In marketing, we often expect innovations to come about from applying a new product solution to an existing process. Innovations of the process itself are the exception, but they can be all the more powerful in the benefits a brand can gain. Cisco’s innovation of their partner nurture strategies, to create content virtual hubs, is a perfect example of the huge payoff that comes from re-engineering a process and taking on the risk of uncharted territory.
I was curious about parallels in nurture strategies between partner marketing and customer marketing and enjoyed leading the discussion during a recent webinar with Cisco’s JoAnn Tillman, Partner Omnichannel Strategy Lead, and Jeanne Quinn, Sr Manager, Partner Digital & Omnichannel Experience, along with Nick Edouard, co-Founder and Chief Product Officer of PathFactory.
Cisco’s 60,000 plus partner companies represent over 85% of revenue. And, their partner ecosystem is complex, consisting of resellers, installers, product support, partner educators, and creators of complementary products. Despite the wide variety, there was a shared need for easy access to the most relevant information. Cisco reinvented the way they delivered that information and I was excited to learn why they chose Oracle Eloqua Marketing Automation and how it supported their success.
Understanding the value of their partnerships, Cisco knew that nurture engagement would be key with their complex partner ecosystem. Jeanne explained that they really look at their partners as customers. In their case, it really was about enabling partners to be more successful and to do it in a targeted and strategic way.
So, four years ago when they set up Eloqua, it was very much about treating these partners like they're an extension of Cisco because they very much are. She added that they needed to treat these partners like they know them, and support them in a way that is most effective, given the role that they're playing within Cisco or within that partner.
The first key step of the transformation was setting up Eloqua to target partners based on roles or the various personas. JoAnn shared that they were tracking partners’ various motions, bookings data, marketing maturity stage and the support strategy they have with Cisco. Capturing all of these things was a perfect role for Eloqua.
Once I understood their partner ecosystem, I wondered about the scale of their internal stakeholders and how they addressed sharing their content to partners. JoAnn confirmed that they have hundreds of different organizations across the company, all that have something they need to share with partners to make them more effective.
These assets include training content, launch content, pricing updates, and program information and incentives that help partners maintain a profitable relationship with Cisco. Global Partner Marketing at Cisco is responsible for doing the matchmaking of all that information to the partners that need it.
Jeanne went on to explain that in some cases, it's the marketers who are the partners, and they need content that helps them to understand new marketing campaigns or demand generation services that are available. She added that with all of the stakeholders, all of the content at various phases of the life cycle, and all of the places that Cisco currently has content living, they thought they should try to aggregate that into one place. But they knew that a one-stop shop was not going to work. They reached the conclusion that they were too big and complex to centralize everything into one hub.
They were initially using email to target and segment their audiences and drive action. But this tactic became overwhelming for partners. They began hearing partner feedback that “Less is more” and “You're sending us too many emails”.
The team explained that they first focused on matching email communications to targeted audiences. But this did not address the overall content problem, namely that it originated from too large of a stakeholder group. They realized that putting rules in place to limit the number of emails was not the answer, yet sending a targeted email for every single piece of content that they needed to share was still bombarding their partners.
Cisco’s answer to working with 100+ content submitters and processing thousands of pieces of content was the creation of content virtual hubs, targeted for different partner types and partner job roles. Nick explained that the content virtual hub uses PathFactory to take content from all internal stakeholders and align and present it to the different audiences.
He said that they implemented a process making the content source and type agnostic, allowing Cisco to aggregate content from multiple sources and create links between assets that did not necessarily exist before or were not obvious. Adding to their quick ramp-up was the ability to utilize the pre-built Eloqua integrations with PathFactory. They also ran complementary personalized promotions on Cisco.com and a social media campaign to drive traffic to their PathFactory content tracks.
One of the overall benefits of the hubs is what the team describes as massive amounts of data that they get both from Eloqua and from PathFactory, and the insights that they draw from the data. As the Cisco team brings partners to the hubs, they are able to learn quite a bit about their partners’ engagement at the individual level, and this allows them to make better decisions on the kinds of content to place in the hub and continue to optimize.
Cisco knew that the potential benefits outweighed the risk of implementing a new process across a massive organization. They believed that if they could increase content engagement, they could get partners to engage with more content, and that would result in happier, better-educated partners and therefore more productive and profitable partners. Nick explains that PathFactory gave Cisco a way to easily remove friction, increase digital content engagement and track it—and action it using Eloqua CDOs.
In the initial stages of the project, Cisco used PathFactory to create initial individual Partner News Hubs for four personas by aggregating multiple types of content into a single easy-to-navigate hub. Nick added that it’s much like the Netflix home screen where you can see the image on the screen.
Rather than re-creating net new content, they leveraged content that had already been published on Cisco’s digital footprint, where it lives, without the expense and time needed to create a big website re-architecture. The process uses machine learning to optimize the experience for visitors based on their previous engagement, while also allowing them to easily self-direct their experiences via helpful tags, manually applied and AI-generated.
The architecture allows hub visitors to easily filter the experience to make it relevant for them over and above the recommendations that could be offered to them. Nick added that Cisco is now able to collect rich engagement data on each visitor, not just if they clicked on a core email, for example, but what the visitor actually did in the hub.
He goes on to mention how valuable this is because not all clicks are created equal. After collecting the visitor engagement data, they roll it up at the account level and the data is sent back into Eloqua. The process uses all of that data to serve up the right content to the right contacts in the right accounts at the right time. Nick then adds, “And that’s been a cliché’ in B2B marketing all the time I’ve been in B2B, which is going on 10 years, but we’re actually delivering on that now.”
With this innovation, Cisco is successfully creating impactful experiences for their partners. They are combining the hub data with activity data from other platforms and they are using Eloqua’s lead scoring engine to measure the impact on engagement as they make continuous improvements to their process. Since launch, they have seen a 12% increase in unique click-through rates, a 20% reduction in email sends, 46% more views of assets via hub versus email, and a 15% increase in the number of highly engaged partners.
I think Cisco’s successful execution of this strategy really solidifies its place as a top leader in Marketing Innovation. Cisco was awarded a Markie, The Thinker Award for best innovation in marketing. And it’s no surprise that Cisco partnered with PathFactory, who is also a strategic partner for Oracle. This year PathFactory received an inaugural Markie award for Visionary CX, ISV Partner of The Year.
I look forward to tracking the continued success of Cisco’s marketing innovations in partner engagement. This is definitely an amazing group of minds working together.