After honing the number of its VARs in Canada, Cisco Systems has created a new program to add more resellers focusing on selling security solutions to small and medium businesses.

The networking company this week announced the Security VPN/Firewall Express Specialization, a badge smaller

partners can earn by training as few as two Cisco specialists on its security products.

At the same time, it sweetened its Opportunity Incentive Program (OIP) with new learning credits, leasing options and lead generation opportunities. While these are open to all Cisco partners, it’s hoped they will be an additional lure for small or boutique resellers to join the Security Express program.

“”Canadian resellers that typically are not involved in Cisco security in small and medium businesses now have a great opportunity to get trained and build out a security practice,”” said Steve Simmons, Cisco Canada’s vice-president of channel operations.

“”Now if I’m a small or mid-sized reseller I can look at Cisco and say it’s helping me build my security practice.””

Of the 1,500 Cisco resellers in the country, Simmons estimates only about two dozen are small enough to qualify for the Security Express specialization. But he hopes that new recruits will boost number.

Until now Cisco specializations required registered partners to have at least two pre-sales and two sales technicians to be take its certification programs. However, for the Express program a reseller needs only one trained technician and one sales staffer is required. Training is limited to VPN and firewall products for SMB customers.

The purpose of the Express designation is to let these Cisco partners tell customers in smaller markets they are security experts, said Alex Thurber, Cisco’s director of security products for worldwide channels.

“”Maybe I’m [a VAR] in Manitoba or Northern British Columbia and there’s not enough opportunity to have two or three engineers,”” he explained. “”Instead I need to focus on the other smaller businesses in my market.

“”Now you have the opportunity to do that and still be Cisco specialized.””

“”We’re going to be marketing this heavily to attract new partners,”” said Simmons.

That’s ironic, because in the past few years the number of Cisco VARs has dropped as the company increased its certification standards.

“”It wasn’t us pruning”” resellers, said Simmons, “”it was us increasing the bar.””

However, he added, as Cisco increases the number of its products aimed at small and medium customers the company needs more partners specializing in those markets.

Security Express is the latest of the Express specializations created by the company.

It also announced enhancements to the five-month old OIP program. To help partners selling security solutions it’s giving additional credits for its training programs, enhanced leasing rates as low as zero percent and preferential treatment for leads generated by Cisco’s sales team.

While OIP benefits are available to all Cisco partners, the company wants to get the word out that they are also for those who qualify for the Express specialization.

For example, Simmons said, Cisco will designate several Express partners in a region or city who – through the investments they’ve made in training and work – to give priority on leads.

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