Cisco is axing its Silver tier of partners as part of a channel overhaul that will also see greater focus placed on front-end discounts.
As it stands, the vendor has four partner tiers: Select; Premier; Silver; and Gold. The second-highest level is to be removed, with Cisco aiming to help Silver partners attain either Gold partner status or a Master specialisation over the next two years.
Concurrently, new requirements are being added to the Gold partner checklist, including the attainment of a services and cloud-focused Hybrid IT specialisation, and having at least one staff member with a Business Value Practitioner badge.
Edison Peres, senior vice president of worldwide channels at Cisco, told partners gathered at the networking giant's worldwide partner conference in Las Vegas: "I know many of you are Silvers, and all of you are very important. But you have given us feedback: ‘the value proposition and brand strength of Silver is not that strong – you need to give us something, because we are making investments but there is no return as a consequence'."
The channel chief asserted that "most Silver partners are [only] there in transition as they move towards Gold", and predicted that 60 per cent of current tier-two partners would be certified as Gold in due course.
Making Master matter
For smaller or more specialised partners that are unwilling or unable to reach for the broadly focused Gold badge, Cisco outlined its desire to boost the standing of its Master specialisations so that they are on a par with Gold in their individual areas of focus.
Two new Master badges – for Enterprise Networks and Service Provider Technologies – are being added to the existing qualifications on Cloud Builder, Security, and Collaboration.
Bruce Klein, senior vice president of Cisco's worldwide partner organisation, told CRN the vendor will be working to ensure Master is seen to be as prestigious as Gold.
"The first thing is internally, making sure that our sales teams understand we are levelling the Master brand with the Gold brand," he said. "You will also see from us more of a branding campaign [with end users] making it as valuable as Gold for those partners that want to specialise. We will have a two-pronged strategy: making sure our own teams understand, and making sure the market understands."
Peres added: "We want to have enough room for partners to have the model that makes sense for them. If they want breadth, there is Gold. If they are interested in a few areas of focus, we want to make sure they are rewarded – [for example], if you are a Master, there will be discounts through [rebate scheme] VIP."
Also announced today was an overhaul of Cisco's reward and rebate structure, with additional focus to be placed on front-end discounts. Peres asserted that this would not mean a reduction in partners' back-end rebate opportunities, but explained that he wishes to simplify schemes such as VIP, which covers a whopping 15,000 SKUs.
Also to be streamlined are front-end deal registration programmes, which will be converged into one scheme, with partners to be guaranteed a price advantage over their rivals of eight percentage points for registering opportunities – an increase from the current level of five points.
"We are committed to maintaining the VIP programme and keeping it relevant," said Peres. "Having said that, we rely too much on back-end rebates. Going forward, we want to add more on the upfront side.
"Over the years, we have introduced a number of deal registration profitability programmes, and some of those are not getting the uptake rate that we think they deserve. So we are implementing a new programme that brings all those disparate programmes together under one umbrella.
"You have given us feedback that says ‘five points is not enough to ensure we win the deal'. We are taking that differential to eight points, and I want to see you getting more profitability from the front end."
On a busy day for channel announcements, Peres (pictured left) also revealed that Cisco is dropping the requirement for partners to attain a minimum customer satisfaction score, which he indicated can be a time-consuming bureaucratic headache for partners.
"[Partners tell us:] ‘you are putting a lot of my investment as a Gold partner at risk'," he explained. "But we are still going to require a minimum number of surveys, and we are going to require that you delight your customers."
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