I attended Cisco Systems’ Partner Summit in Las Vegas last week. I’ve participated in many Cisco events in the past, but this one was decidedly different. Beyond the core focus on its partner community, there was a resounding theme around customer experience (CX). From my perspective, CX encapsulates the understanding of how a customer deploys and consumes a set of technology products and services and subsequently maps an optimal delivery model to meet those needs. Cisco made several announcements to this end, and I would like to share my insights on them.
The benefits of a lifecycle approach for customers and partners
CX is rooted in a lifecycle approach to both technology consumption and delivery. Given that Cisco’s selling motion is 90%+ through channel partners, this requires an entirely new approach to selling. It’s no longer a focus on a discrete piece of networking hardware or software, but rather a more sophisticated understanding of customer needs—recommending a blend of hardware, software and services. Cisco claims (and I agree) that lifecycle selling has the potential to increase revenue twofold, drive higher software license renewal in an ever-increasing SaaS world and bolster customer retention. The benefit to the customer is the delivery of a set of networking solutions tailored to specific needs that are capital and operational expense optimized. The biggest challenge in my mind in a successful execution is partner training, but Cisco is dedicating nearly $50M to ensure CX acumen in the channel.
Another important element of CX in my mind is delivering an improved user interaction with the technology itself. I’ve coined this approach as “experience-based networking,” and it’s centered on empowering networking infrastructure providers to add value beyond basic connectivity. Some examples are indoor wayfinding, conference room booking, access management, automated help desk ticketing and concierge service support. Location-based services factor heavily here, so at the event I was pleased to learn about the further momentum behind Cisco’s acquisition of July Systems. July Systems was integrated into Cisco DNA Spaces, in my mind addressing a gap that the company needed to fill in order to round out its overall CX strategy. I’ve written about experience-based networking in the past and if interested you can find that article here.
Culture breeds success
During his keynote at the event, CEO Chuck Robbins spoke to culture as an important underlying focus for Cisco’s long-term success. Mr. Robbins shared an anecdote dating back to his CEO interview experience four years ago where he emphasized culture as part of his strategic plan. Suffice it to say, his vision has paid off. Under his watch, Cisco eclipsed the $50B revenue mark and was recently ranked the #1 best place to work by Great Place to Work. Mr. Robbins also focuses on diversity, having balanced his leadership team to a 50/50 mix of male and female executives. Additionally, Cisco engages in a number of corporate social responsibility initiatives that benefit society as a whole.
Oliver Tuszik, Cisco’s highly energetic, heavily bearded channel leader, kicked off the event by outlining a four-pronged approach that I believe captures the essence of the company’s culture and vision. To paraphrase, it focuses on customer success as the priority, leading with partners for the entire lifecycle, performing and transforming to ensure the right alignment, and recruiting and supporting partners that bring unique capabilities to bear. I believe this is an amazing formula for success, and if Mr. Tuszik can bottle his passion and inject it into the partner community with great products and services, it will pay dividends for Cisco partners and customers alike.
Impactful partner-centric programs
There were several programs unveiled at the event that are also important to note. Cisco’s Global Problem Solver contest will launch in the spring of next year with channel partner involvement. Up for grabs is $350K in prize money, which will be awarded to students who address social and environmental challenges through the application of technology. It’s an innovative approach to influence young adults in their formative years and impart the notion that connectivity can bridge divides and make a positive impact on society.
Additionally, DevNet announced a business specialization to enable partner differentiation and drive new business opportunities. It’s intended to recognize partners that have demonstrated exceptional software development capabilities and best business practices that deliver on the promise of automation, application development, and digital transformation utilizing Cisco solutions. The partner specialization extends prior certifications and in my opinion sets a new bar for the enterprise networking infrastructure space, creating tremendous marketability for channel engineers and IT professionals.
Lastly, Cisco launched a small business initiative called “Cisco Designed for Business.” It’s a holistic program tailored to the segment’s unique needs as well as those of partners. Cisco tried to address small business solutions in the past with somewhat limited success. However, this time I believe it will find traction with its curated approach that blends Cisco and Meraki hardware and software. “Cisco Designed for Business” is intended to deliver enterprise class solutions that are affordable, easy to deploy and easy to manage. It includes Cisco Meraki Go, a new line of networking products that are positioned as a “DIY” approach for the busy small business. It leverages Meraki’s cloud-based DNA and includes access points, security gateways and switches all managed from a single dashboard. In addition to the curated product portfolio, Cisco is also doubling its historic investment in partner programs and streamlining many of them to accelerate partner selling success. From my perspective, this one-two punch of a small business aligned portfolio and partner enablement is a recipe for long-term success.
Many technology companies speak to the importance of the customer and a desire to deliver the best experience, but many fall short. From my perspective, CX has to be rooted in corporate culture to be successful. I learned that at my first job at Dell after graduating from college when the emphasis was to “innovate and pioneer direct relationship marketing.” Cisco is on a similar path and by many measures is taking a relentless pursuit of the customer and CX to new heights. It’s an ambitious undertaking but under the direction of Chuck Robbins and his executive leadership team, Cisco’s future looks very bright.