Cisco pushes importance of multi-partner approach for digital transformation

Cisco channel chief Wendy Bahr at Partner Summit 2016 in San Diego

Cisco channel chief Wendy Bahr

LAS VEGAS — Cisco used the kickoff of its first-ever Partner Days portion of its Cisco Live end user conference to drive home the message that its ecosystem approach to selling, which has been growing significantly over the last two years, is the way forward for partners wanting to catch the digital transformation wave.

Global channel chief Wendy Bahr, senior vice president of the global partner organization, took to the stage to open the event, telling partners that by connecting “traditional” Cisco infrastructure-focused partners to line-of-business or vertical focused ISVs or other “new” types of Cisco partners, the company has added $1.1 billion (U.S) in new bookings over the last 12 months, with improving partner profitability metrics to boot. The company, Bahr said, has driven more than 1,300 new opportunities through more than 1,300 new connections between Cisco partners and new ecosystem partners.

“You have to team up,” Bahr urged partners. While she acknowledged that these kind of multi-partner connections are “a bit harder to execute,” but added “it pays big dividends” when it all comes together.

Along with greater profitability, Bahr said such deals are in many ways easier to land when a “traditional” partner is brought in by an application-centric ecosystem partner to talk to line of business leaders. In these cases, she argued, network upgrades are an easy addition because they’re needed to empower the high business-value solution from the ecosystem partner.

“Once you’re in, and the discussion about ‘what we need to do to do this,’ you’ve got it,” Bahr said. “You’re not debating an upgrade. The compelling value of the new application, of digitalization, is powering that upgrade for you.”

Cisco’s also been busy building resources to help partners build up their own vertical-specific capabilities. Bahr detailed for example industry-specific quick-selling guides that serve as “cheat sheets” to help partners get built up in targeted vertical markets.

“They help you understand the landscape, how they buy, the language they use, who you target and what title they likely have,” among other information, Bahr said. They’re a good starting point, but not a replacement for the prescribed multi-partner go-to-market approach.

Bahr also detailed version 2.0 of the company’s Accelerate Cisco Ecosystem Sales (ACES) program, which aims to help partners quickly build a solution on top of Cisco infrastructure, get it qualified in “as little as four weeks,” build a pipeline and start closing business through other Cisco partners in a quarter or slightly longer.

“It’s not just the technology, it’s the marketing, the go-to-market, it’s how we do it all in a multi-partner environment. It’s the whole blueprint for how we do this,” Bahr said.

Looking at the broader “digital transformation” of business trend, Bahr said Cisco partners have access to $2.1 trillion in economic opportunity around that broad discussion by 2019, and said that the stakes are high for both Cisco and partners because for every $1 companies spend on investigation, exploring, and consulting on digital strategy, it’s pulling about $7 of infrastructure to power that digital strategy.

“If you’re going to start using a secure, reliable, innovative network to power your digital transformation, you’re going to need the latest and greatest,” she said.

But again, how that transformation opportunity is angled, and with whom the conversations are happening has to change. While Bahr stressed that “we love the IT department, and the IT department loves us,” she reminded partners that the real opportunities are in being “influenced, impacted, and sometimes even controlled” by line of business executives and business leadership, again speaking to the need for partners to up their game around selling on the kinds of business outcomes that resonate with those types of audiences.

“We have to change who we sell to, and we have to sell differently,” Bahr reminded partners. “We have to understand the digital imperative, and what it means to various departments and divisions. That’s the key.”

Finally, Bahr urged partners to start thinking more about software and customer lifecycle management, exchanging the traditional “land deal, deploy deal, move on” sort of model to “land, adopt, expand, and renew.”

“When this engine gets going, the value you can help customers extract is tremendous, and as business people, it’s also incredibly profitable,” she told partners, adding that the most profitable partners who are embracing this approach are getting $6 of revenues around each dollar of Cisco kit they sell, more than double the average partner performance metric of $2.4 per dollar of Cisco products or services sold.

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