With Cisco pushing hard on its strategy of using technologies like VoIP and storage to pull through sales of its traditional routers and switches, Suzanne Hansen is in a difficult position. She must reconcile a partner base steeped in networking to the inevitability of moving into new areas while, at the same time, encouraging niche players to take on mainstream networking technology.
But with seven years as the Cisco NZ channel boss under her belt - together with stints as a channel manager for HP and running her own distribution business - Hansen is well placed to lead the channel through a period of rapid change.
Having been in her current role for just six months, she already has clear plans about the future direction of Cisco's traditional and advanced technologies partner base.
What do you bring to your current role from your previous job heading the NZ channel?
Suzanne Hansen (SH): Because NZ is a comparatively small market you get a more holistic approach to the business. So when I started this role I was cognizant of all of Cisco's strategies, which made it easier to find out where the channel in Australia should be fitting in.
What is your current job description?
SH: Cisco has made quite an addition to its portfolio, especially in the area of advanced technologies, so my role is to set the channel strategy for all those new products. We now have to deal with things like applications and systems, which bring new challenges for the traditional channel and require quite different skills bases.
So your biggest challenge is getting partners skilled up?
SH: It's about providing skills in a different way; upping the sales as well as business acumen skills. VoIP is now being sold to CFOs, which is much different from selling to CIOs. We have been doing a lot of internal training over the past year. Now it is time to sit down with channel partners and help them to sell the financial business case.
Selling on business need rather than technology is a growing trend.
SH: It has to be that way. If you are selling security, for example, you are really selling corporate governance. The network touches every part of an organisation, so it is a technical sell but also a compliance sell - you have to be able to do both.
What sort of training initiatives does Cisco have?
SH: Because selling technologies like security is completely different to selling routing and switching, we have specialised in both the channel and account management areas. We are looking at security focused channels ranging from small consultants all the way to companies like KPMG.
Are switching and routing partners willing to develop this way?
SH: I think those partners get it, but the migration from where they are now to where they want to be is a difficult process. I don't think anyone is happy just with their core business anymore unless you are just a fulfilment house. I think everyone wants to move into this area and it's a matter of providing some leadership.
How is Cisco helping them migrate across?
SH: We have a lot of intellectual property from our post-sales services area which we are looking to implement. We are also looking at putting down some clear training roadmaps, which have been missing from Cisco.
So advanced technologies are just as important to Cisco now?
SH: The growth we are experiencing is out of advance technologies but it pulls through a lot of routing and switching - a typical voice deal probably has 35 per cent core routing and switching attached with it. So the challenge is to gain partners who understand that.
The past six months have been about coming to grips with your new role. What are your plans for the channel now?
SH: We currently have two tiers: tier one is Gold and Silver; while tier two is premier, registered and everything else. In the next year I'd like to see partners organised differently. Rather than channel account managers looking after partners of a particular size I want partners organised around particular groups, such as voice, because they have similar characteristics.
I would also like to raise the general level of channel account managers and see them move from being administrative and facilitative to driving and owning the business like a general manager, which will require more from their skill base. We are also currently aligning Express Data and LAN Systems to carry Linksys as well as Cisco. It's crazy not to have common distributors because our partners compete with us on the low-end through taking a D-Link order instead of a Linksys one.
You've also got an SMB strategy based around your Integrated Service Router?
SH: It's the first in a series of all-in-one routers. It has security, voice and wireless that you can turn on or off. We're selling as many of those as we can so that when an organisation does decide to get VoIP or security we are there with our partners. It's a real services sell.