Networking giant Cisco Systems wants partners to come together.

They’re hoping to encourage collaboration by reseller partners with Cisco, with customers and with other partners. Collaborating with Cisco and with customers seems straightforward enough. But partner-to-partner collaboration is tricky.

Cisco last week announced the creation a portal site and program called the Partner Exchange, designed to help partners learn the fine art of partner-to-partner collaboration.

The partners with whom I spoke – both Canadian and U.S.-based – say they believe it will be difficult to collaborate with competing partners, especially in local markets or smaller geographies.

To his credit, Cisco worldwide channel chief Keith Goodwin, admitted as much, but he quickly added that it’s not impossible.

A couple of things have to happen. Each partner must bring a value proposition, have clearly defined roles and neither can be reselling the same products and services.

“Co-opetition” (cooperation and competition) between channel partners happens often. One partner many get together with a local competitor that has the requisite certifications or specializations needed for a business or IT solution, which they themselves may not possess.

The one missing piece is trust. Does partner A trust partner B? Probably not and the Partner Exchange portal site and program can’t build trust between partners. But Cisco can help by mandating that partnering partners provide their customer satisfaction scores, simply to ensure each is dealing with those of equal stature. That’s a solid foundation for a trusted relationship.

Cisco pays a great deal of attention to its customer satisfaction scores and this year Cisco partners averaged more than four out of five in customer satisfaction. Cisco pays out rebates for high customer satisfaction.

Trust is the one missing element in this ambitious partner partnering program. By at least knowing you’re working with a partner who cares as much about the customer as you do, Cisco resellers mitigate some of the risk in joining forces on common engagements. It’s a good place to start.

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