In November 2018,  Ciena relaunched the Ciena Partner Network, featuring personalised engagement, joint planning and optimised partner marketing effectiveness. We spoke with Sara Atkinson, Ciena Marketing Director EMEA and Jay Jadeja Director, Ciena Partner Network,  to learn how CPN reinvention enabled new levels of partnership and transparency. 

What’s Ciena’s partner strategy objective?

Our primary goal is to improve partner experience – which should lead to differentiating Ciena from other brands through our partner relationships.  The past 6 months have validated our strategy.

How is CPN different?

Our partner programmes aren’t constructed around and determined by partner business models.  Nor do we believe in compelling partners to select from pre-defined programme frameworks. There is no one-size-fits-all; we believe that partners will be hybrid, utilising multiple business models.  When refreshing CPN we developed an ecosystem philosophy: joint business planning enables a collaborative approach, accommodating individual partner objectives. Expectations include producing a business plan and adhering to its objectives; undertaking training and development initiatives and contributing to regular check in and review sessions with the Ciena team.  Typical objectives might include, launching Ethernet services or entering a new geography. A mutually agreed plan improves a partner’s chance of success. 

The power of partnership

Dedicated partner managers are responsible for partner business planning and relationships.  All partners need a business plan along with marketing and training goals. There’s huge power in jointly agreeing objectives and what will make us successful. We do as much as we can do ensure firm plans are in place and then to track results. That sense of ownership engenders togetherness and all marketing activities are co-funded with partners. We work hard to develop a roadmap for shared success with each partner and live up to the promise that with Ciena  that partnering is  personal.

What about co-marketing and sales alignment?

Marketing is key for Ciena and has considerable influence over MDF investments. The team focuses on the development of individual marketing plans with joint involvement and commitments to pipeline generation. We put our partners first; we’re not prescriptive about brand dominance in our joint activities. 

Co-creation with partners? 

We co-create thought leadership across a huge range of content. When we work with partners taking new services to market, our subject matter experts create technical content and we also work with partners extending thought leadership across sales enablement materials and marketing assets (ranging from demand generation to collateral, sponsorship etc.).

Planning Processes and Tools

We’ve achieved 95% -100% compliance for business plans but we’re still searching for a single truly integrated solution offering a comprehensive individual partner view. While we await that cross discipline tech ‘nirvana’ we’re using a variety of tools to build a single partner dashboard as best we can. But frankly, old-fashioned spreadsheets are hard to beat! Sometimes sophisticated tools distract from shared business goals and stifle dialogue. We often revert to spreadsheets because they put people at ease and help them focus on what matters.

Continuous Training and Enablement

Ciena’s Sales and Design Academies have trained more than 120 partner teams, delivering thousands of hours of training (up 50% year on year). We go beyond vendor proprietary training by adding marketing and business modules. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we virtualised the CPN Live series;  and have offered interactive partner webinars covering multiple topics from technology, thought Leadership, potential impacts of COVID-19, remote working, etc. 

What about sales and marketing alignment?

It’s imperative that sales and marketing are joined at the hip and make transparency a top priority.  We see this divide eroding – our team understands the value of alignment and the last six months have reinforced this.  It’s no coincidence that our marketing and sales operations teams sit under the same umbrella.


We invest in making partners more successful. In North America we recently introduced a social platform audit across LinkedIn and Facebook to identify content gaps we can fill for partners.  We correlate elements of the partner journey, to enable ‘views’ of different phases of the relationship. We measure the impact on bookings of marketing campaigns, and engagements, collating touch points across the journey.  It’s not enough to have a single partner portal where partners find (or don’t) resources. We want to provide the right content for the right partners at the best time.

What’s next?

We’re working on  different ‘journey’ maps to build out sales enablement journeys (including Virtual Reality product demonstrations) and enable access to videos, surveys, and engaging resources.  Gamification can energise partner interactions and touchpoints.  Finding new ways to deliver and consume content, improving partner experience is a constant driver.  We want to try new approaches at the earliest stages, to lead rather than follow.

Ciena’s mission promises CPN aims to deliver on their promise to partners that “partnering is personal”, with a refreshing dedication to partner success combined with healthy doses of rigour and realism in equal measure.

Photo by David Marcu on Unsplash

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