Cisco looks to cement software rep with new partner program

Cisco worldwide channel chief Bruce Klein

Cisco worldwide channel chief Bruce Klein

MONTREAL – Many of Cisco’s partners don’t think of the company as a software company. That’s understandable. The descriptor “networking giant” preceding the vendor’s name is all but automatic. But the company is looking to change that perception in the market at large, and specifically within its partner community, announcing a software-centric partner program at its annual Cisco Partner Summit held here this week.

And while it’s looking to get partners to think more about Cisco software, it may be even more important to the company that partner think differently about software. Steve Benvenuto, senior director of business development at Cisco, said the company has “a lot of software assets available today for our partners,” but that the business has been largely transactional.

While Cisco is targeting the start of 2016 as its go-live date for the whole program, certain elements are likely to launch sooner – particularly those around a role Cisco calls the “software lifecycle advisor.” Benvenuto called the roll “an opportunity for all of our partners.”

“We’ve done a pretty good job of the ‘land’ element of selling software, but we’ve not done a good job of making sure it gets used, that the features get adopted, that it gets renewed and that we get stickiness,” Benvenuto said in a press conference Tuesday morning.

And that’s exactly the role that Cisco is seeking fill by creating the specialization around software lifecycles, and delivering training and enablement around it.

Today, Benvenuto said that Cisco’s experience shows about 35 per cent of the software that’s licensed by customers is actually used, although he acknowledged some customers are better than others at making sure customers get the most out of their software investments.

Raja Sundaram, vice president of Cisco’s Worldwide Partners Office, said that training will focus around helping partners to “upsell, cross-sell and expand opportunities” as much as it focuses on renewal, and that the vendor will seek to automate renewals for partners as much as possible.

“Through analytics, we’ll give partners the insights into what opportunities exist for them to expand and to renew their business,” Sundaram said.

Kent MacDonald, vice president of converged infrastructure at Calgary-based Long View Systems said software licensing is not only a high-growth opportunity for the solution provider, but an area where customers appreciate the help.

“Even thought they’ve got the software license, sometimes they don’t know the features and functions,” MacDonald said. “[Customers are] usually very appreciative, and it keeps our bench busy.”

The new program will also cater to software integrators, and attempt to walk the sometimes-tricky balance for pure software consultants. Benvenuto said that means acknowledging that compensation is not all financial – particularly when some consultants expressly forbid financial incentives due to issues payment can introduce around the perception of impartiality.

To do right by consultants, he said, Cisco has to “understand the overall value exchange.” While some consultants will be fine with financial incentives, others will want other considerations, like access to resources or labs.

“We want to be sure we can recognize value even for consultants that can’t receive financial reward,” Benvenuto said.

MacDonald said the program reflects “the voice of the partner,” praising Cisco’s approach to listening to its partner base while designing the program.

“It’s very strong in how it recognizes not also the transaction of the sale, but also the engagement of the customer,” he said. “It’s another way to expand our market as a professional services partner and to drive that adoption [for customers.]”

The new partner program is one of the ways Cisco it trying to rebrand itself around the software game. Benvenuto pointed also to its efforts to bundle software offerings around common areas like WAN and data centre under the Cisco One brand as an example of how it’s stepping up its software game.

“People don’t think of us as a software company, and there’s a lot of work to do, but we’ve got a lot of software today,” he said.

The comments echoed those of Cisco worldwide channel chief Bruce Klein, who in a keynote presentation to partners Tuesday morning made the same comment about people not perceiving Cisco as a software player, but urged partners not to bet against Cisco in its ability to make the software business a significant one.

“We’re going to get bolder today,” he said, reflecting the event’s over theme of “Be Bold.”