‘Due to the recent large scale shift to remote-work, we are now supporting three times the normal volumes’

Pankaj Lulla, Director - Partner & Services, Cisco India and SAARC

After the departure of B Raghavendran as Channel Operations VP, Cisco India has a new channel chief. Pankaj Lulla, Director – Partner & Services, Cisco India and SAARC, is leading Cisco India’s channel strategy, vision, enablement, program design and partner experience.

In his first interview to CRN India, Pankaj Lulla said his team remains committed to facilitating partners to continue delivering value and win, in the new normal

CRN: As the new channel head, what is your focus and plans for channel growth?

Lulla: Over the last several months, our priority has been to support our partners through these unprecedented times. We have been focusing on delivering on our mantra of “Perform and Transform”, which is about helping partners achieve their daily businesses goals while working towards capitalising on new opportunities emerging today.  A significant aspect of these efforts is aiding our partners in accelerating the digital transformation of their own businesses and of their customers, to start operating in the low-touch/no-touch digital economy that the crisis is shaping.

We have always worked with our partners to navigate market transitions at various stages of our growth in India and the SAARC region. My team and I remain committed to facilitating our partners to continue delivering value and win in the new normal.

CRN: What are the biggest challenges that partners are dealing with right now, and how is Cisco helping partners navigate through the new normal?

Lulla: During this pandemic, helping our partners keep their workforces and customers safe and productive has been a top priority for Cisco. To make the transition to remote working easy and seamless, we have enabled free access to cloud-based offerings across our security and collaboration portfolios. Many of our partners are currently facing a slowdown in their cashflows and business. Through Cisco Capital, we hope to ease their financial burden by providing a broad range of flexible payment solutions to customers, allowing partners to receive payments on time. We have engaged with more than 400 partners over 150+ Cisco-led enablement collaboration sessions across India and the SAARC nations.

We have assisted our partner in creating offerings for secure work from home with our Webex and security platforms. Moreover, together with our partners, we have enabled our customers to migrate to remote home working quickly and safely.

We have also reassured our partners that their Cisco certifications, specialisations, and authorisations will not be impacted during this time, even if they are unable to complete their training or take exams.

CRN: What is your message to partners heading into a post-Covid-19 landscape?

Lulla: In this new decade, especially post-Covid, technology will be core to everything we do. This spells tremendous promise for new and renewed growth for partners. However, in order to tap into these growth areas, partners must look at digitising their operations to reduce costs and improve efficiencies. Additionally, as consumers become increasingly dispersed, distributed and digital, it is essential for partners to foster new skillsets to remain relevant. They must also look at pivoting their business models and building capabilities in managed services, everything-as-a-service, adoption services and custom-developed apps, which necessitates investing in a robust technology infrastructure.

Our efforts over the last few years have been focused on enabling our partners to develop digital solutions that offer an enhanced customer experienced, and we are well-positioned to help them capture the opportunities of the next normal.

CRN: How has the channel contributed to the growth of Webex and the collaboration business at large?

Lulla: Even before the pandemic, we were one of the world’s largest collaboration providers, supporting nearly half the world’s video conferencing. Due to the recent large-scale shift to remote work, we are now supporting three times the normal volumes. During this time, our partners have been staying close to their customers to help them reap the entire suite of benefits of Webex.

Along with our partners, we have been working on driving growth in the collaboration portfolio. The current crisis has led to the rise of digital, distributed enterprises for which seamless, secure, and high-end collaboration solutions will be integral to productivity, indicating significant opportunity for growth. Along with our partners, we will continue to scale our offerings and cater to these demands.

CRN: How is the Cisco channel business growing?

Lulla: Partners have always been central to our business strategy and core to who we are. Globally, we have over 62,000 partners, and approximately 85 percent of Cisco’s revenue goes through the channel. In India, our partners serve as the bridge to diverse and widespread customers across the country. For instance, digitizing small businesses – the bedrock of India’s economy – is one of our top priorities, especially post-Covid, and we’re working with our channel partners to amplify our reach across urban and semi-urban areas, where a majority of India’s small businesses operate.

We have been evolving our channel programs to allow partners to capture new markets, develop digital skillsets, and differentiate themselves in the market. As a part of this evolution, we have been dedicated to increasing partner value exchange to help them adapt to fast-moving market trends and customer needs while making it easier to work with Cisco.

CRN: Could you share some highlights on Cisco’s partner programs?

Lulla: Our partner programs are aimed at three key areas – recognising strengths, refreshing to digital, and moving to lifecycle and recurring revenue. The Cisco Black Belt program is a simplified enablement framework to help partner sales representatives and engineers understand Cisco’s competitive advantage and how our solutions stand against the competition. It is delivered in a virtual environment to provide scale, agility, and is on-demand for a self-paced experience. India currently has the highest adoption of the Black Belt program.

Similarly, the “X-sell” program arms partners with improved knowledge and skills through sales development practice and training in the partner’s region to help them create, lead, and drive sales.

We are also working with our partners to pair their capabilities with our architecture through the Practice Development program. This involves understanding the ecosystem within which they are operating to create solutions that they can take to the marketplace.

Another important part of enhancing our partners’ capabilities is assisting them in building their CX practice. We have been working with them to finetune their CX practices and become CX specialized. The CX specialisation for partners mirrors the capabilities of Cisco in terms of structure, process, and tools. Some of the updated CX portfolio includes BCS 3.0, Solution Support, Software Support, Cisco Managed Services.


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