We recently had the opportunity to speak with Chad Reese, Director of Partner Digital Marketing at Cisco. Reese’s role at Cisco is to extend the company’s digital marketing execution capabilities with and through channel partners, and to transform the way its partners communicate to potential buyers. A 17-year Cisco veteran, Reese has led various partner demand-generation functions including worldwide commercial field marketing, partner revenue marketing and partner digital marketing.
The goal of the conversation was to gain insights into why digital marketing is so important to Cisco and why they are working so hard to make it important to their partners as well. Cisco is a recognized industry thought leader in this area and, essentially, we wanted to pick Reese’s brain to find out what vendors and suppliers should keep in mind when contemplating partner digital marketing programs for their channel—what key components are, and what long-term channel success looks like.
What Makes Cisco a Partner Digital Marketing Thought Leader?
To those who study the channel day in and day out, it’s well known that Cisco is considerably ahead of many other suppliers in terms of helping its partner community “get” digital marketing. Cisco’s thought leadership position raised a natural opening question: Why is Cisco investing so heavily in this?
“Some of the IT market is shifting from buying point products to consumption-based IT models based on software and cloud services,” Reese said. “As part of this transition, buyers are now going online to both get educated and to complete actual transactions. If we want Cisco partner companies to be part of these transactions, we’ve got to help them move without delay to digital marketing. With this shift to software and cloud, digital marketing has a greater role to play throughout the customer lifecycle—driving adoption and renewals even after first purchase.”
Cisco is one of the rare organizations that have a partner digital marketing team embedded in its digital marketing group. It is not unheard of for global partner marketing teams to promote digital marketing. But the fact that Cisco has an entire team dedicated to digital marketing in the channel demonstrates just how important it is to them that their partners make this transition—and make it fast.
“More than 80 percent of our business is ultimately fulfilled through our partners. We know we're not going to be successful as a supplier unless we can educate, enable, and support our channel to go where today’s customers are.”
The Four Pillars of Cisco Partner Engagement
Reese explained that Cisco has developed a four-part “Partner Engage” framework to help partners move from traditional to digital marketing:
Educate and train partners so they understand the value of digital marketing and how to do it.
Automate the entire process with a through partner marketing automation platform.
Use third-party digital marketing services to enable partners to execute in a way that drives good ROI.
Provide one-to-one engagement with digital marketing experts to help support the partners through the journey from traditional to digital.
1. Educate and Train
Reese said that most Cisco partners understand the idea behind what has come to be known as “the new B2B buyer’s journey.” This phrase refers to the fact that today’s business buyers are relying heavily on Internet search results to create short lists of the suppliers and/or partners they will consider.
Google partnered with Millward Brown Digital in 2014 to study the purchasing habits in the B2B space. The study found that 86% of tech B2B buyers go online during their research process. Of those, 77% start the process using a search engine, with 43% searching on their mobile device. Clearly, channel partners need a very strong online presence if they want get on these buyers’ radar. And they need vendor support to get there.
The issue, Reese said, is that even though partners know they need to move towards digital marketing, it’s not in their wheelhouse—many don’t know how to do it. To change that dynamic, Cisco began educating its partners at its “Marketing Velocity” events where partners meet face-to-face with industry-leading digital marketing experts and thought leaders. Cisco has since transformed these events into an ongoing series of Internet-based engagements.
“We work with Google and other companies to provide these online events. They provide an opportunity for our partners to learn about pay-per-click, paid search and display, retargeting and other tactics, and how each can fit into an overall strategic marketing mix.”
2. Automate with TPMA Platforms
Educating partners about the new digital landscape is an important first step. But then there is the matter of actually changing partner behavior—of providing them with the ability execute in a way that drives good return on investment.
The second pillar speaks to this issue, Reese said. Cisco has put in place a through partner marketing automation (TPMA) platform that enables it to scale its digital demand generation services across its very large partner ecosystem.
“Cisco’s TPMA—called Partner Marketing Central—pushes out to our partners a wide range of marketing tactics including email marketing, social syndication, web content syndication, virtual events, and video marketing. Partner Marketing Central helps partners get up to speed on these programs much faster. And, from our perspective, it’s the only way we can implement these programs with the hundreds and sometimes thousands of Cisco partners we do business with.” In the near future, Cisco will leverage Partner Marketing Central to share analytics and orchestrate the customer experience with partners.
3. Leverage External Digital Marketing Services
Cisco starts with education. Then it implements automation. The next step is to support partners as they start executing on these marketing campaigns. Reese said that at this stage Cisco connects partners to its network of third-party agencies specializing in digital demand generation.
“Many of our partners don't have big marketing departments or lots of resources. So we put them together with third-party agencies that can help them execute the TPMA programs like pay-per-click, email, or social.”
Reese explained that these are the same agencies that Cisco uses for its own direct campaigns. It routinely negotiates contracts with these service providers, manages the quality of their work, and makes sure their ROI is good—all before asking partners to invest marketing dollars with them.
“Partners start to spend money on digital marketing—money they might previously have spent on golf tournaments or other ‘hospitality marketing’ events. These more traditional events are still important, but buyers are clearly spending much more time online than they ever have before,” explained Reese. “That same Google research project showed that in the two years from 2012 to 2014, visits to partner websites increased fivefold. Digital marketing puts the partners where the customers are.”
4. One-to-One Engagement
The final pillar involves putting partners in direct contact with digital marketing experts. This is when they get hands-on help making the journey from traditional to digital, inbound, social media, and data-oriented marketing and demand generation.
“We provide direct contact through our internal partner marketing managers. These people work in the field to build marketing plans that align with each partner's priorities. They help our partners make decisions about how to invest Cisco MDF funds and help with execution. An added benefit is that our in-house experts get us very good visibility into the impact and results of our funding at the partner level.”
A large organization like Cisco is able to do hands-on consulting in-house. But Reese said he encourages his peers at smaller organizations to take the same steps. Companies with fewer internal resources, he said, should take advantage of third-party agencies that can specifically help suppliers manage partner marketing programs.
The Marketing Strategy of the Future
“The goal of our partner digital marketing team is to build a system that creates a kind of closed loop,” Reese said. “We start by educating our partners and helping them choose the right digital tactic or integrated set of tactics to attract customers. Then we use our through partner marketing automation platform to capture the prospects as they come in—whether through pay-per-click, search, content offers through email nurture, or some other program. Once the customer is in the system, we make sure the partner continues to re-market to prospects by connecting our partners with third-party experts. And, finally, we keep them connected to the experts on our in-house partner digital marketing team for on-going strategic help—and to get us the data we need to improve the system.”
Reese said that successful partner marketing these days isn’t a matter of choosing the right single tactic. Instead, suppliers and partners need to work together to create integrated omni-channel marketing, using multiple approaches to catch the attention of prospects however and wherever they do their research. He said it’s all part of Cisco’s two-part strategic approach to channel marketing: influence partners’ spending to shift the mix to digital, inbound, social, and data-oriented marketing and demand generation; and put processes in place to help partners get the most out of their MDF funding.
When partners join the digital conversation, Reese said, they’re able to reach new buying centers and attract new prospects. Once online, they can convince prospects to attend events, download content, and subscribe to their blogs—all the ways today’s buyers are doing their research.
“Our goal is to help partners create integrated marketing programs that focus on digital and online tactics, and then wrap those programs around offline and traditional marketing activities. Together these programs make everything our partners do more successful.