Cisco signals significant changes to partner incentives and specializations

Jeff Sharritts, chief customer and partner officer at Cisco

MIAMI — Cisco Partner Summit 2023 has been, in many ways, about setting the stage for the future with the company’s partners.

The trend started on the eve of the event, with the introduction of Rodney Clark as Cisco’s new global channel chief, and continued on the main stage of the event, where the company shared with partners plans to make significant changes to how it incentivizes partners and how partner specializations are realized.

Along with new solution specializations around SMB, network security and zero trust, the company said it would be shifting its partner specializations to orient with how customers use the products, in other words, solutions specializations. The company plans to retire its oldest architecture-focused specializations, starting with the data centre specialization slated to end in July 2024. Jason Gallo, vice president of partner go-to-market acceleration, said that a roadmap for the end of the architecture specializations will be provided “over the next twelve months.”

“We will always give our partners time to adjust. Their existing practices are foundational,” Gallo said.

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

Marc Surplus, vice president of partner strategy and programs, said the longstanding architectural specializations “served us well” but that it was time for them to give way to solutions-focused specializations and more horizontal business specializations, such as customer experience and sustainability.”

“We will move to solutions specializations in the name of simplicity going forward,” Surplus said.

While the idea of the architectural specializations that defined the late John Chambers era of Cisco may have brought a tear to the eye of some longtime Cisco partners in attendance, the company also previewed a change that may be even more foundational. After over 20 years of being the biggest carrot in Ciscco’s collection of incentives for partners, the sun will set on the venerable Value Incentive Program, VIP.

Jeff Sharritts, Cisco’s chief customer and partner officer, unveiled plans to introduce a new all-encompassing Cisco Partner Incentive by the second half of 2024, calling it “a unified incentive that rewards all aspects of our go-to-market.”

Sharritts said the Partner Incentive will take in “the best parts” of VIP and two other programs offering incentives to sell Cisco hardware, software, as-a-service and lifecycle services in one program.

The program will align Cisco’s incentives for partners with those it already offers to its sellers, a move Sharritts said the company believes will help create closer joint go-to-markets with partners. Sharritts said the new programs will provide partners with “more predictability around profitability” and “better visibility into your ability to be rewarded across the customer journey.”

Sharritts said more details of the program would be announced over the next “several quarters” and that Cisco is still working with key partners on setting up the details of the program.

“We want to make sure we’re sharing our strategic direction,” Sharrittts said.

Erin Gertner, vice president of the partner organization and SMB sales for Cisco Canada

Partners can expect to hear much more from all levels of Cisco, from Sharritts and the partner program leadership to more local in-country administration. Erin Gertner, vice president of Cisco Canada’s partner organization and SMB sales, said the Canadian organization “owes [partners] a lot of education” about the changes being made over the coming months and quarters.

“We need to do a lot of education, so partners know where we’re going, and we need to create that two-way feedback loop to figure out what makes the most sense,” Gertner 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.