CDN: What led you into a career within the channel?
Collins: I started my career many years ago at a small reseller. I learned a lot about computers and networking, and as time went on, I also learned a lot about Cisco. Almost 20 years ago now, I joined Cisco as an account manager. I did that for nearly eight years, and along the way I discovered how much I enjoyed working with partners. The idea of working with the entire village to solve a customer’s problem was really compelling to me. I saw people along the way building businesses and innovating in Canada, and I found it fascinating working with entrepreneurs in large and small organizations across the country. That’s why I also spent three years in marketing and learned how to interact with customers and partners, and learned how to leave an impression around a brand’s different technologies. All of this helped me prepare for my current role, which I’ve been doing now for about three years.
CDN: What is your definition of channel at Cisco?
Collins: My team at Cisco is divided up to address the world we currently live in, where Cisco works and competes with companies at different points in time. They reflect different routes to market, and there are blurry lines there, too. We focus on working with service providers – these are our Bells and Teluses. Then we have our national direct integrators (NDIs) whom we work with extensively across Canada. They have large inside sales organizations along with a solutions team that service the midmarket. The third category is our national partners, our integrators that tend to be multi-province in nature. They range from the IBMs of the world to Canadian companies like Long View Systems and Compugen. And then the fourth category is our Value added Reseller (VAR) community. They are often companies in one or a few select cities with a strong hold on those areas. Channel means many things and that definition grows almost every day. We work with influencers and consulting companies like Deloitte…in addition to ISVs like SAP. These are not companies that directly sell our technology but they become a key player in terms of joining the conversation to solve a specific customer problem.
CDN: What are the three largest areas of responsibility in current role in channel management?
Collins: One is to ensure we’re operating a program and platform here that Canadian businesses can build a business on. We don’t just make products, we build and offer programs businesses can take advantage of and add services to in order to create value for customers. Number two is maintaining our brand. We’ve been long-known as the plumbers, or the architects of the internet. That brand and expectation has been there a long time, but we’re becoming a more software-centric company now. We’ve focused on software for years, and it’s integrated in our products, but now we’re also delivering software in a recurring method. Ensuring we’re doing that effectively while maintaining the brand’s integrity is critical. And third, I help make sure that our brand is an attractive place for employees to work and build careers. We offer a compelling work environment, great career opportunities, and we represent a group that makes a real difference in Canada. I spend many hours per week trying to accomplish these things.
CDN: What can the Canadian partner community do better to ensure the partner ecosystem continues to grow and innovate?
Collins: As great as our innovations are, technology is evolving at a pace that’s almost impossible to keep up with. We have to make sure that how we monetize those technologies keeps up with the pace of innovation itself. I think that’s one of the biggest gaps right now, and accelerating the skills of our partners will help. All of our partners see this pace of innovation and their job is to find a path so that customers can absorb it in a way the partner can monetize it in a profitable way. Tough questions to answer: How early do you jump on board an innovation in a way that you can educate your team while not removing them from the things that make you money today.
Canada’s ecosystem thrives when we invest in our ourselves. We’re a hotbed for stuff like AI. We need to believe in and nurture the talent we have. We have to talk to them, figure out where they fit into the mix — any one of them could be the next big thing.
In my job, I have a front-row seat to see Canadians building great companies. But nothing can be accomplished in isolation. We’re building this economy together. If we trust in our talent, we really can do incredible things … together.
CDN: What piece of advice would you give anyone entering the channel?
Collins: Start by understanding the difference between an opportunity and what that opportunity means to a customer and a partner. You don’t have to know a vendor’s entire portfolio and sell it all at once, no one in the market entering it for the first time will know everything at once. Pick a technology track, understand the market, understand its problems, and gain a strong understanding of the skills needed in that space to be successful. Technology is a platform to create value, you have to understand that first and foremost.
To those who are coming up through the ranks, I would have two pieces of advice. First, don’t look at your career in terms of a straight line, from bottom to top. Get comfortable with zigs and zags. Don’t be blind to the opportunities around you. Give yourself permission to experiment with different functions and roles. You may find that you’re passionate about a particular job if you allow yourself to be open to the possibility.
Another piece of advice is to adhere to a village mentality. Business is complicated, and while companies always try to bring top value to every customer, the truth is that no one can do it all. Solving a problem, really, calls for a village mentality. Teamwork and sharing is always important, as is recognizing people and paying things forward when success happens.