In my blog, Six “Must-Do”s for Successful Ecosystem Marketing, I talked about the challenge of maintaining harmony in the ecosystem. Ecosystem marketing manages 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.

Several different strategies exist when managing the ecosystem.  What works for one company, might not work for another. To stay balanced on that tightrope, have a game plan and make sure expectations are set properly with the partners. Determine which partner will be offered which marketing opportunities and why. The impact of the strategy can be far-reaching.  It will affect not only marketing program execution but can also impact partner relationships. Whether it’s web presence, content development, or even a partner pavilion at a tradeshow, partners will be sensitive to how they are positioned vis-a-vis other partners who are often their competitors.

At Cisco we have great deal of respect for our partner relationships. This is why we put a lot of thought into how to engage and involve our partners in programs. We want to make sure we are optimizing both Cisco’s and the partner’s investment of time, money and resources.

Besides knowing the ecosystem landscape, a key to developing the approach is to know the audience and objectives for the program.  In many cases, determining which partners will be most relevant to the intended audience naturally unfolds. Here are a few approaches:

  • Pay to Play. In this approach all ecosystem partners are offered the same opportunities. Based on their business objectives, they can decide what level of investment they would like to make. For example, sponsorship packages might be offered for participation at an event. Partners can decide what level of visibility they want by selecting a higher level (and more expensive) sponsorship. The higher level sponsorship will offer more branding opportunities and visibility.  Letting the partner make the decision takes the emotion out of the situation and can help stabilize that tightrope.
  • Tiered approach. The ecosystem approach might include tiering partners based on the value they add to the ecosystem. A company might decide that alignment with market leaders will help hyper-accelerate their business and decide to promote those relationships early and often.  Tiering might also be decided by bookings, the number of certifications and trained individuals, or the number of integrated solutions and offerings the two companies share. Sometimes it’s simply the power of the brands to drive thought leadership. However, tiering can shake the tightrope, and to some might feel arbitrary.
  • Follow the business. Similar to the tiered approach, a company might decide to promote the partners with the best proven joint business results. When there are joint wins, a robust set of tested and available solutions, and an ongoing pipeline and business, many times certain partners float to the top as strategic relationships. Particularly when communicating to the field, focusing on those partners doing “real” business is often a good strategy since that’s what the field will want to hear about.  Can’t blame ‘em!

Any one of these approaches may be used in different situations when it comes to balancing the tightrope of ecosystem marketing.  What is most important is to have a clear understanding on the strategy so that partners are hearing a consistent message.  Partner relationships can be damaged if there is confusion or inconsistency.

Good luck staying on that tightrope!

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