Cisco launches Marketing Velocity platform
Monday, August 19 2019
In the digital era, channel marketing (to, through and with partners) is set for dramatic change, driven by data insights, AI, automation, personalization and other disruptive technologies. This will create unprecedented opportunities for vendors and partners to target joint marketing activities more effectively and improve returns on investment. But this will also require the development of new operating models and skills in vendors and the channel.
The most successful vendors are elevating the importance of channel marketing as part of wider marketing strategies and investing more in helping partners transform their marketing capabilities. Cisco, one of the established channel marketing leaders, has announced a major enhancement and rebrand of its global partner marketing program, bringing its channel marketing training, funding, portals and co-marketing services under its Marketing Velocity brand. This creates an integrated platform spanning all the key elements of its partner marketing, and links them together more effectively (where in the past they could be treated separately). Cisco’s aim is to help partners further enhance their marketing practices, to simplify the way partners engage with Cisco, and allow them to gain greater benefit from Cisco’s tools and resources. Reducing the complexity of marketing processes, one of the biggest areas of frustration for partners, will be welcomed. It will also help Cisco increase its own visibility of the overall effectiveness and ROI of its partner marketing programs.
Industry dynamics are driving change
Vendors that make these kinds of investments will gain competitive advantage. Channel partners will play an ever-greater role in amplifying a vendor’s marketing voice, both in the digital and physical arenas. Co-branding is becoming more important, as partners seek to enhance their own brand propositions around their unique solutions and services (built on a vendor’s – or multiple vendors’ – technologies), rather than simply pushing a vendor’s brand and products. Perhaps most importantly, as customer engagements become more digital (ie, software) and lifecycle-led (through subscriptions and managed-services etc), the ability to collect and draw insights from customer data opens up opportunities to generate more targeted marketing, reach customers early in their decision-making process and engage with new customer budget points.
The success of channel marketing in future will be defined, increasingly, by integrated, multi-quarter campaigns spanning multiple activities (online, offline, digital and physical), that focus on business solutions rather than just technologies, and that engage the customer throughout the whole purchase process. That starts with the earliest stages of awareness through to a sale. These will be supported by close, ongoing planning between skilled vendor partner marketing managers and their most advanced partners. At the same time, vendors must provide customizable, localized digital resources, collateral, training and support to a broader set of partners through automated platforms such as marketing portals.
Yet vendors can face significant challenges. Marketing capabilities in the channel vary widely around the world. Many partners still lack marketing maturity or even basic levels of expertise in new digital marketing methods, either because they lack internal resources or don’t see marketing as a priority. Vendor investments can be wasted if partners lack the right skills to execute them. Training partners to develop marketing skills in these new areas and educate senior management on the importance of marketing is essential. The diversity of partner business models in the channel is another challenge, making it more difficult for vendors to standardize channel marketing models.
At the same time, vendors under increasing internal pressure to improve returns on their channel marketing spend can be tempted to prioritize short-term, tactical demand generation-led activities, for example, events that produce quantifiable but lower-value results, such as leads. This can be frustrating for partners looking for greater funding flexibility from vendors to support longer-term, blended campaigns, which can take time to produce measurable results, along with less onerous reporting and claiming processes. The most successful vendors will be those that balance these conflicting demands.
Change is rapid and some vendors are at risk of falling behind. Vendors that lead will combine a strategic commitment to the channel with developing their own internal skills, which can be lacking, financial flexibility and resources to support the shift. HP, HPE, Dell, Microsoft and IBM are among those making significant advances in their strategies and programs. Cisco has been at the forefront of many advances over the last 15 years, recognizing early on the correlation between partners’ marketing expertise and return on investment. It was one of the first to develop marketing concierge services for partners and create customizable assets via a partner marketing portal. One of its most prominent successes was the launch of its Marketing Velocity conference 12 years ago, a global event dedicated to marketing executives within the partner community, to provide access to third-party marketing experts, to expose them to the latest best practice and promote the importance of marketing in the channel.
Cisco’s new platform approach
Cisco is building on the strength of the Marketing Velocity brand with its new platform approach. Marketing Velocity brings together four pillars of Cisco’s partner marketing:
- Marketing Velocity Learning: This consolidates Cisco’s marketing training resources to help partners build their expertise and expand marketing practices. At the core are the Marketing Velocity conferences, which from 2019 have been expanded to three regional events around the world to reflect the demand from the channel for local content and greater regional focus, and to widen access to the events. Alongside this, Marketing Velocity Learning provides a curriculum of on-demand, online training tools, including simplified webinars, ebooks, videos and training courses. One of Cisco’s primary aims is to provide these resources on a more prescriptive basis for each partner, by measuring their current level of capabilities.
- Marketing Velocity Funding: Cisco aims to simplify the experience for partners accessing Joint Marketing Funding (JMF). This means reducing the complexity of funding and claiming, and creating greater visibility of available funds – and how they are being deployed – for partners. This includes creating personalized online “statements” for different stakeholders within the partner (marketing, senior executive etc) visible through their dashboard on the marketing portal (Marketing Velocity Central) giving a real-time view of current budget, outstanding funds, outcomes, deadlines etc. This will also be available for each partner’s account manager to help improve the joint planning process.
- Marketing Velocity Central: Cisco’s marketing portal, rebranded from Partner Marketing Central, where partners can access the full suite of Cisco marketing resources, either for free or using JMF for specific paid-for co-marketing and demand-generation activities. A key enhancement is the launch of an online “marketplace” of third-party marketing agencies, from which partners can choose an appropriate agency to execute specific marketing services. The agency and Cisco will do the back-end proof of performance processes, to help simplify the administrative side of the activity for the partners, often one of the biggest complaints from the channel.
- Marketing Velocity Activate: Perhaps the most innovative initiative of all those announced, Activate is a co-marketing service limited to Cisco’s most digitally-mature partners (around 100 worldwide in the short term), which uses customer data to create joint digital marketing initiatives between Cisco and its partners, focused on specific solutions. This approach starts to unlock real opportunities from data-oriented marketing, using digital tools. In practice, this could mean the partner creating a specific solution offer for a group of high-propensity-to-buy customers (identified by Cisco based on predictive models), which can be targeted to a specific buyer when they visit the partner or Cisco websites looking for a price. This will help shorten the sales cycle and lead to more effective sales conversions. But it’s also an example of how Cisco will prioritize these activities with partners with proven digital capabilities and skill sets in particular technologies. This should act as an incentive for other partners to start investing in higher levels of digital skills.
The expansion of Marketing Velocity should bring clear benefits for Cisco’s partners, in terms of simplifying everyday marketing processes and messaging, helping partners find the right resources “under one roof” and giving them access to enhanced services. But an end-to-end, integrated platform brings another major benefit to Cisco, in terms of providing greater insights into the effectiveness of its investments across these different, historically standalone areas. Measuring the financial return on its Marketing Velocity conference can be difficult when this doesn’t directly link to leads or sales. But, if this can be correlated with the amount of additional marketing training undertaken by attendees, the subsequent increase in the use of marketing materials by those attendees in Marketing Velocity Central, and the growth in demand-generation and bookings, then much clearer insights can be achieved. This potentially helps Cisco become more targeted in how it allocates resources and identifies which partner types are generating the highest returns.
Cisco has further to go. Its next steps will include developing better ways to measure the marketing skills of its partners and using this information to target resources and investments more precisely. It is only scratching the surface in terms of opportunities to capitalize on digital insights and data. Growing its Activate services beyond a core group of a few hundred partners is clearly a long-term opportunity (though needs an even greater ramp up of digital skills in the channel). It needs to consolidate more of the disparate funding pots available to different partner types (distribution, SP etc) beyond JMF. But Marketing Velocity creates the platform to build these enhancements in the future, and potentially helps Cisco extend its leadership.
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