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Techaisle Blog

Insightful research, flexible data, and deep analysis by a global SMB IT Market Research and Industry Analyst organization dedicated to tracking the Future of SMBs and Channels.

Brand Equity - A New Prescription for Cisco’s SMB Channel Partner Success

Cisco and the SMB market

Cisco has established an undisputed leadership position in the enterprise market. The company combines a widely-adopted and well-integrated portfolio of networking products with a highly-skilled (and paid) direct sales force to manage/expand its presence within major accounts.

The SMB market is a separate challenge. Here, buyers are less likely to require integration across multiple network components and more likely to emphasize price. They are also more likely to receive advice/management from channel partners, further reducing Cisco’s control over the acquisition process.

Against this backdrop, Techaisle’s SMB Channel Trends research illustrates the strengths and challenges Cisco must manage, as it looks to expand its share in the SMB segment.

Cisco Commands High Trust and Reputation

Within the channel community, Cisco enjoys a sound reputation and a high degree of trust. Techaisle’s latest SMB channel partner survey shows that 78 percent of Cisco’s SMB channel partners trust Cisco, a higher percentage than is registered by competitors such as HP and IBM. Nearly 70 percent of the partners believe that Cisco has quality products – again, the highest ranking recorded within the ‘hardware leader’ group including Cisco, HP, IBM and others. However, only 52 percent mention that Cisco has cutting edge technology, a percentage lower than that for both IBM and Microsoft. Moreover, 60 percent of Cisco’s SMB channel partners say that they Like Cisco, lower than corresponding rates for HP and Microsoft, only slightly higher than is found for IBM.

In its 2013 Annual report Cisco has written, “A substantial portion of our products and services is sold through our channel partners, and the remainder is sold through direct sales.” With specific reference to SMBs, Cisco wrote, “Generally, we define commercial businesses as companies with fewer than 1,000 employees. The larger, or midmarket, customers within the commercial market are served by a combination of our direct salesforce and our channel partners. These customers typically require the latest advanced technologies that our enterprise customers demand, but with less complexity. Small businesses, or companies with fewer than 100 employees, require information technologies and communication products that are easy to configure, install, and maintain. These smaller companies within the commercial market are primarily served by our channel partners.” Techaisle’s data shows that Cisco has attracted positive attention within this channel partner community, but that its technology and relationships do not leave it especially differentiated from competitors.

Technology Shift has Created SMB Messaging Challenges

In recent years SMB technology demands have shifted to cloud, mobility, analytics, social media, collaboration, managed services and virtualization. Cisco is seeking to capitalize on this market transition through the development of cloud-based product and service offerings that enable its customers develop and deploy their own cloud-based IT solutions.

In communications channel partners in the U.S. including those specializing in the SMB segment – Cisco has been steadily driving them to offer products and services that deploy cloud, mobility, virtualization, managed services and data center solutions. This is by no means an easy task as most SMB channel partners are being actively courted by competitive vendors that also want to grow their emerging technologies’ business. SMB channel partners selling advanced technologies have an average of 3.46 vendor partnerships which average jumps to 4.21 for Cisco SMB partners, a difference of 21 percent. With this increased contention for mind/market/wallet share, it can be difficult for Cisco to manage brand identity and its related messaging.

This difficulty is illustrated by study findings showing that of all the Cisco SMB channel partners, 44 percent consider Cisco to be their top partner. The other 56 percent mention Microsoft, Oracle, HP, IBM and several others. Within the VAR/SI community, Cisco’s share of preference is 48 percent and drops to 39 percent amongst the MSPs/SPs that are viewed as critical to the success of future cloud initiatives.

Cisco’s SMB Channel Partner Brand Equity

Techaisle believes that it is time for a new metric to represent presence (and opportunities for growth) within the SMB market. Techaisle refers to this second-generation measurement approach as Brand Equity Management. It is measured by a robust proprietary index, the Techaisle Brand Equity Score (BES-360).

Techaisle believes that it is important for IT vendors to measure their Brand Equity within SMB channel partners as well as SMBs. Techaisle’s Brand Equity Score, BES-360, helps to identify areas where IT vendors can improve to increase share of wallet. BES-360 is a KPI (Key Performance Indicator) that measures the strength of brand within a segment.

Cisco’s Brand Equity Score within its SMB channel partners is higher than most competitors – but lower than scores for both IBM and Microsoft. The implication of these findings is that even through Cisco has high brand equity amongst its channel partners; it is not necessarily true that its entire SMB-focused channel base is firmly wedded to Cisco’s game plan.

SMB Channel Partner Brand Equity Measurement– the New Prescription

Breaking down the data for Cisco, Techaisle’s study finds that almost 25 percent of Cisco’s channel partners have a Brand Equity rating of 80+. This group forms Cisco’s core partners. The data also shows that almost 35 percent of Cisco’s SMB channel partners have equity of less than 40. These are the partners that Cisco needs to work on.

Interestingly, small business focused channel partners give a higher Brand Equity Score to Cisco than mid-market focused channel partners. This is a segment that Cisco should address as the mid-market has become a battleground for most IT vendors and there is yet no clear dominant player.

Among all SMB channel partners of Cisco, VARs are actually driving up the Brand Equity Score. In fact 41 percent of VARs constitute the HBE (High Brand Equity) group. On the other hand, MSPs constitute only 20 percent. In order for Cisco to continue to grow its CMSP program and build on its initial successes, Cisco has to turn its attention to the MSPs that serve the SMBs to understand the key reasons for lower brand equity which when fixed can lead to better wallet share among MSPs.

Drilling down further into the data, Techaisle finds that Cisco is not doing better within the overall managed services community than it is within MSPs focused on cloud. A higher percentage of Cisco’s HBE partners are offering managed services to SMBs whereas a higher percentage of ABE (Average Brand Equity) partners are offering Cloud to SMBs. Cisco’s SMB cloud ambitions would benefit from moving some of these ABE cloud partners to HBE segment. The HBE segment offering cloud services need extensive training on cloud solutions to become more successful in offering cloud to their SMB customers. More than 40 percent of these channel partners are working with SMB customers that have private cloud. This may be good for Cisco in the short-term but it does not represent best practice in this segment, and it is misaligned with the ongoing acceptance of public cloud as a preferred IT delivery platform.

Product resale revenue is 43 percent for HBE partners as compared to 38 percent for ABE. Similarly, recurring revenue is 57 percent for HBE as compared to 61 percent for ABE. Naturally, this bodes well for Cisco’s current revenue as the High Brand Equity partners are driving higher revenues from products. However, if Cisco plans to increasingly promote service-centric partners then a lot more work is required to identify partners with higher services revenues and move them into the High Brand Equity segment.

Practicing the Prescription

Techaisle’s brand management work is anchored in the belief that if a vendor’s brand equity is good, then it can compete successfully with vendors with lower brand equity for sales of comparable products or services. Vendors with sound products/services but low brand equity will struggle to maintain parity with competitors that have higher brand equity, even if that vendor’s products/services are (somewhat) inferior. Hence, Brand Equity Score findings help indicate potential areas of expansion or exposure as vendors, like Cisco, assess their potential for expanding the footprint of their brands within the SMB channel partner community. The composition of Cisco’s BES across its channel indicates the core strength of its brand. Techaisle’s analysis indicates that Cisco has both strengths to build on and areas requiring focus as it moves to position its next-generation solutions (especially, cloud solutions) through its channel to the SMB market.

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15 Keys: Winning Strategies of Successful SMB Cloud Channel Partners

Techaisle’s extensive primary research based study finds that there are quantitative, meaningful and actionable differences between channel partners who are successful in the business of selling Cloud and those that have not developed successful SMB Cloud practices.

The study to understand the winning strategies for selling Cloud to SMBs and to enable channel partners and their vendor suppliers build viable, high-growth SMB cloud businesses uncovered 15 best practices and critical differences between the activities and approaches of successful and unsuccessful SMB Cloud computing channel partners. These 15 keys are grouped into three areas.

Corporate priorities and allocations:

1.   There is no organizational recipe for cloud success
2.   Familiarity breeds success
3.   The “why” behind the cloud initiative often helps explain success
4.   Recurring revenue is not the sole indicator of cloud business success

Technology and offering definition:

5.   Cloud rewards suppliers that focus on providing best-of-breed
6.   Branded solutions are a key element of channel cloud success
7.   Industry expertise is a more important differentiator than technical prowess
8.   Cloud portfolios need to extend beyond basic IaaS, SaaS to also encompass verticals
9.   Data integration linking on-premise and cloud environments is non-optional
10. The future is hybrid, not private

Sales and marketing strategies and tactic:

11. The nature of sales relationship is a critical determinant of cloud success
12. Profit is driven by product/service balance
13. Partner-to-partner relationships are important to cloud business success
14. A distinctive approach to budget and resource allocation creates differentiation
15. Creating a cost-effective, scalable approach to lead generation is imperative

Detailed analysis included in the report highlights key differences between:

  • Channel partners that are very successful and are making money selling cloud to SMBs

  • Channel partners that have just achieved success and have started making money selling cloud to SMBs

  • Channel partners that are not yet successful and are not making money from their SMB cloud business


Working with SMBs, the channel and the vendor community, Techaisle has created research materials that help reduce time-to-success and increase the overall benefit of offering SMB solutions. Channel members looking to build a successful cloud business practice, or a vendor looking to accelerate channel success, can find details of the report here, or send us an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 
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Let us talk Dell’s Commitment to Channels

Dusting off my notebooks (the notepad variety) I came upon some carefully documented notes of my conversations with Dell’s Channel team, in particular with Greg Davis, Vice President and General Manager of Global Commercial Channels.  Just reviewing the notes of the previous two years it hit me squarely in my face that Dell’s channels team has been on a restless pursuit of:

    • Simplicity,

 

    • Training & enablement,

 

    • Winning datacenter together with the channel, and

 

    • Partner profitability



Fall of 2011

Although Dell’s Partner Direct program was formally launched in 2007 with aggressive channel recruitment and courting happening in 2008, we will pick up on our conversations with Dell’s Greg Davis and Paul Shaffer, Executive Director Global Channel Marketing & channel partnerDemand Generation from the fall of 2011. Partner enablement, training, certification and integration of acquisitions had percolated to the top of the team's agenda. For an IT company which is notorious in selling direct, drastic measures were needed to become “one” with the channel. Dell delivered 75,000 training modules to its partners, 30 percent of Dell’s commercial business had started to come from channels and 58,000 registration deals were closed. With the acquisition of Force10 Networks Dell announced enhanced network certification programs and 130 premier partners got their certifications. Emphasizing that the training modules were working, Greg Davis had mentioned that top 10 partners who invested most in training had seen 110 percent growth in revenue. Fall 2011 was also the time when partners started seeing the first glimpse of gentle motivations from Dell to push deeper into healthcare segment and drive revenue from datacenter solutions. Inroads were being made into smaller partners for SMBs as much as national and larger partners.

Cloud Channel

During the same time period while Dell was building out its confidence and trust with the channels, dell-cloud-programenterprises and SMBs were moving to cloud, thus dis-intermediating the channel. Especially the VAR channels (which typically form the largest percent of channel partners of an IT Vendor) had been finding their traditional business models threatened by products and services that could be sold direct by a vendor over the Internet. To continue to adapt to the changing times and never taking its eye off the channel partners’ livelihood Dell launched cloud channel programs in the spring of 2012:

    • Cloud Builder,

 

    • Cloud Provider, &

 

    • Cloud Service Enabler



A technical services team was also put into place to help partners sell data center solutions namely, server and storage. Dell now had roughly 250 premium partners and had delivered 135,000 training modules in the year.

Work was far from complete. More acquisitions were taking place; these acquisitions had to be integrated and above all emerging market countries had to be targeted. Both Greg Davis and Amit Midha, President, Asia Pacific and Japan, Chairman, Global Emerging Markets underscored the fact that they were working to ensure a consistent channel engagement across every market covering:

    • Deal registration

 

    • Compensation neutrality

 

    • Conflict escalation process, and

 

    • Executive priority



Asia/Pacific

The channel commitment work in Asia/Pacific countries in our opinion is far from complete. There are still some major strides to be made, specifically in the Asia/Pacific region. By its own acknowledgement, Asia/Pacific is the fastest growing regions for Dell which requires a constant confidence and trust building process with the channels. In many of Techaisle’s analyst interactions with channel partners in 2012 in Asia/Pacific, it was found that channels had warmed up to Dell but some questioned Dell’s sincerity whenever bigger contracts were involved.

In both summer and fall of 2012 we asked Greg Davis and Amit Midha where they thought they were with consistency and confidence. Not only were they bullish but also recognized that they have some hills to climb. They were also candid that services remain a big component of any channel’s revenue mix and while typical services such as warranty, break-fix, and insurance were straightforward re-sale of Dell Services, partnering in consulting was a bit more challenging.

Summer 2012

By the summer of 2012, efforts were paying off, 62,000 deal registrations per quarter were coming through partners with 72 percent approval rate, 35,000 training modules were being delivered per quarter, the number of premier and preferred partners had jumped to 2500, Asia/Pacific channel programs were being strengthened, SonicWALL was integrated and specific courses were introduced on how to talk to a CIO, value of integrated datacenter. Above all social media training programs were launched for the benefit of the channels.

In late summer, in a conversation with Greg Davis and Bob Skelley, Executive Director, Global Certified Partner Program & Channel, they reiterated their commitment to make Dell “easy to work with” and restated their deep & maniacal focus on training and competencies. This focus resulted in 34 percent of global commercial business funneling through Dell channels, up from 30 percent in the fall of 2011. Number of deal registrations had jumped to 71,000 and an enhanced deal registration tool on mobile platforms was rolled-out. 47,000 training courses had been delivered in the quarter and Dell now had 113,000 channel partners. Initial focus on healthcare segment had resulted in a surge in end-user customers. A 40 percent growth in certifications was also achieved when compared with previous quarter. With the integration of Wyse, a desktop virtualization certification program was introduced. Dell channels had truly arrived and there was never a question of ever turning back.

One year later, Fall 2012

One year later, by fall of 2012, Dell had 130,000 channel partners, 35 percent of commercial business revenue was funneling through channels, 142,000 training courses had been delivered in the year, number of deal registrations had shot up to 65,000 and there were now 3600 preferred and premier channel partners. In the words of Greg Davis, “Dell has the most confident and competent channel partners in the world”. One year later, I saw an urgency to deliver with a profound focus on datacenters, systems management and cloud services. Virtualization was also beginning to take center stage. Kathy Schneider, Executive Director, Global Channel Marketing & Programs, drove home the point that she and her team were focused on driving best practices across four strategic pillars:

    1. Easy to do business with One Price and Sales Tools

 

    1. Win in the Enterprise using a comprehensive sales tool aptly named as Enterprise Master

 

    1. Training & enablement through expansion of training beyond Dell’s standard solutions to include social media

 

    1. Partner profitability through a simple, effective and rewarding incentives program



It has been a long way from direct PC selling to indirect solution selling. Real progress has been made. Dell’s channel executives are an end-to-end solutions empowering team for the channels. Not all channels will thrive but those that are equally committed to learn, adapt and practice will certainly succeed.

Anurag Agrawal
With contribution from Gitika Bajaj in Asia/Pacific

 

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Cisco’s Master Move in Combining Cloud & Managed Services Channel Programs

Announcement

Cisco has announced a new Cloud and Managed Services Program (CMSP) that integrates its currently existing Cloud Provider, Cloud Services and Managed Services Channel Programs (MSCP) into one. Besides streamlining incentives, discounts and payments for its partners, the program also aims to simplify pricing for Cisco-based cloud and managed services offerings. The program will also enable collaboration and sharing of complementary opportunities between partners through a microsite via Cisco’s partner portal. All partners are expected to transition to the CMSP by August 2013.

Techaisle Take

We believe that with one master move Cisco is strategically addressing the US$94 billion global SMB opportunity by 2016.

Techaisle’s global channel surveys have shown that Cloud, Mobility, and Managed Services Solutions together are changing the SMB channel landscape as these solutions are revolutionizing IT utilization by SMBs. The new paradigm would be the "3-in-1" Channels offering Mobility, Cloud, and Managed Services as a single offering. We first wrote about the 3-in-1 channel here. And now Virtualization is quickly becoming a potent arsenal in the SMB channel partners offerings.

Techaisle’s corresponding SMB research has consistently shown that SMBs want mostly integrated solutions to limit complexity and therefore seek partners that are capable of such deliverables but very few partners currently do so as they are all camped in either one or two solution corners and few seem to embrace a holistic solution view - and this is making SMBs unsure of overall benefits and desire to spend.

With its current announcement Cisco is removing some of the barriers by bringing channel partners serving managed services and cloud needs of SMBs under a common cluster. Since many SMBs want to obtain all services from a single provider, it is important for broad product/solution vendors to evaluate all their partners, seek and cluster partners based on where they are with regards to capabilities of delivering complete solutions and introduce programs to support development. As the dividing line between cloud and managed services is becoming thin, Cisco has just done it, that is, created a single program that should:

  • Enable channels to build more dynamic and serious partner-to-partner collaboration to collectively address complementary opportunities

  • Enable Cisco partners to add capabilities, such as, managed services to an existing cloud services

  • Attract newer partners to join Cisco program

  • Help current channel partners qualify and move up Cisco’s channel partner pyramid


The data on the right from Techaisle’s channel study (N=2851) shows that channels that serve the SMB segment are keen to offer multiple services that straddle cloud and managed services. Cisco’s new program should open up opportunity for its channel partners to offer both cloud and managed services using Cisco platforms.

If we look at the survey data at micro-level, we find that is a higher percentage of Channel Partners that are offering some type of Managed Services Solutions than they are offering Mobility Solutions or even Cloud Computing. The channels falling in the green columns will benefit immediately, those in the blue columns will find the program attractive but those within the red columns in the chart would be of immense importance.
Managed Services has been is of more critical importance for SMBs than Cloud or Mobility which is a key reason why there are more Managed Services partners than Cloud Computing providers. Additionally, Managed Services took root a few years back while Cloud Computing is a more recent phenomenon. Mobility has been in existence for a long time, however, it should be considered absolutely new in its current form with the availability & use of several mobile devices & other enabling technologies, namely Cloud & Remote Managed Services.

It is clear that Managed Services has been the most important offering for Channel Partners, as they evolved from a typical value added channel to offering break-fix services and remote managed services.



The path being chosen by Channels to move from one offering to the next is strongly dependent upon their current offering. Those that are in the mobility space are moving to cloud, while those in the cloud are moving to managed services.

Understanding the channel dynamics and current offerings gives clues in the direction they will move. For those that are offering only one of the services there is a clear path to adding services. In fact Techaisle survey shows that the channels have chosen their path of selection.

Channels are also interested in offering mobility solutions, however, it is also clear that mobility has become possible due to cloud and managed services allowing employees to work from anywhere, anytime and from any device.

 

The responsibility now lies with both the channel partners and Cisco to make the program a success. However, there some other steps that Cisco needs to take as well.

  • Extend the reach of its Smart Care to cover cloud based services

  • Develop capabilities that not only work with Cisco's networking devices but also with client devices. Although it must be said that Cisco is addressing some of those needs through its partnerships with other vendors

  • Further the agenda on not only BYOD but also just BYO

  • Market the program aggressively. Channel partners are being courted and trained by many other vendors

  • Use the program to establish a strong presence in the datacenter space


With the latest move, Cisco may have begun to shift the tide in its favor more decisively.

Anurag Agrawal
Techaisle
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