Getting to know Cisco Live, an Outsiders View.

An eye-opening view from a first timing, non-Cisco partner. 

Image Credit: Scott McDermott. Used under Creative Commons 2.0

Let me be clear up-front:

I’m not a Cisco partner. I wasn’t invited or paid to be at the event by Cisco. I don’t sell Cisco products, in fact I’m pretty well versed in how to sell against many Cisco products and a believe in choosing the right product for the job over how well they snap together. That being said, sometime Cisco is the right choice. A lot of times Cisco has the right options to help the customers, it’s just not my “go to” answer.

To get the “Why Not?” Out of the way..

  1. Sometimes it really isn’t the best product.
    Just to say that is almost blasphemous in the Cisco partner world. There is such a strict brand loyalty with the company that seems the all-or-nothing mentality is embedded in the partner program. And it’s the customers too. You’re either all Cisco or not. I don’t believe it can always be everything to everyone and rather than be scoffed at by customers whose pitchers are full of blue kool-aid and waste time at meetings fighting an uphill battle, I choose to deal with everyone else and steer clear of the brand. 
  2. Margins.
    As a small business owner trying to make money, build a successful business, and provide customer friendly solutions, it’s not friendly. The same deal, the same amount of time spent in the account, and its scrapping over 5 points of margin vs other brands where it’s an easy 20%. And who am I fighting against for that 5%?…..
  3. Everyone.
    Everyone sells Cisco. And by everyone I mean I’m competing with CDW, Insight, SHI, and a host of other statewide partners that can murder me with expense accounts, the ability to ride an opportunity out for 6 months, and the buying power to get incentives that I can’t touch because I don’t deal in enormous volume. 

Why am I not a Cisco partner? 

Because even though the products are small business friendly, the reseller side isn’t. I can’t build a small business selling Cisco.

Then what was I doing at Cisco Live?

Having an amazing time. Listening to passionate product managers and engineers talk about their products. Getting to know what Cisco can do and seeing how partners around the world can help solve huge problems.

I was learning more than I imagined about the products and services that Cisco offered while being overwhelmed with helpful people, an amazing community of fans, and a customer-centric company like I have never seen.

I was taking selfies as a virtual superhero, listening to Bryan Cranston talk about killing chickens, jumping up and down to Bruno Mars. I was high-fiving the people in the hallways whose only job it was was to make sure you knew where lunch, the keynotes, or the expo floor was as they danced to the DJ filled areas that donated electricity to school students in 3rd world countries.

I was listening to keynotes that kept it real, telling execs that it costs too much money and takes too much time to achieve Cisco certifications and that means that the way Cisco does business is cumbersome and broken in this day and age.
I was having a freaking blast at Cisco Live. I was changing my perspective on the stuffy company I thought it was.

Am I Going to Go Home and Star Selling Cisco?

Not as a reseller. Not yet. That part is going to be impossible to fix. Why? Because it’s not broken. It’s operating the way I’m sure it’s supposed to. It’s just not supposed to operate for small VARs like me.

Will I be more inclined to sells overall solutions that Cisco offers?

Absolutely. This company does a phenomenal job of being a solution expert. It’s what I imagine IBM used to be the giant of doing: taking complex problems and finding big, chunky, powerful ways to solve enormous problems. The difference is Cisco has the tools and tool sets in addition to the solutions. Granted, they might not always be the *best* products to craft the solution, but they will get the job done.

I get it..

I get why people use it, live it and love it. I didn’t really get it though until i showed up to Cisco Live. To be inside the machine is amazing. It’s informative, inspiring, and empowering. Cisco does a better job than any company I’ve seen making you feel like you’re part of the overall solution and not just a component.

And seriously, they can throw a party. Their Customer Appreciation Event was incredible. Absolutely incredible.

If only in some magical world I could either be big enough to compete to sell Cisco products or they had incentives that leveled the playing field for small business trying to be a part of the Cisco World of Solutions, it would be amazing.

At Cisco Live, you feel like being a part of this mystical world of the technology of tomorrow is attainable. What better place to have it than Vegas. In this town everything feels magical. At every turn you have a machine that sings to you about how it can change your life. At CLUS you feel the same vibe of “anything’s possible”.

But tomorrow, I fly home.

Part of airplanes landing is touchdown back on Earth. For me that means 5–10% margins competing against Cisco Gold partners with 3 or more CCIEs on staff and unlimited resources making it impossible for me to be a part of that magical Cisco world. It means not being able to survive marathon buying cycles and seemingly unlimited incentives for larger partners. It means continuing to work hard while being creative and intelligent enough to craft the solutions out of several best-of-breed products.
Until I can build a small business large enough to compete with the global dominance of big business…

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.

Thanks for the memories Cisco Live. See you next year.

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