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Listen to the customer’s story, then tell your own.

It’s not often you find a company as successful as Cisco going back to the drawing board to re-invent itself. But that’s what we’ve been doing for the past two years, and it’s what we’ll continue to do for the foreseeable future.  

For decades we’ve been a company that sells routers, switches, unified communications systems and the like to large enterprises. This meant that every three or four years our sales teams would come in and convince these organizations it was time to overhaul their data centers. Then three or four years later we’d come in and do it all over again. We got quite good at it.  

Today, Cisco still sells billions of dollars worth of networking gear, but the software enabling the hardware is an increasingly more important part of our business. It’s all about delightful experiences, and it’s software that allows our customers to turn data generated by the hardware into actionable insights and new revenue streams. That’s where the future of the company lies.  

This means we’ve also radically changed how Cisco approaches customers, and will in turn impact how our partners approach them as well. 

We do less selling and more listening.  

Customers first 

For more than 30 years, our sales teams would march into a customer’s office and talk about product features. They talked about the connectivity Cisco products bring, and how reliable, secure, and scalable they are. They talked about the advantages we offer over the competition, and the benefits customers could derive.  

But the days of talking about features are over. Today we talk about the challenges our customers face, and how Cisco can help solve them. We do this with use cases, and so can partners. We ask customers what they’re trying to achieve and where their pain points are. We explain how Cisco hardware combined with software helps them attain those specific goals and relieve those specific pain points 

What’s really driving this change is Cisco Digital Network Architecture (Cisco DNA) software. It’s this software that allows customers to not only capture data from their networks, but also analyze it in order to make better business and security decisions. 

This should not be surprising information for partners. This is the direction all businesses are headed. Organizations we sell to every day are adopting models based around software consumption. They don’t want to wait three or four years for a hardware refresh. They’re demanding a faster pace of innovation. They want to get things done, and they want them done now. The days of enterprises spending $10 million to $20 million to do a forklift upgrade every few years are essentially over. Software is driving their internal transformations. 

Constant contact 

The thing is, software is constantly evolving. We can sell a customer a product built around Cisco DNA and two months later it may do something entirely new. It may offer additional value to the customers they might otherwise be unaware of.  

That means we, and our partners, need to be in constant contact with customers. We need to have an extended on-going conversation with them about the challenges they’re facing and how our software can help them. That makes our relationships with customers more important than ever. Instead of having a sales team parachute in every three or four years, we now stay in constant touch with all of our large accounts. We need to make them aware of new capabilities, and ensure they’re taking full advantage of everything our software has to offer.  

We rely more heavily than ever on specialists who understand the needs of each business, as well as use cases (especially those with our partners) that illustrate the positive outcomes our software can help these businesses achieve.   

Our job is to continually help them understand how Cisco can drive their business forward.   

That’s one reason why we remain committed to our Customer Experience division, which builds loyalty and ensures customers take full advantage of Cisco software, services, and subscription offerings.   

It’s about being customer first, rather than product first. It’s about listening to their stories and telling our own through use cases. 

It is an exciting time at Cisco. Business shifts don’t happen overnight. We’ve made a huge amount of progress so far. I’m proud of how our sales organization has rallied around this new approach of use case selling. We’ve got a lot more work ahead of us though. I’ve spent the last 22 years at Cisco, and I still feel like the best is yet to come. Together with our partners, I look forward to valuable customer conversations ahead. 

– Gordon Thomson 

Learn more here: EN Use Case Selling Kit FY20 (Partner access required)