Cisco’s salespeople are frustrated because they’re being pitted against each other

Image: "Issy-les-Moulineaux - Cisco Systems France" by corno.fulgur75 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Cisco Systems, the $230 billion-dollar San Jose technology giant, has been on an acquisition spree recently, acquiring 14 companies since January 2022 in an effort to stay competitive in an ever-changing market. That’s in addition to the 12 startups it gobbled up in 2018 and 2019.

But according to Insider, bringing in all that new technology, as well as the sellers with the expertise to explain it to buyers, has created a chaotic, and oftentimes confusing environment for Cisco’s customers and employees, most notably, their salespeople (who are the most important workers, of course).

Here’s what’s happening: 

  • Since 2018, Cisco has acquired 26 companies, including Kenna Security, Socio Labs, and ThousandEyes 
  • All those acquisitions have added a bunch of new and complex products to Cisco’s offerings that salespeople are expected to understand and sell 
  • Cisco is trying to grow it’s recurring revenue, so it’s bundling the dozens of new products into a single, subscription-based package 
  • Some salespeople are reporting that the complexity and confusion is costing them big deals, and that Cisco isn’t providing sales teams with enough support 
  • In addition to losing deals, salespeople are reportedly burning out, and some (including the ones quoted for the article) are moving on 

Product specialists, known as TSAs (technical-solutions-architects) are also adding to the chaos: 

  • TSAs are product specialists who sit in on customer meetings and provide detailed knowledge of specific Cisco products
  • TSAs are often former employees of the companies which Cisco acquired
  • But since their knowledge is hyper-focused, salespeople say that the TSAs are uninterested in anything outside of their specific area of expertise
  • Making things worse, the TSAs only earn commissions for the specific products they support, which means they have no incentive to learn any other products
  • This leaves some customers with the impression that Cisco is not as well-integrated as they claim 
  • Cisco says they’re in the process of reconfiguring these roles to give them broader purview (sounds like a good idea!) 

Different business units within Cisco compete against each other, with competing (and sometimes conflicting) revenue goals: 

  • Cisco’s business units are siloed 
  • This makes it difficult for salespeople to offer discounts to buyers of multiple products, since competing business units don’t want to sign off on its own product being offered at a discount 
  • Experts say that if Cisco wants to remain competitive, it needs to streamline its operations, and get everybody working together toward a common goal

To his credit, Cisco’s VP of Systems Engineering for the Americas, Eric Knipp, said that Cisco would provide training to their salespeople after major acquisitions. But, he added, the acquisitions put “very little burden” on salespeople because they complimented existing offerings. Sure, pal. Whatever you say. 

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