Everyone is talking about it.  It’s not channel marketing, it’s not alliance marketing, it’s not product marketing.  It’s ecosystem marketing.  So what’s all the hype?

First, let’s talk about what the term “partner ecosystem” means.  A partner ecosystem is not just a list of partners.  It’s a portfolio of partners who are selected because of the value they add from one or more of these perspectives: technology, integration, influence, go-to-market, or market access. But it’s not just about Cisco, it’s about our partners and what they can gain from the relationship. It could be access to Cisco technology, association to the Cisco brand, or even access to the large sales force entrenched in IT organizations across the globe.

Ecosystem marketing seeks a difficult balance between touting the virtues of the whole ecosystem and showing the value of individual partner relationships. It’s a tightrope and often somebody feels slighted if you are not careful in your approach.

So, how do you get started and what makes for successful ecosystem marketing?

1. Understand the ecosystem strategy. Who are the ecosystem partners and what role will each play in getting the product or solution to the end customer? What is the partner interplay? How do the partners work with channel partners and distributors?

2. Align with the business plan.  What is the route-to-revenue for the product or solution? What are the target markets and geographies? These types of questions are fundamental to developing a strategic ecosystem marketing plan.

3. Create an ecosystem identity. There is tremendous value in positioning the ecosystem as a whole, rather than a disparate group of partners grouped onto one PowerPoint slide. Stakeholders want to see that the company is investing in the “right” partners as they seek to work with industry leaders that will provide knowledge, business impact and solutions that meet their needs. This “identity” can be achieved through a number of different ways including templates with a common “look and feel,” ecosystem content (such as playbooks) and messaging.

4. Develop messaging.  Messaging comes in two forms:

  • Ecosystem level messaging: What was the ecosystem formed to accomplish? How does it benefit customers? How does it benefit the partners?
  • Individual partner messaging: Joint value proposition messaging with each strategic   partner. What do the two companies do together that provides unique value to the customer?

5. Align with corporate initiatives. Aligning with corporate campaigns is key to gaining mindshare of internal stakeholders. Corporate marketing will be more engaged because there will be partner messaging support and alignment. Sales will be alert because they’ll understand how the partners can help them retire quota. It will improve the visibility of your ecosystem partners and solutions.

6. Educate the field. After you’ve completed points 1 through 5, you might have snagged the attention of the field, but not all account managers know how to work with partners, and joint selling may require a mindset shift.  Both the company’s and the partner’s field organizations need to be educated on how to engage. What joint products, solutions and services do they have to sell? What is the sales engagement model? Who leads, who follows, or is it a joint sales motion? And most importantly, what’s in it for them?

Ecosystem marketing is new and different. It’s not a single one-off marketing program, it’s an integrated plan and approach that is built into all marketing communications. It’s an integral part of a business strategy. It might be a little scary because you can’t control it all, but the pay-off is big because openness and collaboration define the new path to market leadership.

What are your thoughts? How do you think Cisco is doing in its ecosystem marketing? Please give me your feedback here, as I would love to know more about where you think we’re heading.


Debbie Gililland

Director, Marketing and Operations

Industry Solutions Group – Ecosystems Team