Cisco partners have some tips for Cisco Systems' new channel chief Wendy Bahr.
Bahr, who has been with the company since 2000, was tapped as vice president of U.S./Canada channels last month, taking over from Chuck Robbins.
First, do no harm, said Mike Fong, CEO of Calence LLC, a Tempe, Ariz.-based Cisco partner. "It's a very complex supply chain involving very complex technologies," he said. "A lot of time and thought have gone into the evolution of these programs, and so my advice is largely to keep on the path they're currently on."
Cisco needs to help partners sell the next evolution of technology, said Fong, a Gold Cisco partner. "It has to examine existing channel programs and ask if they work within the context of the data center and the competition with Microsoft that's heating up as well as the whole managed services trend," he said.
"There are so many things Cisco has done to improve partner profitability, and we absolutely depend on those things continuing," agreed Gia McNutt. As CEO of SOS, a Loomis, Calif.-based Cisco Premier partner, she waxed enthusiastic about Cisco's Opportunity Incentive Program (OIP), which gives partners preferred pricing if they register deals. "Without these programs, the big, big DVARs, the AT&Ts and Qwests, would eat our lunch," she said. "We'd have to say, 'Sorry, Cisco, we love your stuff, but we can't afford to sell it.'" Direct value-added resellers (DVARs) are large Cisco partners that source product directly from the vendor.
That said, there's room for improvement, according to McNutt. "Our training costs are huge," she said. "We need cooperative funds to help us make the investments we need in our staffs." McNutt spends upward of $25,000 annually on Cisco training, and for the past three years Cisco has not provided co-op funds. She would like Cisco's help finding and hiring top-notch implementation engineers. Just as Cisco will post resumes of sales professionals and presales engineers on its partner portal, "we'd like to see them do this for implementation engineers," she said. "Industry projections for voice are going through the roof. The only thing that will stop us from meeting that demand is the lack of experienced and certified talent."
Partners also want more streamlined program administration.
"I'm looking forward to Wendy simplifying the whole channel model," said Tim Hebert, CEO of Atrion Networking Corp., a Warwick, R.I.-based Cisco Gold reseller. "Right now, we have to put a lot of time and energy into some very complicated programs. It's difficult to administer them and still be productive selling." For example, said Hebert, for him to keep getting VIP rebates, his customers must fill out painfully long surveys. Because of the stringent VIP rules, he has to ask some customers to fill out the surveys as often as three times a year each. "It's especially hard to maintain when you are selling emerging advanced technology, like [unified communications], where you don't have 200 customers," he said.
Bob Keblusek, senior vice president of business development for Sentinel Technologies Inc., in Downers Grove, Ill., said Cisco continues to progress in this area, but could still be easier to work with. A case in point: too much email.
"I get so many messages from so many people at Cisco, and many of them are duplicates. I could be devoting myself full-time to investigating Cisco products and attending Cisco events rather than actually selling," he said. It's a testament to the breadth and depth of the Cisco portfolio, he added, but he would welcome some better way to consolidate the massive amount of information sent his way daily.
And then there's channel conflict. Bob Buchanan, the chief operating officer for Bulletproof Solutions Inc., a Cisco partner based in Fredericton, N.B., said he is delighted with Cisco overall, but spoke for many partners attempting to compete in large geographic locations where the opportunities are thinly spread. "Our market here is miles wide but only an inch deep," he said.
It's hard for Bulletproof to compete with Gold partners from Toronto or Ottawa who come to its region and discount products to win accounts. Attempting to achieve Gold status in his circumstances is difficult, Buchanan said, and ultimately that impacts Cisco as well. For example, he has 50 engineers in the field in his region; HP has just six. Yet HP, as a Gold partner, gets preferred pricing. "If I had the discount that HP has, I could harness my entire sales force and sell a lot more products for Cisco. They'd benefit as much as I would," he said.
Smaller resellers voice a common complaint -- and related hope: that Cisco will throw more resources their way.