Cisco Systems' symbiotic relationship with D&H Distributing, which began as the most logical way to reach small- and midsize-business customers, has become critical to the networking giant's growth, as well as its aggressive plans to expand its SMB partner ranks.
Cisco Chairman and CEO Chuck Robbins was Americas channel chief when the company began its relationship with D&H 13 years ago, and the pairing was a juggernaut from the beginning, said Andrew Sage, Cisco's vice president of Americas distribution.
"Ever since we started working with them, D&H has been growing double digits with Cisco," Sage said. "They've outgrown the overall market, they've outgrown the overall distribution landscape. It's a testament to their execution and it's a testament to the opportunity we have in the SMB market. Those customers are really crying out for some help from D&H and its partners."
Now, the San Jose, Calif.-based company is counting on D&H to recruit and train 50 new partners every month as part of an aggressive effort, called Cisco Meraki Driven, to move SMB customers to Cisco's cloud-managed Meraki platform. SMB customers with little or no IT expertise are nevertheless hungry for a subscription-based solution like Meraki, and D&H is playing a critical role in preparing solution providers to attack that market, Sage said.
"The value proposition for these partners is that with Meraki, plus some of our security solutions like Umbrella, we are in probably the best shape from our portfolio standpoint than we've been in for a very long time in SMB," Sage said.
Julia Stewart, vice president of sales for Southern Computer Warehouse (SCW), a national solution provider based in Marietta, Ga., said D&H has helped SCW significantly grow its Meraki business in large part due to the distributor's "engineering smarts and talent."
Stewart said D&H is capturing a bigger piece of the complex solutions business because of its willingness to build up the caliber of its engineers and product champions. "They have really done a great job of bringing people on board that have a passion for what they do," she said.
The Cisco SMB channel charge is helping partners transition to the cloud as customer emphasis shifts toward buying technology as-a-service on a subscription, or pay-for-consumption basis, said Sage.
For Sage, the Meraki platform is an ideal place for SMB customers and partners to begin the journey to the cloud, and D&H is the ideal distributor to carry out the wide range of responsibilities necessary to direct partners along that path.
"The relationship [between Cisco and D&H] goes way beyond logistics, financing, credit, the basic support we expect from our distributors," Sage said. In addition to those things, D&H provides a full suite of training and enablement to partners to help get them into a more modern mode of doing business.
"They help us transform these partners' business model from a hardware-centric networking model to a more software- and life-cycle-centric model where resellers are adding services on top of that," he said.
For many partners, Meraki is ground zero for customer transformation efforts, Sage said.
"Meraki is a cloud-managed solution that has a recurring revenue element to it," Sage said. "Umbrella is a recurring revenue solution. In this kind of an environment, resellers really have to start thinking differently about how they address the customer. They need to deliver recurring value to the customer because the solutions will need to be renewed down the road. In order for those solutions to be easily renewed or expanded, these resellers have to make sure they stay close to the customer and get a little bit more involved in the life cycle of the solution, where in the past they may have been more project-focused."
In the long run, the Cisco training D&H brings to solution providers helps move those solution providers into larger accounts, Sage said.
D&H also provides training and enablement when that time comes, Sage said, easing yet another partner transition, this time to larger and possibly more lucrative customers and technologies like Cisco's red-hot Catalyst 9000 series of subscription-based switches.