We’ve been covering Cisco’s SMB partner program changes over the last year, and they just keep coming. This past week, Cisco announced a number of upgrades to the program, including a streamlined partner development fund, limited lifetime warranty guarantees, a customized web portal called My Cisco, and a number of new products, including SMB switches and IP phones.
As we’ve said in the past, it’s a lot of work for networking solution providers to try to translate enterprise-level solutions to a solution fit for a 25-person company. And I’ve even heard from partners who say they previously avoided the space because they knew they would lose business to the Shoretels of the world.
But with these new developments, Cisco seems to be doing all that the networking giant can to encourage its partners to go after the SMBs. To see how useful these changes are, I spoke to Gary Nordine, CEO of NetXperts, a ten-year Cisco partner.
Nordine summed up the new portal in four simple words: “My Cisco is awesome.” According to Nordine, navigating Cisco’s programs before the new portal was not easy. There was no way to streamline all Cisco information in one page, so numerous reports would have to be run based on whatever programs the partner might be enrolled in, wasting time and energy when trying to prepare for a sales meeting.
“With this tool,” said Nordine, “my personal feeling is that Cisco actually cares about the partner again. I’ve been able to consolidate everything onto one page, and the page gives you a summary for every program you’ve been involved in.”
UC solutions aren’t only for enterprise customers anymore. Besides the new portal, Cisco has also introduced a line of IP phones, including an Office Manager customized by the reseller for the customer. A line of energy-efficient SMB managed switches has also been introduced, and according to Nordine, these products have made his job easier.
“We can deliver enterprise quality into an SMB market with some of these new products,” he said.
No one is trying to write a love note to Cisco here, as this may seem, but it’s undeniable that Cisco is unprecedented in its focus on the SMB client through its partners. Other vendors have comparable products, but don’t have the programs and support through the partner program for its partners. Most vendors simply don’t want to offer services and products for SMBs, saying that it’s not their “sweet spot.” Is the Cisco SMB program perfect? No. Nothing’s perfect. Every partner I’ve spoken to agrees that in the past, Cisco was not the easiest vendor to work with — but times change. It appears that Cisco has listened to its partners’ complaints about an inability to monitor programs and a lack of vendor/partner communication. And the partners couldn’t be happier about that.
“With the investment they’ve made in their partners, the return that’s come back to us has been excellent,” said Nordine. “They’ve really put their money where their mouth is, and they’ve lived up to their marketing about going after the SMB, about helping the partner through training and VIP programs. In a down economy, we’ve been able to grow and maintain profitability.”