Cisco enhances programs for customer-credit and vertical-market development

Cisco promises education and events for vertical markets, quicker credit approval.

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Cisco Systems Inc. has enhanced two programs designed to help channel partners develop greater expertise in specific vertical markets and close deals more easily by streamlining the process of financing and leasing Cisco equipment and services.

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The Cisco Vertical Select Program will provide sales, training and market support to systems integrators and value-added resellers (VARs) in markets including financial services, healthcare, education, and state and local government.

To qualify, channel companies have to be nominated by their Cisco channel account manager, be a Premier, Silver or Gold certified partner, have five customer references from the vertical market involved, have a sales team dedicated to that market and register a business plan with the Cisco Partner Program Business Planning Tool for the same vertical industry. Partners can participate in the program in only two vertical industries.

In return, Cisco helps Vertical Select partners arrange training in that specific vertical industry, line up speakers and event-organizers to put together educational and marketing events for potential customers in that vertical, and co-fund marketing campaigns, demand generation and other activities.

"The biggest thing about Vertical Select is that [Cisco] understands the message you have to deliver to that industry," according to Dan Holt, principal consultant and CEO of HEIT Consulting in Sunnyvale, Calif. "You're dealing with a vertical group that's already familiar with the industry, rather than having to go through multiple account managers."

There is a limited amount Cisco can teach established vertical players like HEIT, which focuses exclusively on the financial services industry, Holt said. But it will pay 50% of the costs of events aimed at customers, and take much of the cost and labor out of the logistics of marketing to those customers.

And it could help less established players as well.

"The typical VAR out there may consider themselves a vertical because they've sold something to five different banks," Holt said. "But you don't understand the lingo and what a core processor is and who the compliance officer is and what the regulatory agencies are. Very few VARs in the industry understand things to that level.

The program has helped Berbee jump-start its business in the financial services industry, though the company did not have a practice focused exclusively in that area, according to Sarah Hurley, marketing specialist at Burbee, a data-center and managed-services provider based in Madison, Wis.

"It has helped us get new account managers up to speed," she said. "But we had not put together a focused campaign in a particular vertical. After this we went through all the Berbee offices and selected people who could participate in the campaign."

The result is still not a practice dedicated to financial services, but the program makes it easier to host customer events, get information through Cisco's supporting Web sites and gain some visibility with a new customer base, she said.

"I can't give you a number, [of new deals closed with Cisco's help] but it definitely opened some doors for us," Hurley said.

More information is available from Cisco.

Cisco also announced enhancements to the customer-finance program that was launched by Cisco Systsems Capital in February of last year.

The program was designed to provide funding and leasing arrangements to Cisco customers through the channel. In the past, the system Cisco built to help analyze credit applications could approve the deal "within minutes," according to Maryann Von Seggern, director of worldwide channel development for Cisco.

The time expectation for approval was between "two minutes and two hours," after which the VAR could tell the customer credit had been approved but would have to wait three to five days for the paperwork to come through.

Now the system – a Web-based application into which a VAR rep types the customer information and general description of the deal – can create and print out the actual contracts as well.

"Any time a partner comes in with a credit request up to $50,000, they get the docs back right away," Von Seggern said. "It's the evolution of the leasing process; the next step is to take it up to 100,000. We're working on that."

The leasing program really does bring in a lot of business or at least help close deals that might otherwise be delayed by outside funding, Holt said.

"We do a lot of VoIP and pretty much every VoIP deal is financed in some part," he said. "There's still something on the back-end, because they have to verify credit. But it's an easy process. The tools are very easy for the partners to use. And once [account managers send the application in] it's pretty much just a phone call. It's the easiest lease process I've seen."

As much as 80% of a deal can be funded under the program, but the transaction itself has to be higher than $50,000.

More information is available from Cisco.

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