To an outsider, the question is an obvious one: Why would one of the world’s largest and most successful companies—in fact, the world’s most valuable company for a brief spell in March 2000—want or need partners?
Partner marketing programs come in many shapes and sizes, depending on the needs of each party. Their purpose, however, remains consistent. Partner marketing programs recognize mutual economic benefit through collaboration. This can lead to industry giants like Cisco reaching out to local retailers who sell their products or manage their systems. Partnerships can also yield higher-level interaction, like joint sponsorship of events.
The good news for Cisco partners is that the relationship has a clear, financial focus. Big business knows that retailers or other small businesses supporting its livelihood need a financial motive to engage in the partnership.
In a healthy partner marketing program, the symbiotic relationship is a clear win-win for both sides. From start to finish, this is how Cisco partner marketing works.
What are partner marketing programs?
Partner marketing is a collaboration between two organizations to achieve a marketing goal. Most often, partner marketing programs exist between a large organization, such as Cisco, and a downstream business that conducts direct-to-consumer sales.
Partner marketing can take many forms, including:
- Training. How can a retailer sell a partner’s product if its employees don’t understand the benefits and differentiators fully? For example, it makes sense for Cisco marketing to produce materials that help third-party sales staff demonstrate the video conferencing capabilities of its 8800 series.
- Brand licensing. Thinking of starting a wireless retail store? It can be tough to get traction without a recognizable name. That limitation is exactly why Verizon spun off retail stores as independent Wireless Zone locations. Verizon gets protection from the risk of opening and managing retail stores, and Wireless Zone partners get the right to use the Verizon logo and products. (If this sounds similar to a franchise business model, it is.)
- Events. In a sense, every event represents a partner marketing program among all sponsors. Each organization shares the cost burden of a trade show or family fun day in exchange for brand visibility and, perhaps, an informational booth. Partner-marketed events may also have a narrower focus, like a hospital system inviting a device manufacturer to sponsor an annual conference.
- Product and service packages. Marketing collaboration between companies can also be useful for product and service packages in which each organization has a role. Rather than challenging consumers to fit two pieces of a purchase together, partners can offer a joint package that includes a product and the service it needs. To return to wireless phones, an easy example is the limited number of wireless carriers authorized to sell Apple iPhones.
What are Cisco’s partner marketing programs?
Cisco marketing partnerships come in several forms, although the focus is clear: partner education and empowerment. Cisco recognizes how a cluttered IT landscape can make it difficult for decision makers to find the best communication solutions for their company.
Consumer needs can be as simple as a virtual phone system to support sales staff in the field, or they can involve a massive transition to VoIP phone systems spanning several buildings and thousands of devices. Those attempting to find the best system may be small business owners with limited IT knowledge or full-time IT teams engaged in every technical detail.
This is why partner education matters—partners must be experts in what makes Cisco systems the right choice. If partners are unaware or lack confidence in their ability to dive into the details of Cisco solutions, they’re less likely to recommend them, or, at the very least, less likely to be able to recommend them persuasively.
Cisco partners benefit from an extensive catalog of Cisco learning materials. Recently, Cisco has focused on helping partners get more savvy about their digital marketing. Marketing materials are gated, available only to certified partners. (Cisco’s dedicated Web presence for partners, ciscopartnermarketing.com, redirects to a login page.)
Marketing Velocity is the Cisco partner marketing database, which includes print materials, e-learning opportunities, webinars, and live events. Partner Marketing Central allows partners to customize their digital campaigns and reallocate shared marketing resources.
The focus on digital represents a sharp change of course for Cisco and its partners, who historically dedicated up to 90 percent of marketing budgets to traditional marketing. The effort layers another educational push atop traditional partner marketing programs: helping partners understand the value of digital marketing, not just how to use the channel to promote Cisco.
Levels of Cisco partnership
Cisco offers three tiered levels of partnership:
Tiered partnerships follow a logical hierarchy of involvement, with Gold status reserved for partners executing enterprise-level solutions. Select status provides small businesses with an entry-level opportunity for Cisco collaboration to boost partner knowledge and sales. Certifications are not limited by geographic area, with multinational and global certifications available to partners whose services span the earth.
Within each level of the partnership are several specialization opportunities, from “Internet of Things” to “Small and Midsize Business.” For Cisco, these partnerships offer highly trained advocates for their solutions; partners enjoy the credibility of Cisco certification and access to the training their sales staff needs to move the business forward.
Is a Cisco partnership the right choice?
For businesses that depend on selling and managing Cisco products, the answer is a clear “Yes.” Cisco partnerships are a two-way street with benefits for both partners. Cisco’s track record as an innovator in communication solutions means educational materials and training keep sales staff on the cutting-edge of technology—well beyond mere product knowledge for a single brand.
That knowledge translates to better marketing and sales. Best of all, Cisco doesn’t limit access to enterprise-level partners. Businesses of all sizes looking to gain credibility in the marketplace and grow their organization can tap into the same resources used by the world’s most successful Cisco retailers and service providers.
Cisco marketing partnerships are true partnerships, with bottom-line results that justify the investment of time and mutual trust.
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