The New Normal: Partner as Digital Marketeer?

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Cisco Velocity Event Pushes Partners to Invest and Innovate

by Beth Vanni, Vice President

The paradox was startling  — even more startling than the 40 foot wide neon butterfly flapping its wings above Las Vegas’ Palazzo hotel lobby.   Cisco’s new VP of Global Partner Marketing, Amanda Jobbins, joyfully exclaimed “It’s a great time to be a marketer!” to the attendees here at the company’s annual Velocity Conference.   Yet not two hours later at the same event, the VP of Vendor Strategy for FusionStorm, a large Cisco Gold and UC Master partner in the bay area, confessed, “There should be more execs here from solution providers — I feel like a total dinosaur on this stuff.”

Velocity 2012 video 


It was easy to feel that way, even for some of the most sophisticated marketeers among the 235 partner participants at this year’s event.  The list of keynote and breakout topics revolved heavily around next-generational marketing concepts, based on highly personalized and web-enabled customer outreach and community development.   Speakers Dr. Martha Rogers, Peter Hinssen, Sally Hogshead, Daniel Pink, Chris Brogan and Jeffrey Hayzlett all preached various forms of customer-centric and social-media enabled sales and marketing strategy.

Jobbins, the new head of partner marketing, takes over the helm of an expanded partner marketing organization, bringing extensive corporate and partner marketing experience with her from BMC, Symantec and IBM both in European and U.S. theatres.   She’s a petite little spit-fire, quite sure of herself and holding court confidently among the full entourage of Cisco channel executives present at the event – including Keith Goodwin, Edison Peres and Wendy Bahr.A key theme for the event this year was how these innovative and integrated marketing techniques will support the companies new re-commitment to “partner-led” selling and market coverage.   “Marketing is critical to give us scale and help build our brand in a partner-led model,” noted Goodwin.  Not that these three quota-carrying channel execs haven’t been supportive of the company’s marketing investments in partners in the past – they’ve been active, present and talking to partners extensively at all five previous Velocity events as well.

Jobbins highlighted Cisco’s priorities for partner marketing this year:

  • Creating more brand awareness with end-users to push toward certified partners, especially around the cloud
  • Grow awareness within the Cisco sales teams of partners with certifications and specializations
  • Grow social media and on-line co-marketing strategies
  • Continue with general marketing training and enablement
  • Do a better job synching Cisco’s corporate and partner marketing campaigns

In general, there was great energy and optimism among Cisco partner attendees…. especially regarding Jobbins’ reference to better internal sales visibility and helping with cloud demand generation.  The crowd, however, seemed more diverse this year, with a larger number of smaller partners involved.   We think that’s great, especially given how challenged with not only creativity but basic marketing staffing many of these smaller solution providers typically are.  It is a bit surprising, though, that despite the unique investment Cisco has been making in expanding its partners’ marketing skills, that they haven’t yet expanded this event to a larger audience yet.   They could easily be taking this event into a virtual format and/or doing a series of smaller roadshows with some of the content.

Some  of the workshops Cisco conducted during the session were practical and required hands-on application of important marketing principles.  One of the sessions I sat in, called the 360 degree Marketing Workshop (see videos) had rave reviews from solution provider participants.  Here, reseller marketeers had to test their marketing ROI management skills by building an integrated campaign to sell over $100k in Cisco Unified Communications technology using a diverse set of marketing vehicles.   They made it fun, with teams and superhero themes (see images below), and participants thought the decision-making and planning process was great practice for the real world.





No doubt, there’s still a fairly significant gap between the “average” Cisco partner’s baseline marketing skills, especial in the social media arena, and what this event’s speakers were evangelizing.  Feedback from solution providers I talked to centered on these considerations:

No doubt, there’s still a fairly significant gap between the “average” Cisco partner’s baseline marketing skills, especial in the social media arena, and what this event’s speakers were evangelizing.  Feedback from solution providers I talked to centered on these considerations:

  • How to really establish a clear customer value proposition and differentiate themselves – Cisco calls it their UVP (unique value proposition)
  • How to blend traditional live events and prospecting with social media outreach to recruit new customers
  • How to get their own employees active in regular, ongoing social media (beyond their technical staff)
  • Creating a regular series of unique content (whitepapers, Briefs, BLOGs) to become more content-marketing driven
  • Understanding all the new marketing analytics tools available and how to use them to track the effectiveness of their integrated campaigns.

The major themes from Cisco’s panel of keynote speakers were quite complementary and reinforced some key digital marketing concepts Cisco seems to be subscribing to, including:

  • Understand your customers at a detailed profile level;  personalized marketing is not just a luxury any more, it’s expected.
  • Content is good, but it’s not King in the marketing world anymore.  Getting new contacts is King.
  • We are all in the capturing and selling information business now (vs. discreet products).
  • We need to establish regular, informal, organic feedback mechanisms for everyone in our ecosystem and not over-engineer them.
  • We need to quickly and in a highly iterative way make ourselves “fascinating” to our customers – appealing to their sense of urgency, need for prestige, their power motives and their desire to have a trusted information source

All in all, we continue to applaud Cisco for their important and unique long-term investment in their partners’ marketing skills.  As digital marketing continues to accelerate and customers become more discerning and demanding of the need for personalized messaging and always-on communication, this investment will pay off in spades for Cisco and their partners.   As our 2012 State of Partnering study’s results indicate this year, vendors have aggressive plans to help partners increase their profitability through providing greater marketing support and incremental marketing funding in 2012.  We just hope those larger and more elite partners who typically represent the 10% actively marketing and creatively using vendor MDF begins to dramatically decentralize and more of Cisco’s solution providers benefit from this inspiration and insights.

What are the pros and cons of investing in your partners’ marketing skills, long-term?  Tell me your thoughts.

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