Most of the changes require more partner investment in training in exchange for more rewards. The two new roles, Developer and Advisor, are still not quite ready, and are scheduled to go live in August.
Last fall at Cisco Partner Summit, Cisco unveiled the biggest changes to its partner programs in over a decade. While they kept their standard three tiers – Gold, Premier and Select from top to bottom – they created four new roles which interlocked with them, as a means of consolidating what had been many different partner programs into one. Two of those roles Integrator, which encompassed many traditional Cisco partners, and Provider, for services-focused partners like telcos and MSPs, were substantially in place at the launch, although partners were given a lengthy time to meet the new qualification requirements. The other two roles Developer and Advisor were to be built out this year.
Today, Cisco is announcing a further fleshing out of the Integrator and Provider roles, including role requirements which involve some changes and further training requirements. Updates were provided on the Developer and Advisor roles, but their full eligibility criteria have not yet been stipulated, and the new roles themselves will go live in August.
“We have been live with the roles of Integrator and Provider since Partner Summit, said Marc Surplus, Vice President of Partner Strategy & Programs for Cisco’s Global Partner Sales organization. “We are now announcing requirement changes for the roles of Integrator and Provider.”
Cisco now deems partner achievement of their Customer Specialization to be a fundamental prerequisite for their top-tier Gold partners in order to provide top-tier support. Accordingly, all gold-level integrators will be required to have achieved the Customer Experience Specialization by April 7, 2022.
“About half of our Gold partners have met this requirement already,” Surplus noted. “Our most profitable partners already have 20-25% of their personnel playing the role of Customer Success manager. It’s the post-sales role. Our Gold partners’ world-class sales teams can land the deal. But the Customer Success teams get them to derive more value from it, and the renewal becomes a non-event as a result. They won’t need to re-land the deal.”
“Customer Success managers of successful partners are typically embedded with the sales teams,” said Brian Overmyer, Senior Manager, Partner Programs, at Cisco. “It’s not just a hand-off after the deal has been sold.”
A second major change to the Integrator role involves the Premier Tier in the middle of the rank hierarchy, who are now required to qualify for either two advanced architecture specializations or one advanced architecture and one business specialization.
“With this requirement, we are up-levelling the brand to further differentiate Premier partners from Select partners, and we now provide a little more differentiation across the three tiers,” Surplus said. “These are often our fastest growing partners, so we are strengthening them further by making them have two specializations. With that comes more rewards and incentives for these partners.” These include VIP, Perform Plus and marketing benefits.
The third major change to the integrator role involves streamlining Cisco’s continuous learning requirements. The requirements have been decoupled from individual specializations, so continuous learning credits will count toward the integrator role level as a whole.
“This takes our continuous learning and make it easier to manage by removing the administrative burden and giving more flexibility,” Surplus said. “There used to be a lot of guidelines. Now if they want to invest their whole team in learning security – that’s great.”
For the Provider role, Cisco has firmed up the requirements for partners to receive recognition based on their investment in delivering managed service and as-a-service solutions. Gold and Premier providers will be differentiated for their excellence in offering Cisco Powered services and lifecycle support for customers.
“Many, probably all, Providers drive the lifecycle motion, so the Customer Experience specialization is very applicable there,” Surplus said. “In the past, these partners had to invest heavily in resale. They may anyway, if it fits their business model, but are no longer required to.”
In exchange for meeting the stipulated requirements, Cisco is increasing its Provider-specific rewards, including programmatic pricing, deal registration for managed services, more flexible consumption options, dedicated investment and business development funds, technical support enablement and co-marketing.
“For the Integrator and the Provider, we have formal programs we are now taking to the next level,” Surplus said. “With the other two roles, it’s more about formalizing a role in the ecosystem.”
“Our Developer partners tend to have been in the Cisco orbit for a while, and some we have very close relationships with,” Overmyer stated. “But we want them to have a home within the program. Some of our larger traditional integrator partners have acquired or built out capacity in DevOps and application development.”
A lot of this is based on the DevNet specialization Cisco rolled out last year, as well as a formalized program for fewer partners with Cisco validated designs where the partners are on the Cisco price list. The role will also provide more technical training and tools, solution development, co-marketing, and access to Cisco Sales resources.
Surplus previewed the other new role, the Advisor, which is aimed at influencer-type partners.
“The Advisor role is clearly part of the sales cycle, and we will formalize them with a programmatic role,” he said. “The large consulting firms are also logical parts of this, but there are lots of other thought leaders and boutique forums who we want to address. We will give them a simple onboarding experience, and give greater experience to our technical road maps and other models.”
Surplus said they can pyramid things so the more deeply invested Advisor partners get access to more higher training and development.
“We also want to connect these partners to other partners so they can get involved in sales cycles,” he added.
“Everyone can do this for the strategic large consultants, but once you get into the details of the smaller advisors, it’s a lot harder,” Overmyer said. “The value- based approach to everything we do will really help us out there.”
Surplus also pointed out that while Cisco hasn’t given the issue as much public emphasis as last year, they are still continuing to support partners by extending qualifications for geos like India which continue to be highly stressed by COVID.
“Last year, we made close to 40 changes to the program, and last May we announced a grace period of six months so partners can focus on what’s most important to them. We are not putting as much fanfare around it as we did last year, but we have a lot of partners based in the U.S. and Europe who have a lot of back office and DevOps in India and said they might miss their dates. So we will play that by ear for them.”