Cisco, Partners See Wins from Ecosystem Co-Selling

An EY study found increased demand for vendors to organize the process of ecosystem-based selling. Cisco is seeking to do just that.

James Anderson, Senior News Editor

May 31, 2024

6 Min Read
Cisco channel exec on ecosystem co-selling

Cisco channel leaders say their ecosystem co-selling initiative can help its resellers gain relevance with purchasers outside of IT, where an increased amount of tech spending is occurring.

Cisco is building a digital platform that brings together non-transacting and transacting partners into joint deals in a simplified manner. Specifically, the IT giant is eyeing ways to link independent software vendors (ISVs) and consultancies, who may never sell a Cisco product, with more traditional Cisco partners who regularly sell software and hardware from the vendor.


"Cisco is working with companies to extend our partner base into companies that don't resell our technology but have complementary services (like consulting companies) or complementary technologies (like ISVs), who can together with Cisco and our channel uniquely solve a business issue for a client," said Nick Holden, vice president of Cisco's global strategic partners and co-sell team.

Holden said Cisco incubated the ecosystem co-selling program last year and is scaling it out in 2024.

Reaching the Customer

Holden said selling technology as a collaborative ecosystem is growing more important as lines of businesses procure more and more technology. He said line-of-business owners are influencing 82% of buying decisions. While IT functions as a "delivery arm," a non-tech person is making the actual decision.

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Holden gave the example of a vice president of supply chain at a manufacturing company. Such an executive is tasked with procuring supply chain software to run her manufacturing shop floor, Holden said.

"We want to have a relevant value proposition such that we can go and have a conversation with her talk to her about what her business needs are and how Cisco can position ourselves to help build that supply chain," he said. "We don't sell supply chain software, but there are plenty of companies that do ... we want to bring them to bear and say, 'ISV ABC plus Cisco equals business value.'"

Holden said ecosystem co-selling is giving Cisco and its partners access to new buyers and their budgets, as well as making its conversations more relevant to business outcomes.

Moreover, he said, bigger, more software-attached deals are coming out of the collaboration.

Holden gave the example of an insurance company that was picking between Cisco and another vendor for contact center. Faxing still plays a big role in the day-to-day operations of insurance companies, so the customer needed a platform that supported fax.

So Cisco brought in an ISV that understood software-based faxing.

Related:Jay McBain on the 'Top-Down' Shift of Building Ecosystems

"The client said, 'I need to have fax capability inside of my contact center.' We said, 'No problem. We know a software company that does that,' brought them into the deal, got to the whiteboard, mapped it all out and showed how it all worked together. The client loved it and had a much more robust solution, and we closed our multimillion-dollar contact center deal and unseated a competitor," Holden said.

Ecosystem Selling (Complexity) Rises

Cisco is investing in its its co-selling approach as ecosystem-based tech sales – and related headwinds – increase.

A 2024 EY survey of 1,400 enterprise leaders shows the widespread popularity of ecosystem strategies. According to the survey, 69% of enterprises "actively engage in collaborative ecosystems, with Asia Pacific (75%) and financial services (72%) companies leading the way. 5G and analytics/AI were the two most common areas of emergent technologies where collaboration is prioritized.


But these ecosystem participants report challenges. Sixty percent of respondents called multisided partnerships "difficult to execute."

Lack of strategic alignment remained the top challenge for ecosystems. However, a rising concern was "limited awareness of collaboration opportunities," up from the fourth biggest challenge in 2023 to the second biggest inhibitor in 2024.

Related:CP Expo: Co-Selling Experts Provide Advice for Success

That same survey pointed to vendors as the folks who might need to lead the way through the complexity. Seventy-one percent of respondents said they would "prioritize vendors that can effectively orchestrate other vendors and partners."

In other words, partners and customers are asking the vendor to play the role of quarterback.

"That's really important. Not only be able to meet a business outcome, but to take the complexity of getting to that outcome off the plate of the customer by helping them and guiding them," said Shawn Carrigan, senior manager of co-sell acceleration at Cisco.


For Carrigan and Holden, that quarterbacking must find legs beyond one-off deals. While some of the use cases they shared with Channel Futures featured highly customized, bespoke solutions, Cisco is creating packaged and repeatable use cases for future participants.

"What we're trying to do is simplify, simplify, simplify," Holden said. "We build a series of deliverables for our clients and for our partners, that are repeatable tools that we can use."

Holden compared the ecosystem co-selling approach to concentric circles.

"You start with the ecosystem model that says, 'We've got a series of partners that we can work with to solve business issues.' We go figure out which business issues need to be solved, and then we have a way to connect partners together, [including] a channel partner who doesn't necessarily have an ISV relationship. And a seller from a channel partner, a seller from an ISV and a seller from Cisco can connect, and we'll facilitate that as best we can."

Vertical Angle

Cisco recently formalized a route to market for operational technology. Cisco is teaming with OT-focused manufacturers and partners, training and certifying them to sell Cisco's Industrial IoT (IIoT) and Meraki IoT offerings.

Does that news, paired with the aforementioned efforts to reach purchasers outside of IT, signify increased sense of verticalization at Cisco?

Verticals certainly factor into the collaboration Holden's team is promoting, but he looks a step deeper: the buyer themselves.

"The macro event is getting to have a business conversation with a client outside of IT. And that lends itself to more vertically relevant conversations," he said. "Cisco has not in its current structure organized by verticals, but we have a strong vertical marketing organization that is a stakeholder of ours. And so we will look at partners that have relevance to them, and we'll look at figuring out how to insert them into the motion of co-selling."

An example is Deloitte and other consultants that possess expertise in building supply chain for manufacturing.

"That workflow design that they do manifests itself in the software platform, and their software platform sits across a cloud-based infrastructure network," Holden said. "Cisco can provide [that network]; we can build, we can secure, we can manage, we can optimize and we can provide analytics."

SMB Partner Lens

With large companies such as Deloitte being mentioned in the processes, it begs the question of how much opportunity there is for down-market partners to participate in ecosystem co-selling.

Holden said those SMB-focused partners might use ecosystem co-selling as their way into larger accounts.

"If you want to sell higher – everybody wants a bigger deal – then go do some more ecosystem co-selling. Go sit down and understand two or three or four software companies and leverage Cisco, because we've done the due diligence to look at some of these software companies where we think there are strong use cases," he said.

Channel Futures will be on the ground at next week's Cisco Live. Watch for our daily coverage.

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About the Author(s)

James Anderson

Senior News Editor, Channel Futures

James Anderson is a news editor for Channel Futures. He interned with Informa while working toward his degree in journalism from Arizona State University, then joined the company after graduating. He writes about SD-WAN, telecom and cablecos, technology services distributors and carriers. He has served as a moderator for multiple panels at Channel Partners events.

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