Specialise or diversify? Cisco's top brass weigh in

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Specialise or diversify? Cisco's top brass weigh in
Ken Boal, Cisco

It can be easy to forget the breadth of products on offer from a global mega-vendor like Cisco. But throughout the company’s Partner Summit held in Las Vegas this week, one of the key messages has been centred around the announcement that Cisco would merge its security capabilities with its SD-WAN portfolio.

As the lines start to blur between Cisco’s “five pillars”, CRN talked to three senior channel executives to get their take on whether partners should diversify with as many portfolios as possible, or focus in on just one.

Not one to play favourites, Cisco’s new global channel Oliver Tuszik told CRN that all partners, no matter their size or specialist get some love from Cisco if they buy from the vendor.

“We need them all, and we’re trying to support them in different ways. If you want to get up on stage winning the awards at Cisco, selling a lot helps. The other two areas are leading with us together in areas where we believe our future will be.”

Without going into the specifics, Tuszik did offer up some advice for new partners wanting to work with Cisco.

“If you’re not starting from scratch, find your essence. Essence is quite often your brand, customer linkage, skills and things like this, and build on this one thing and set your focus.”

Cisco’s VP for Australia and New Zealand Ken Boal offered similar thoughts but admitted that there are benefits to working across the Cisco product ecosystem.

“If a partner is aligning and taking to market products in our five pillars, great. But equally, if a partner is only focusing on two pillars, let’s say collaboration and enterprise networking, that’s just as good. Or just security, that’s fine as well," Boal said.

“I would certainly say there are elements to our proposition where when you combine these things, that’s where the magic happens. Security and networking for example, when you bring those together, it makes a lot more sense so a partner that’s only doing enterprise networking and not our security portfolio will miss a trick because they won’t be able to light up all the security capabilities in the network."

With that in mind, Boal said Cisco’s focus in Australia is less about what products partners sell, but what market they are targeting. Boal said the company had made a concerted effort in the past year to focus in on the SMB and mid-market in Australia.

“If you look at the top tier of SIs and digital firms, we’re well engaged. Where we’re looking to recruit more partners is actually in the SMB and midmarket and that’s been something we’ve been engaged in through our distributors and really focusing on a more fit-for-purpose portfolio, not just the enterprise technology but the starter portfolio," he said.

“We’ve seen really tremendous growth in SMB and midmarket through this approach over the past 12 to 18 months. Actually, we expect more growth from SMB and midmarket than we do from the enterprise top end of town and that’s because we have a lower share in that part of the market and we’re having to change the way we do business to better serve and insert ourselves into that market.”

Cisco’s Australian channel chief Tara Ridley echoed those sentiments, praising the work that disties have played in managing the vendor’s channel in the past year and actively recruiting new partners.

“We’ve certainly grown significantly in SMB and as a result, set up a dedicated team. Specifically, we’ve evolved our distribution program to incentivise and reward disties for recruiting and to target specific net new SMB partners. So now that we have a portfolio that scales down to SMB, because historically we didn’t necessarily have the right portfolio or price point, we’ve got that now," she said.

That SMB push was also seen at a global level last month when Cisco opened a new SMB track within its Express specialisation framework that it hopes will make partners more relevant to customers and to provide more recurring revenue opportunities, another key theme during the Partner Summit.

“[SMB] is a whole different channel and different buying methodology in the sense that there’s very little loyalty if they can’t get the right price point for a product there and then, they’ll just move on to the next one and so the disties play such a critical role in that from stocking to the right sort of promotion in the market, onboarding new partners, so that’s a huge piece,” Ridley added.

The journalist travelled to Cisco Partner Summit as a guest of Cisco.

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