Cisco Blogs

What is a Channel Partner?

September 21, 2010 - 5 Comments

I’ve been with Cisco 11 years.  Sometimes I forget that companies, much like families have their own language.  I can look at my husband at any time and say “Baxter, you ate a whole wheel of cheese?  I’m not even angry I’m impressed!” and he laughs.  He not only knows I’m trying to break the tension, but it takes us back to our first date (It’s a quote from Anchorman, the Legend of Ron Burgandy). Within my Cisco family I can say SBCS and people know exactly what products I am talking about and which products I’m not talking about.  Truth is, those four letters are a complex communication and sometimes we forget as Cisco-ites that we have our own language.

What made me think about this is I am collaborating with Ken Presti of Presti Research and Consulting Inc. on a series of posts on how to hire and use a channel partner to make your business more profitable.  Ken has been working in networking since before Al Gore invented the Internet, and all along he and I have been working with small businesses and channel partners.  (Ken is much, much older than me in case you are wondering).  As I read his introductory post on choosing a channel partner; I realized that we jumped right in assuming that you knew who they are and what they do.  I wasn’t born knowing what a network does, I still can’t explain it to my mother, and she thinks channel’s are something on TV.  So if I can’t explain it to my family, why would I assume that everyone reading this blog inherently knows what I’m talking about.

So what in the world is a channel partner and can they eat an entire wheel of cheese????

Whenever I try to define something I go straight to Wikipedia.  They define a channel partner as follows:

“A channel partner is a company that partners with a manufacturer or producer to market and sell the manufacturer’s products, services, or technologies. This is usually done through a co-branding relationship. Channel partners may be distributors, vendors, retailers, consultants, systems integrators (SI), technology deployment consultancies, and value-added resellers (VARs) and other such organizations.”

While accurate, this definition doesn’t really explain who they are or what they do, especially in the context of networking, so I’m going to try.  Channel partners come in many shapes and sizes with many specialties.  In the broadest terms, they are a local company with technology expertise and a relationship with Cisco.  They are there to make your network work for you and help you understand how technology can help your business.  One partner I know calls himself a “fractional CIO”  because his clients get access to CIO thought processes and skills without having to hire someone (which in most cases is financially undesirable if not impossible)

We call our small business partners “Cisco Select Certified Partner.” There are two really important things you should know about partners that have this designation.

  1. Training: To become Select Certified, these companies undergo training (and testing) in Switching, Security and Wireless Solutions.  They know the products and they know how to implement and manage them for the best benefit to your company.  They can also have further certifications in Security, Foundation Networking and Unified Communications.
  2. Focus: Select Certified Partners have a business practice dedicated to companies with 250 employees or less. In many cases they are small locally owned businesses that face the same challenges you do and can relate to your needs.

Cisco is in constant communication with our Certified Select partners to make sure they are always up to date on technology and product offerings.  It’s their job to stay on top of trends and developments so you don’t have to.

So now that you know what a partner is, why oh why do you want one? I was joking the other day about fax machines and when they first came out how nobody felt like they needed them.  (OK, I’m showing my previously denied age here)  Now that they’ve come and essentially gone, it’s hard to remember that logic.  But thinking we didn’t need fax machines was not logic, it was not understanding what to do with them.  If you are wondering why to bring in a partner — you probably don’t understand how to use them.

Ken’s first post (next week) will be about how to select a partner.  Stay tuned and I’ll link to it when it’s live.  Now let’s just focus on why.  Think of a partner like a lawyer, or CPA.  You call them in to help you reach business goals because they are on top of tax changes and evolving employment law.  I think because we can’t go buy legal advice at a big box store it’s easier to realize we aren’t experts and call in help.  You can buy an off the shelf network and put it together yourself.  The difference between a network you put together yourself and one that’s professionally put together isn’t immediately obvious, but it’s there.  And more importantly a DIY network doesn’t come with the kind of support where if something does go wrong a technician is immediately available to fix it while you go on with your day.

Networking channel partners are your technology experts and business partners.  You should tell a partner where you want to take your business and what processes are challenging for you. They will recommend a solution that won’t just meet today’s needs, they’ll take you through years to come.  They will be committed to your business success because if you aren’t growing, they aren’t growing.  When you want to make changes in your business they’ll be able to suggest how to use your current technology to help make smooth transitions. Also by recommending the right technology they can save you money (either immediately or over time).  Also, Cisco Partners have access to proven network designs, they know that what they recommend will work.

I still haven’t answered if a partner can eat an entire wheel of cheese; but hopefully I’ve given some insight into who they are and how they help.  But as I like to say, don’t just take my word for it — listen to what other business owners have to say about their partners:

If you are looking for a partner in your area, visit the Cisco Partner Locator

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  1. Nice intro Dawn

    I look forward to yours and Ken's articles.

    I have been a channel partner for a long time in NZ which with typically small vendor presence, ( small country) has taken on many different aspects up to and being the vendors local representive.

    I am keen to get Kens views and prespectives.



  2. Thanks Tom! I glad you found it useful!

  3. Great post Dawn! I love the "fractional CIO" reference - never thought of positioning myself, or the company, with that thought process. Hope you dont mind me referencing your post to my colleagues and customers.

  4. Welcome aboard! We are lucky to have you!

  5. Great overview of the channel, Dawn. Look forward to meeting the Cisco readership, and thanks for writing such a kind introduction

    I'm really not as old as Dawn thinks I am. I'd say more about this, but I gotta go. Lawrence Welk is on in five minutes...

    Good to be here, everybody!