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Cisco Partner Summit 2012: Partner Plus program rewards SMB partners

Cisco announced its new Partner Plus program at the Cisco Partner Summit 2012, offering incentives to partners that win business in the SMB market.

SAN DIEGO -- Cisco Systems has set its sights on mid-sized business with Partner Plus, a new global channel program announced this week at the Cisco Partner Summit 2012, which offers incentives to partners that win business in that sector.

The Partner Plus program is a key component of Cisco's Partner Led initiative, which aims to inspire partners and reward them for winning small and medium-sized business (SMB) customers. Partner Plus also fosters partnerships between solution providers and Cisco's in-house sales force to jointly pursue this market segment.

"We're looking for an opportunity to focus the $75 million investment [in Partner Led] we announced last year [and] accelerate this model because of the opportunity that we have in this space," said Andrew Sage, vice president of Worldwide Partner Led at Cisco. "We're convinced the right place to focus that investment is on our partners."

Partner Plus: Many benefits, but many prerequisites

Partner Plus participants receive several benefits, including 24-hour, five-day-a-week engineering support, marketing assistance, demand generation and cash incentives for marketing and sales training. The program also rewards partners with increased preference and customer intelligence data, which partners can use to more efficiently target customers and close sales quicker.

The constant virtual access to Cisco engineers will support partners while they are in a presale environment, offering technical advice and resources for questions related to configuration issues, bill of materials (BoM), design, architecture, and product and competitive research. It also provides resources to help partners improve their sales calls, increase their sales capacity and learn how to up-sell and cross-sell.

Partners must meet several requirements to participate in Partner Plus. They must be certified partners -- gold, silver, premier or select partners are eligible -- and must meet a minimum-revenue threshold in Partner Led accounts, as only Partner Led revenue will be considered.

Partners must also meet certain engagement criteria, such as collaborating with Cisco on a business plan, and employ a minimum number of account managers and sales engineers.

Partner Plus will be rolled out in two phases. The first phase, launching in May, will include about 150 partners in the U.S. and Canada. The second phase begins in August, opening up the program to partners globally.

Partner Plus interests Cisco Partner Summit 2012 attendees

At the Cisco Partner Summit 2012, partners expressed enthusiasm for the program, showing particular interest in the return on investment.

Mont Phelps, president and CEO of NWN Corporation, an integrator based in Waltham, Mass., said he would be interested in investing in this program although some aspects of it are still unclear.

"Everyone will invest if they think it's a good bet and there's [a] return, but [the] devil's in the details," Phelps said. "It will be interesting to see how everything rolls out, but I say bring it on. These announcements Cisco has made are delivering on the expectations Cisco has set, [but] what happens as a result of them [remains] to be determined. That is rooted in the details and the impact."

Partner Plus: Not Cisco's first attempt at attacking the SMB market

While the program sounds promising to partners, this isn't the first, or even second, time Cisco has tried to tackle the SMB market. Last year, Cisco launched a partner support initiative with sales support and some unified communications products aimed at obtaining a chunk of SMB market share.

In 2008, Cisco launched products under the names Cisco Small Business and Cisco Small Business Pro, with the intention of providing products better engineered for SMB needs.

With Cisco Partner Plus, Cisco may finally acquire the SMB market share it's been seeking.

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