Simplifying Programs for Maximum Partner Profitability: Wendy Bahr,Cisco Channel Chief

We look most in a partner is not just the appetite for business, but credentials like financial capability, right talent and skillsets, says Wendy Bahr, SVP, Global Partner Organization, Cisco.

Channels are the primary route to market for most technology OEMs. And for Cisco it contributes over 80% of its revenues. The technology is changing, the vendors are changing and so are the channels.

Wendy Bahr, Senior Vice President, Global Partner Organization, Cisco in an exclusive interaction with ChannelWorld India spoke on the changing technology landscape and how the company is enabling to the path to success.

“The primary function of the global partner organization is understanding to ensure the partner alliances are as simple as possible, as agile as possible and as profitable as possible for the ecosystem including satisfying our customers,” said Cisco’s global Channel Chief Wendy Bahr on recent India visit.

Excerpts from the interview.

Two and half months as global channel chief under the new leadership team at Cisco. What have been your priorities?

My first priority is listening to partners, customers and employees to understand the landscape and how we can change to keep the pace with the technology and all the evolutions in the market.

We are also keenly focused on simplification as the market continues to expand and we have a very broad portfolio. I want to simplify our programs and incentives to help all of us to move a bit faster and take advantage of these tremendous opportunities.

One of your key responsibility is managing 60,000+ global partners. How do you ensure each partner community is profitable and more importantly successful?

Partner profitability is foundational to our program success. And part of that success -- comes from our world class partner program running since many years -- that ensures incentives, program, and enablement serving every size of the partner. Right from the smallest partner catering tier-3 or tier-4 city to the global systems integrator. We make sure our portfolio breadth from program, operations and incentive perspective cuts across all partner types.

We rely heavily on the distributors to enable all our partners to stay successful. VADs too are incredibly important to help us scale and scale is the key to success. We look to align with them especially while introducing newer technologies as they can help us address the vast partner types across the globe.

Cisco has evolved from a pure networking vendor into UCS, SDN, IoT. How do your channels move up the value chain? 

It is really crucial that we continue to educate our partner community through our partner account representatives, sales team, webinars, face to face interactions. This happens through our distributors.

It’s important as we take advantage of the market transitions -- which has been Cisco’s biggest strength -- to bring the partner ecosystem along with us. More than 90% of India business happens through partner community. Education and enablement in addition to profitability incentives forms the balance of a global program.

Enhancing skillsets at the customer end and the partner end is a major issue for tech industry. Are traditional partners agile enough to adapt new age technologies?

Many traditional partners are eagerly leaning into the opportunity to understand programmable networks, the power of unified compute and to understand the importance of partnering with application developers. Our program DevNet embraces many of the application partners who write apps to Cisco technology portfolio. The programmable network is the future.

Would traditional hardware-centric partners continue to sell Cisco’s ‘switches and routers’ or they should move to solutions around software defined infrastructure?

We hope that they continue to do both. Our portfolio of enterprise networking ‘routing and switching’ is critical to Cisco success, our partner success and most importantly our customer success.

While we continue to expand into these new opportunities (around SDN), some partners will invest in that talent, bring in those acquisitions and expand their portfolio. Others will align with other companies to create a combination of solution orientation, and we are ready to support both models.

Various analyst reports talk about colossal figures for SDN market in next couple of years. How realistic is the overall market and in India?

Software Defined Network (SDN) is not limited to just the datacenter. SDN goes all the way out to the branch, to the campus, to the enterprise. Hence we are confident of Cisco’s strategy with our application centric infrastructure including the successful Nexus 9k series. We believe that the programmability of the network extends beyond the datacenter into the branch, into the WAN and that unleashes the power of the future network. And with applications written for APIs I envisage tremendous opportunities for partners and us.

Cisco is completely committed to the partners including our new CEO Chuck Robbins who spent seven years of his seventeen years at Cisco in the channels. Partners continue to be our primary route to market for all products and services including SDN.

How do you envision the channel ecosystem in India compared to mature markets globally. Do they need to catch up?

I actually consider them to be ahead of the curve. There is so much unique invention happening in India and its significant impact on Cisco whether through global SIs, MSIs, ISVs. Since 2007, we have contributed USD 240 Million to help twenty five startup companies. This is the heart of innovation in India. And that innovation will propel our success as India becomes a bigger part of revenue pie chart for Cisco.

Many channels are exploring different routes of MSP, ISV to name a few.

One of my biggest challenges -- in my first eight and half weeks – is continue supporting the robust ecosystem but more importantly pursuing a different GTM motion. We as an OEM have been very successful with distributors and resellers.

Now the partner ecosystem is much broader as we work with ISVs like SAP and MapR as an example. And couple them with say Coaxial who are manufacturing expertise, a traditional reseller and perhaps supplement with a distributor. That is complex model but it brings a much richer solution set to our customer.

The primary function of the global partner organization is understanding to ensure the partner alliances are as simple as possible, as agile as possible and as profitable as possible for the ecosystem including satisfying our customers.

What’s your ‘converged infrastructure’ story as your channels used to (and continue to) sell VCE. Cisco announced Versastack with IBM last year. Isn’t this bit confusing?

I would hope they play wherever the customers direct them.  Cisco has always been about customer choice. By having many converged infrastructure offers whether VCE (with EMC and VMware), VersaStack or FlexPod (with NetApp), we enable and support our partners so that they help their customers to make the right choice in that arena. We have been very successful in the various converged infrastructure projects and so have our partners. 

How has the face of customer changed and how accordingly has the face of partner changed in your experience?

The customers are undoubtedly changing at a rapid pace. There are three big changes that we are experiencing right now. Technology innovation which of course is loved by all. Secondly, our customers’ budgets are moving into various departments outside of the CIO or IT group and those decisions are now heavily influenced heavily by CMOs, Chief Digitization Officers etcetera. The change of customer face means our conversations have to change.

And the third area of change is business process operations. We need more skillsets in talking about business process flow, speaking to new customers, talking to new buying centers and dealing with the technology innovation occurring faster than ever before.

With changing customer landscape, our partners together with Cisco need to adapt or acclimatize. Adaptability is the key. And that’s why we encourage partners and our Cisco sales team to have the right alignment to encompass a strong relationship.

Would you recommend channel partners to look beyond CIOs and strike conversations with different C-Suite executives in their customers?

Partners are right in the sweet spot because of their tremendous relationship with the CIOs and IT Department. Many of them want partners to help them connect internally in their own company to these new buyers and bridge the language barrier between the language that IT speaks (highly technological) and the language of business outcomes (by other decision makers inside the company).

Partners have the great opportunity to play role of ‘trusted advisors’ inside our customers. They can connect to these groups and speak that language as the go-between or the glue that makes them highly successful at their customer end.

What credentials does Cisco seek in a partner organization? Has the list changed over the years?

The list certainly changes as the landscape, technology and the customer needs shift with time. What we look most in a partner is not just the desire and appetite to pursue the business with us, but they need to have financial capability, right talent and skillsets.

We have been investing with Cisco networking academy to help supplement as much as 1,20,000 individuals who have training and certification capabilities through cisco networking academy In India to help add to that talent pool. Talent, desire and financial capability are critical factors to success in our ecosystem.

Your three priorities for India market.

Growth, growth and more growth.


Yogesh Gupta is executive editor at IDG Media. You can reach him at or follow him at @yogsyogi1