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Cisco's partner community: In Cisco we trust

At the Cisco Partner Summit in Montreal, partners are more willing to take chances in the market because of Cisco's track record of success.

Cisco Partner Summit CEO John Chambers

In the New England area, when talking about the Patriots we often hear the phrase "in Belichick we trust." The expression comes from the fact that no matter what crazy thing Patriots head coach and general manager Bill Belichick does, it turns out to be the right thing. Bench Drew Bledsoe in favor of a rookie named Tom Brady drafted in the sixth round? No problem, win a Super Bowl. Cut defensive stalwarts Ty Law and Lawyer Milloy? Again, no big deal, win another Super Bowl. How about sign a legendary malcontent like Randy Moss? Go 16-0 and make the Super Bowl. It seems success creates trust no matter how crazy the idea may sound.

This week, Cisco is holding its annual Partner Summit, north of the border in Montreal, Canada. Montreal is a fascinating city because it's the one city in Canada where the French and English live in harmony. I'm from the west coast, Victoria specifically, where people didn't exactly embrace the French. Conversely, go to the Maritimes or to other parts of Quebec and the same feeling will come across for Anglophones. It's this backdrop that made Montreal an interesting location for the 2015 Partner Summit, as I saw more harmony this year between Cisco and its partners than I have in years, based on an "in Cisco we trust" attitude from the partner community.

See also: How Cisco keeps channel partners out in front of market trends

Earlier this month, I wrote this post discussing how Cisco has used innovation to keep its partner out in front of the competition. In the article, I discussed how some of the tweaks to the partner program caused some short-term discomfort in the partner community.

I probably understated the angst many of the partners have had based on some of the changes in recent memory. A few years ago, Cisco mandated that partners carry cloud services, and that caused tremendous nervousness in the channel. I remember sitting in the audience listening to all of the reasons why it was difficult, if not impossible, for traditional channel partners to add cloud services in their portfolio. It sounded crazy at the time, almost Belichickian crazy, but it turned out to be right, as it is difficult today to compete without having cloud arrows in the quiver of offerings.

How about the shift to selling servers? That's nuts! Who would buy a server from Cisco? It turns out thousands of companies would, and now Cisco has the No. 1 share in that segment of the market. Partners that took on UCS are now enjoying the rewards. The list goes on and on. What had been perceived to be partner pain turned out to be the right moves. Why? Because market transitions require bold moves and Cisco was willing to make these moves and pull the partner along, sometimes kicking and screaming.

The theme for the 2015 Partner Summit is actually "Be Bold," and all the executives, from John Chambers (CEO) to Bruce Klein (SVP of Worldwide Partner Organization) to Chuck Robbins (SVP or Worldwide Field Operations), urged the partner community to be bold and willing to change their business to capitalize on the industry's latest disruptive force, digital transformation.  

I'm a firm believer that digital transformation will upset industries faster than ever before. During his keynote, Chambers talked about how Babson School of Business predicts that 40% of current enterprise companies will not exist in 10 years. I also believe that business leaders are starting to understand this, and they are turning to the IT department to be the innovation engine that transforms the company. The IT leaders are turning to the Cisco partners for help in this regard, and it's crucial that the partners be ready for this.

To help the partner community be successful in the digital era, Cisco has again made a number of necessary changes to its partner programs. This year, the company is driving the partners towards delivering solutions that require collaboration from three or four partners – something the channel has typically resisted. Also, Cisco created a pure software partner program that includes consultants, integrators, and a role called a "software advisor" that can help increase the utilization of Cisco software. Security is another hot area, and Cisco is asking the partner community to consider an end-to-end architectural approach and buck the "best of breed" trend that results in customers having to deploy 20 to 40 unique vendors.

Unlike Partner Summits of years past, these changes weren't met with trepidation, fear, or a "what are they crazy?" look. Instead, the partners I talked to understood the challenges that lay ahead with digital transformation. As I stated in my previous blog, Cisco's product and channel program innovation has kept its partners ahead of the competitive curve, and most are willing to trust that these changes will put them in a position to be successful in the near and long term.

As a related note, it's worth pointing out that Cisco has been taking its own advice and has made some bold changes internally. During the keynotes, Robbins stated that over 40% of the senior sales leaders had been churned out of their positions at Cisco. I asked both Chambers and Robbins about this later in an analyst session, and Chambers said matter-of-factly that the speed of change was uncomfortable but necessary to put the company in a position to win right now.

Bruce Klein wrapped up his keynote by saying, "We have never let you down, and we won't let you down." In Cisco we trust, no matter how uncomfortable or how rapid the change, because Cisco's track record of success has earned that trust.

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