Cisco and Linksys Channel Programs Get Merged

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Cisco Systems has announced the elimination of the Linksys channel program, and the intent to fold as many as 20,000 channel partners into the “Registered” tier of the overall Cisco channel program. The move is not a major surprise to most partners, given that Cisco CEO John Chambers has made repeated references to the eventual consolidation of the Cisco and Linksys brands. But the small business market continues to be heavily targeted by the company, which recently formed a small business council whose members include Cisco’s chief marketing officer and its senior vice president of worldwide channels. Cisco intends to leave the current Linksys program in place for only 30 days from the August 12th announcement date. Linksys partners who have not yet registered for the Cisco program by the deadline can continue to purchase products through distribution, but they will not be eligible for the additional benefits of the program until they register with Cisco. Those benefits would include access to marketing resources and online training. Meanwhile, the Linksys sales and support teams are being moved over to the Cisco management framework so that most partners will continue to work with the same personnel once the transition is made. For the most part, however, day-to-day operations for the legacy Linksys channel partners will continue to be managed through distributors. Until recently, the Registered tier of the Cisco channel program was mostly used by channel partners who might be kicking tires with Cisco products, or by partners whose core competency was in a technology other than networking, but who ran across a sales opportunity where a networking gap needed to be filled. In either case, requirements for the former Linksys partners around training and customer satisfaction will be substantially lighter, as compared to the other tiers of the Cisco program. Conversely, the program features and benefits will also be scaled down, as compared to the other tiers of the Cisco program. “We’ve also decided to create a single product portfolio and go to market strategy around small business, explained Andrew Sage, Cisco’s vice president of worldwide small business sales. “We will continue to have the Cisco brand and the “Linksys by Cisco” (Connected Office) brand in that portfolio because we think it is a good way to differentiate between the applicability of those products. [Linksys] is more on demand and transactional, and [Cisco] is more solution oriented. But we are combining them both into a single portfolio that we believe is the broadest portfolio out there. "By integration, we mean they were going to be taking both of those to market through a single channel program, through a single sales team, and through a single field organization.” The precise demarcation between the Cisco small business gear and a Linksys by Cisco gear has yet to be defined. “Generally, these solutions are going to be differentiated in terms of expandability, modularity, customization,” said Sage. “So the Linksys switching family will have fewer options, less configurability than the 2960, for example. Another way to differentiate will be around the support experience. The support around a Linksys solution will be very different from the support on the Cisco solution because the customer expectations are very different. The final difference will be the price points.” Consumer-level products will continue to be sold under the Linksys brand. Linksys will likely continue to sell its solutions through retailers, DMRs, e-commerce partners, service providers, and smaller VARs. Various campaigns, promotions, and incentives will be put in place for each of the constituent groups. "We had an opportunity to create another tier in our channel partner program that looked like the Linksys program but we decided that would be too complex,” summarized Sage. “The right thing is to integrate the Linksys partner community into the Cisco registered partner community and not create any complexity or additional hoops for them to jump through. The sum of the two programs is actually simpler than the two programs separately."

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