By Peter O'Neill

Now here is some “earned media” for Cisco. In the context of full disclosure, let me first say that Cisco invited me to its Partner Velocity conference in Barcelona last week, full expenses paid. I stopped by for two nights and one day while traveling home to Stuttgart after a client workshop and meetings in Paris. But this is earned, not paid, media because I was truly excited by what I saw and heard. I’d like to share it with all of you tech marketers; whether you are at Cisco, or a competitor, or a partner-player in one or more of the ecosystems in our industry, you need to sit up and take notice of this event. To close my first point — a trip to Barcelona may sound attractive, enough to merit a “reward” for any organization that took me there. But I actually turn down more than 60% of my briefing and event invitations: I have to produce work as well (and who wants to go to Las Vegas eight times a year). And I certainly do not promise anybody that I will write any type of reports in return.

This was Cisco’s third Partner Velocity conference, and I’d heard great things about it from its partners, so I was eager to see what would happen. This is a conference for partners worldwide (first held in the US, last year’s was in Paris) and here’s the reason I was excited: Its focus was purely on MARKETING. Nobody presented about Cisco products, the sessions had titles such as:

  • Stand out and move up while your competition fails.
  • Effective paid search strategies.
  • How to build engaging customer relationships through CRM.
  • How to design a lead nurturing program that drives sales.
  • How to use existing customers to gain new ones.
  • Unleashing the true power of social media.

Just to illustrate how international this audience was, I now have business cards from marketing managers at Cisco partners in Nigeria, Slovenia, South Africa, Russia (Vladivostok, which is further east of Siberia!), plus various European and North American countries. Luanne Tierney, Cisco’s vice president, global partner organization, put this event together; she told me that there were attendees from all of Cisco’s “sales theaters,” as they call them (i.e., Asia Pacific, Emerging, European, Greater China, US, and Canada). These marketing managers all have the same challenges;

  • How to improve marketing programs for customers who now know more than ever about what they want.
  • How to raise the standing and value of marketing within their organizations.

The approximately 200 attendees were primarily marketing executives from the partners (although I’m sure a few CEOs and account managers also snuck in), and the sessions were a mixture of inspirational Marketing 2.0 speakers (personalities like author Scott McCain or Flint McGlaughlin, CEO of Meclabs) plus various marketing consultants presenting in more detail about marketing tactics and programs. Of course, being an analyst that also makes these presentations, I could be a little critical, but the partners lapped this up. I asked as many of the attendees as I could if they had ever seen a similar agenda provided by other technology vendors, and the answer was a resounding “no.” I wasn’t surprised; most technology vendors are still too unsure of their own marketing prowess to be able to share their knowhow with partners. Also, most tech vendors companies want their partners to fully understand the technologies or market trends, so they are mostly attended by sales and/or technology staff. The closest thing I know to this event is the partner training run by Sandy Carter, vice president, IBM Software Group business partners where, last time, they gave social media training to partners in New York.

My colleague Tim Harmon and I have been pointing out the need to help resellers in their marketing skills for quite a while now (check out our report from April 2010). The other subject area that requires more partner education is around new business models, due to the momentum of cloud computing. These are services that we anticipate will be fulfilled both by good tech vendors, as well as by ambitious tech distributors. Good channel partners will value this, and it will become part of their decision-criteria when comparing ecosystem programs.

Do you agree with this? Are you, as a vendor, working on these things? Or, if you are a channel partner, how are you reacting to the changes in our industry at the moment, and what does it mean when you select a new technology vendor to dance with? We’d like your feedback please. If you'd like to hear more about the event, let's talk. 

Always keeping you informed! Peter