Cisco makes biggest changes to partner program in a decade

Marc Surplus, vice president of strategy, planning and programs for Cisco’s Global Partner Organization

This year’s Cisco Partner Summit has been quite different from years past, with the whole event being digital. But the networking giant was true to form in announcing significant changes to its partner programs — in this case, what it’s calling the biggest changes to the program in more than a decade.

The new program retains the three tiers of its predecessor — Select, Premier, and Gold — but runs those tiers across four partner roles — integrator, Provider, Developer and Advisor. Partners can be at any of the three levels in any, or all, of those three levels, depending on their own focus and how they go to market.

By bringing in the new categories of partners, the company is aiming to combine some 12 different programs “with different Ts and Cs, requirements, and anniversary dates,” according to Marc Surplus, vice president of strategy for planning at programs in Cisco’s Global Partner Organization. In doing so, Surplus said, the company is aiming to make the partnering process much more simple and easier to manage on both sides of the relationship. 

The four new partner categories indicate an emerging shift in Cisco’s mode of engaging customers towards the customer experience message it’s been building for the last three years or so.

The majority of the “traditional” Cisco channel will fit handily into the “integrator” role, with Surplus saying there’s currently some 10,000 certified partners in that space. These are partners for whom the primary model is resale, although Cisco is working with these partners to ramp up involvement across the lifecycle, and Surplus suggested the company will continue to move its incentives and profitability levers in that direction. 

The Provider category replaces a variety of MSP and telco programs and provides a home for those partners that primarily build services using Cisco’s platforms which they sell on to customers.

The Developer category shows the increasing importance of APIs and programmability in Cisco’s lineup and the network writ large. It’s a role that Cisco says many of its traditional partners are building up their abilities in as they seek to build out their own differentiated offerings, and it creates a space in the partner program for partners that have been long involved in its DevNet developer education and training offerings.

Advisor is the biggest new category, aiming to create a space for partners that themselves don’t sell technology to customers, but influence the sale. Today, these partners are shoehorned into Integrator deals, but those deals probably aren’t the best way for them to engage. Surplus said this category will exist to give these types of partners “differentiated access to all our roadmap and technology plans so they’re at the top of the game for providing counsel to their customers.” But the bigger opportunity for both Advisors and other types of Cisco partners may be yet to some, as Surplus describes plans to create structures to connect Advisors to Integrators, Providers, and Developers in a partner-to-partner motion. 

That kind of Ecosystem play has been one Cisco has long been in favour of, and promoted across the channel. But with the new program creating clear lanes within the same program for different models, it has perhaps eased the process by creating common tools and common languages amongst potential partners.

Oliver Tuszik, senior vice president of Cisco’s Global Partner Organization

Oliver Tuszik, senior vice president of the Global Partner Organization, stressed that all four types of partners are currently well-represented in the partner program.

“We’re already doing it, but none of it is automated and scalable,” Tusziki pointed out. And that’s a big change. 

In terms of day-to-day changes for Cisco partners, Surplus downplayed the impact on partners.

“Architectures and specializations aren’t going away, we’re not backing away, but we’ll provide more flexibility,” Surplus said.

The company said it will offer “increased differentiation” across the lower-tier Select and Premier tiers, and will add new qualifications over time to Gold to maintain the value there. Surplus suggested Gold will “require certain performance” such as maintaining a certain renewal rates, and said that “by next Partner Summit,” the company will require partners to have a customer experience specialization to retain Gold status.

Integrator partners will roll into the new program “immediately,” although they’ll have 12 months at their current level of the program to meet any evolving needs. Provider partners will get a similar amount of runway to get ready for any new qualifications.

The two new roles, Developer and Advisor, will “come to life” in the spring, after Cisco works to formalize the program over “the next three to five months,” Surplus said.

Robert Dutt

Robert Dutt is the founder and head blogger at He has been covering the Canadian solution provider channel community for a variety of publications and Web sites since 1997. 

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