Focus is key
Making the team | How to land the right partners
- By Gary Arlen
- Mar 06, 2008
Cisco Systems' matchmaking brings partners to agencies
Chris Marin, Cisco Systems Inc.'s manager of federal channel operations.
Chris Marin vows that he will read any proposal
or statement of qualifications that
comes his way.
"If you can size up your value in three paragraphs,
I commit to read [everything] and follow
up," said Marin, Cisco Systems Inc.'s manager
of federal channel operations.
Although Cisco is not a prime government
contractor, it has established extensive relationships
since it created a federal channel
unit in mid-2006. The unit draws on the company's
vast corporate connections ? and its
value-added reseller database ? plus its own
sales relationships with federal agencies.
"We don't prime, but we work with all kinds
of partners," said Dawn Duross, director of the
Cisco Federal Channels group. "Part of our goto-
market strategy was in response to the government's
demand. We wanted to do some
things more creatively to take advantage of the
entrepreneurial spirit" of value-added resellers
and small-business partners.FOCUS IS VITAL
When evaluating a potential small-business
partner, Cisco looks for focus, Marin said. "Focus
is key, whether on a technology or a series of customers.
When we look to align our small-business
partners with the government or Cisco's
account teams, we need to ensure that we can
jump-start a relevant conversation," he said.
Cisco looks for a small business with past performance
at a specific customer or a unique
capability that is IP-based and important to the
customer's mission. "While financial stability is
important, we have business partners such as
GE Finance that can help small businesses
shore up their credit line," he
Marin and Duross emphasized that
Cisco has introduced small businesses
to integrators, then acted as an advocate.
"We're viewed as subject-matter
experts," Marin said. "Sometimes a prime
doesn't have anyone in his portfolio who can
achieve a certain goal." That's where Cisco
comes in with specialists. For example, the
company recommended Global Technology
Resources Inc., of Denver, to Northrop
In another case, Cisco connected
Metronome Inc. of Irvine, Calif., with the
Veterans Affairs Department for a hospital
communications project. "We were able to
take a service-disabled veteran's firm that has
developed real commercial value," Marin said,
and match it to a government requirement.
"Metronome works with our commercial
teams, and we're looking for companies that
are innovative," he said.
Marin cited similar alliances with other
small businesses doing work with agencies
such as the Agriculture and Defense departments and the Army.
"As the network becomes the platform to
deliver business services, it is increasingly critical
that all our partners, not just small businesses,
specialize in those services," he said.
"We need our small-business partners to focus
on skills in the areas of mobility, security, voice,
collaboration and data center, including storage
and WAN optimization."
The best way to initiate contact with Cisco
Federal is to send a three-paragraph e-mail
message to Marin or federal channel account
manager Heather Warren that articulates areas
of networking expertise, existing customers and
experience with networking technologies.
"We read e-mail, and we will respond within
48 hours articulating whether there is a possible
fit," he said.
A team of Cisco account managers focuses on
small-business partners. Marin and Warren
serve as a clearinghouse to direct prospective
team members to the appropriate Cisco manager.
Cisco tries to use existing relationships with
small businesses with the large primes, meaning
a successful partner may get repeat business.
"As Cisco enters new technology markets,
we will look to establish or nurture relationships
that encourage the growth of these new
solutions," he said.
Unlike many federal prime contractors,
Cisco uses the Central Contractor Registration,
an online directory of government contractors,
only to a limited degree, finding that it is more
effective to work through its own resources,
Marin said. The American Small Business
Coalition is one such resource, he said, because
it offers a wealth of insight that Cisco frequently
Marin and Duross said their approach to
team building relies on the ability to crossfertilize
connections across various lines of
Cisco's diverse business.
"There is always room for more innovation,"
Duross said. "That's the excitement of
working with these small businesses."Gary Arlen (GaryArlen@columnist.com) is president
of Arlen Communications Inc.