As Cisco’s VP of Global Partner and Commercial Marketing, Michelle Chiantera has the awesome responsibility of fueling digital transformation across more than 62,000 Cisco partners worldwide, providing them with a marketing engine that drives customer success, growth, and profitability. With 18 years of experience in partner marketing, Michelle spoke with us about the value of stepping outside one’s comfort zone and why “let’s digitize everything” is not a channel strategy.
Q: What are the major factors you see impacting partner strategy today?
A: The biggest is marketing, which has drastically shifted in our industry. With technology evolving to a pay-as-you-go subscription model and becoming more software focused, there are new ways to consume and interact, which has changed how we sell and market. Customer preferences and behaviors are also driving this shift. They want to do their due diligence online, talk within their communities before they purchase, and engage with vendors and partners digitally. As this transformation in marketing happens, we have to help our partners evolve to align with the changing market.
Q: With such a massive partner network, how does Cisco make its partner programs applicable to everyone?
A: Our partner program is not one size fits all. We really invest in our partners and provide support based on where they are at on their marketing journey. To better personalize partner engagement, we’ve identified four partner personas. At the far end of the spectrum, we have partners that are super sophisticated in marketing. They’re modernizing and making big investments. On the other end of that spectrum, we have partners who haven’t prioritized marketing. And we have two ranges of partners that fall somewhere in between. Every partner is important to Cisco; we’ve just got to help them in the right way at the right time and work to advance them digitally. For the partners that are long-lived hardware sellers, a marketer can’t just come in and say, “Let’s digitize everything!” We have to encourage change in a way that is impactful to their business and provide the education and the activation that best meets their needs.
Q: Do you have any advice for the smaller or more traditional-minded partners that fear they lack the expertise or resources to embrace digital?
A: I always advise these types of partners to not be intimidated by digital because it can actually be the great equalizer. Anyone can use digital to their advantage. Anyone can get out there and be present in social channels without spending a dime. It’s about engaging your customers where they are at now and the way they are buying. Marketing has become borderless in business. Every person in the company is a marketer. And with digital, partners can automate many of the tasks that have historically been very people-centric.
Q: What do you think has accelerated your career success?
A: A big part of my career trajectory has been based on risk-taking. If you are raising your hand for projects or roles that you know pretty well, you’re selling yourself short. What I’ve done throughout my career, which can come at the expense of potentially not succeeding, is take on things that are new to me. I might not always be wildly successful, but I show up, and I’m constantly learning. As a result, I’ve become somebody that can easily adapt to different roles and situations. I’ve been in marketing my entire career and have spent the last 14 years in partner marketing. But I don’t want to be called the “channel chick.” I have the capability and capacity to do much more.
Q: What advice would you like to pass on for future Women Who Make it Happen in the Channel Series who want to grow their career?
A: I think we often can get caught up in our job function, whether it’s marketing, sales or engineering. If you want to build a career in the channel, you have to remember that you are dealing with people that run businesses. So really understanding the business, the industry, and the technology from a business perspective is very important. Partners want to create and grow successful and profitable companies. Coming to the table with a much broader view versus just your function is where you’re going to build a deeper relationship, create more value, and become a truly trusted advisor.
Q: Tell me something unique about your leadership style.
A: I really appreciate the value of diversity. In our industry, we often want to hire people that have relevant experience. In some cases that’s the right thing to do, but particularly with of all the changes I’ve mentioned, bringing somebody in from another industry or discipline – or another part of the world — can lend a different perspective that can really allow the business to evolve. There is a huge advantage to bringing people with different skill sets and vantage points into the team, and it can change the mindset for the better.
Q: Lastly, how are you helping carve the path for other women in the channel?
A: I’ve had amazing sponsors, mentors, and advocates and one of the things I practice is to pay it forward. If anyone, male or female, comes to me and asks for my perspective, I will always take the call. I don’t care who it is. I don’t care if they’re outside of Cisco. That, to me, is really important because so many people have taken my call. I actually block out times on my calendar every week to do outreach with people I mentor, advocate, or sponsor, and to take new calls that may come my way. This network consists of people in entry-level positions as well as those who are my peers. I learn a lot along the way, too. The collaboration gives me new perspectives, which is so important to better understand the industry as a whole.
This is the second of a four-part series focused on three trailblazing women who are transforming the channel. Go here for the first blog post.