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Are you customer experienced? New Cisco specialization on tap

Channel partners will get a new Cisco specialization next year that focuses on customer experience and will eventually supersede Cisco's Lifecycle Advisor program.

Cisco is creating a customer experience specialization, a move that reflects the company's software transition and focus on customers' successful adoption and use of its technology.

The Cisco specialization is scheduled to debut in the spring of 2019. The program will launch with Express and Advanced levels, with Cisco eventually adding a Master level. The customer experience (CX) specialization, announced at Cisco Partner Summit 2018, aims to help partners transition from traditional technology resellers to partners that emphasize software and services.

"We're talking about a big transformation," said Oliver Tuszik, senior vice president of Cisco's Global Partner Organization.

Tuszik, who took the partner program helm in September 2018, said Cisco channel partners have a number of incentives to make the shift, including the ability to differentiate their businesses, improve margins and address new market segments.

Cisco officials view partners' CX lifecycle focus as crucial for helping customers realize the full value of a given Cisco solution, which, in turn, leads to satisfied customers that are more likely to renew their ties to Cisco and its partners. Renewals could be for a software subscription generating recurring revenue or an annual enterprise licensing agreement, for example.

Cisco specialization: The bigger picture

The new Cisco specialization fits into the bigger picture at Cisco, which is making CX a rallying point.

Maria Martinez, executive vice president and chief customer experience officer at Cisco, citing research, said CX will overtake price and product as the biggest brand differentiator by 2020. Martinez, who joined Cisco three months ago from Salesforce, said she has found that Cisco channel partners fall into one of three categories: partners that are not currently delivering on the CX lifecycle model, those that would like to but need help, and those that are already delivering on and benefiting from the model.

Cisco's current CX transformation follows earlier efforts to encourage partners to stick with customers throughout the lifecycle. The company's Lifecycle Advisor program, for instance, has provided incentives to partners who have customers successfully adopt Cisco software and expand its use in their organizations. In addition, the Lifecycle Advisor program helps partners manage renewals and adoption.

Cisco plans to gradually meld the Lifecycle Advisor program into its CX specialization, a process expected to take about a year. Current Cisco Lifecycle Advisors would be automatically eligible for the new specialization.

"The new specialization is going to be a lot richer than what you have seen from us already in the [Lifecycle Advisor program]," Martinez said.

Partner reaction

Jason Parry, vice president of client solutions at Force 3, an IT solutions provider and Cisco partner based in Crofton, Md., said Cisco's CX specialization is of interest.

In this new sort of sales ... motion of monthly recurring revenue or an annual renewal of an enterprise agreement, it is even more critical for us to stay close to our customers.
Jason Parryvice president of client solutions, Force 3

"In this new sort of sales ... motion of monthly recurring revenue or an annual renewal of an enterprise agreement, it is even more critical for us to stay close to our customers," he said.

Force 3 has already invested in the Lifecycle Advisor approach, starting a lifecycle software practice about 18 months ago, Parry said. Force 3 has introduced a customer success or adoption manager role in the company and will introduce a licensing expert role as well.

"We hired a lot of software expertise," he said.

Force 3's lifecycle software practice applies to Cisco, as well as other technology partners to provide consistency, Parry explained.

Clayton Daffron, director of solution architecture at Denali Advanced Integration, a managed services provider (MSP) and Cisco partner based in Redmond, Wash., said his company is working to become a Cisco Lifecycle Advisor.

In the meantime, Denali Advanced Integration is already helping its customers grasp the lifecycle component of a project. In software licensing, the company has worked with customers struggling to understand the exact feature sets they were getting on a particular piece of Cisco hardware. Daffron said wrapping those features in an enterprise agreement lets customers consume new capabilities from a single pool of license entitlements -- without having to worry about what is available on a given box.

Denali Advanced Integration also advises customers on the timing of an enterprise agreement. For example, a customer may need to deploy a certain number of devices before it becomes less expensive to buy an enterprise agreement compared with the cost of purchasing software capabilities al a carte.

"A partner can build the ROI [return on investment] analyses for customers," Daffron said.

Bill Padfield, group COO of transformation and services at Dimension Data, a systems integrator and MSP, said his company introduced a client success model about two years ago. Previously, he had found the company was not spending enough time with clients to drive the use of tools that were becoming more software based.

The new Cisco specialization, however, addresses the issue of customers getting the most out of the software they purchase through partners.

"Any incentive from Cisco that helps us to do that is fantastic," he said.

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