to $3,000 through a variety of learning credits and exam vouchers to help the first 800 partners get resources through the Business Transformation Certification.

And as much as the industry has shifted to solution selling, Chambers suggested that Cisco and its partners need to do a better job of packaging up the components of a full solution and map them against the business outcomes customers are seeking. This is especially true – and especially an opportunity for the channel – in environments where multiple vendors need to be brought in to make a solution complete.

“We have to take these services, and bring them together to solve customer problems at a faster pace,” Chambers said.