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Tune in for an all-new episode of the Conquer Local Podcast to learn about Managed Service Providers with Michelle Ragusa-McBain, a highly-visible thought leader in the global technology channel and serves as Provider Elevate Leader for the Global Partner Organization at Cisco.
Michelle’s mission is to help MSPs elevate and succeed via a partnership with Cisco solutions and the Provider Elevate community. Entrepreneur Magazine named her as one of the top 4 people to inspire women to pursue a career in Tech, and SMB Magazine recognized her as one of the 150 most influential people in the global IT Business Community. CompTIA named her Advancing Women in Technology Leader 2021, and Channel Futures awarded her the Circle of Excellence for Channel Leadership & Innovation and DE&I 101 award and recipient of the prestigious Cisco Worldwide Innovation and Growth Award.
Michelle keynoted at the largest and most influential technology conferences globally including Channel Partners, CRN, CompTIA, IT Nation, and Kaseya. Michelle serves as Chair Emeritus of Advancing Women in Technology for CompTIA, sat on the board of CRN’s Women of the Channel, is Co-Founder of Tech Worlds Half non-profit; a longstanding member of the National Women in Technology Group, and most recently serves as Florida Leader for Alliance of Channel Women.
In her free time, she is a passionate advocate for Women, Diversity, and Inclusion in Technology and enjoys traveling the world with her husband Jay McBain and daughters Brooklyn and Cali with 85 countries and 6 continents to date, or spending time with her fur kids- Husky Auggie Doggy and Calico Kitten Luna Meow.
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Elevate your Business with Managed Service Providers
George: This is the Conquer Local podcast, a show about billion-dollar sales leaders, marketers leading local economic growth, and entrepreneurs that have created their dream organizations. They wanna share their secrets, giving you the distilled version of their extraordinary feats. Our hope is with the tangible takeaways from each episode, you can rewire, rework, and reimagine your business. I’m George Leith, and on this episode, we welcome Michelle Ragusa-McBain. Michelle is a highly visible thought leader in the global technology channel. She serves as Provider Elevate Leader for the global partner organization at Cisco. Her mission is to help MSPs elevate and succeed through partnership with Cisco Solutions and the Provider Elevate community. Entrepreneur Magazine named her as one of the top four people to inspire women to pursue a career in technology. And SMB Magazine recognized her as one of the 150 most influential people in the global IT business community. CompTIA named her advancing woman in technology leader in 2021, and Channel Futures awarded her the circle of excellence for channel leadership and innovation, and DE&I 101 award winner. She’s also the recipient of the prestigious Cisco Worldwide Innovation and Growth Award. Michelle is a passionate advocate for women, diversity, and inclusion in technology, and is the co-founder of Tech World’s Half nonprofit, a longstanding member of the National Women and Technology Group, and most recently she serves as Florida’s Leader for Alliance of Channel Women. I’m super excited to have my friend Michelle on the show this week. Get ready, conquerors. Michelle Ragusa-McBain is coming up next on the Conquer Local podcast.
George: Finally, I get to welcome Michelle Ragusa-McBain to the show. Hello, Michelle, I’m so glad we were finally able to make this work.
Michelle: Hi, George. It is absolutely my pleasure. I’m excited to join you today.
George: You know, we’ve known each other for a number of years and excited to be working with you and your role at Cisco, but I’d love to hear from you. We kind of covered it in the intro, but I’d love to hear from you what is the role that you’ve taken on with Cisco company?
Michelle: Absolutely. So it’s sort of a coming home, which is interesting for me. I’ve been at Cisco now for 14 years as a boomerang, I say. So I was there for 13 years, starting in 2005. I began as an engineer, went into sales, did a lot of different things with global distribution and commercial and enterprise and public sector and telco. Pretty much the gamut that you could do at a company like Cisco. And I left for a few years and I’ve returned to take on a new role called Provider Elevate Leader globally for the global partner routes to market sales organization. And so what that means in simpler terms, I know everybody has acronym soup in the technology channel, is my goal is to help elevate SMB managed service providers around the world with Cisco, make it easier and simpler to do business with us, and help make them more money, more revenue, more enablement and engagement through selling our various architectures in our better together story.
George: So I had the pleasure of working with Michelle 3 years ago when we started to enter into the IT channel at Vendasta and started working with managed service providers. And then we were lucky enough to add Andrew Down to the team and he’s really taken it to the next level. But I remember in some of those early conversations that you and I were having, as Vendasta’s goal was to bring more technology vendors into our ecosystem because we’ve got that very large group of channel resellers that are servicing businesses all over the world. We have our focus, our slogan of conquering local, that passion for local businesses and helping them get the technology, whether it be software or hardware, that was one of the big dreams and the services needed to make all of that work. And you know, one of those goals was to bring more technology vendors into that ecosystem. So fast forward to today and in your new role, I love that mission of elevating the managed service providers to work with local businesses. It’s a pretty noble mission.
Michelle: Well, I had the great fortune in my between period of working at Cisco of being a consultant, as you know. And in that time I spent many hours working with some of the distributors that we know and love and many of the key vendors and their MSPs. And I really fell in love with this group of people. Honestly, they’re entrepreneurs, they’re gritty, they’re passionate, they usually start as technicians and their goal is to really put food on their table, to build a company that can support small to medium businesses where they can be trusted advisors to people who don’t need to worry about technology. They can keep them up and running, they can keep them secure and connected and they can really give them peace of mind. And so in this virtual CIO world, especially during life-changing instances like the COVID pandemic, for example, the huge cyber attacks that have been happening, the war in Ukraine, there’s many, many things that are happening that impact the global economy and the local economy. And these businesses were forced, many of them to do differently how they conducted business. They had to reimagine their people and their process and their technology. And that’s where MSPs came in. And so the goal wasn’t just let me onboard manage service providers because obviously Cisco’s been a very partner-driven company for 38 years. We have very many loyal partners and quality products and solutions, but how do we enable this tier of partners, which is very different than a traditional large enterprise vendor does in any space. So how do we get to know what’s important to them, which is what’s important to a large company isn’t important to Larry or Loretta in a white van. Like I say that as a joke, but it’s true. Their needs are different, their competencies are different, their capabilities are different. Who they support, what verticals, is it manufacturing or retail or healthcare or education or professional services, and the local mom-and-pop shops, they are there for all of those local businesses. And the way that we help enable and onboard and engage and accelerate with them has to be very different than how we’ve traditionally done business as well. So I sort of feel like it’s a usually beneficial endeavor. We help enable them, they help enable their end customer, and together we elevate.
George: So what would be some of the key components that you’ve been bringing forward based on all those learnings? Because you’re right, it is a different game. Those managed service providers are usually in smaller markets. They’re servicing 10, 15, 20, 25 customers. What are some of the strategies that you’ve been putting in place to make them successful?
Michelle: Absolutely, no, great question. And I will say that small to medium business and managed service provider has seen rapid growth at Cisco. In fact, small to medium business is our fastest growing market at 64% year over year, which is amazing. And it’s thanks to leaders like Andrew Sage and Alexandra Zagury, and Oliver Tuszik, we’ve been able to really facilitate and foster and invest in these partners and their success. So some of the things that we’re doing is creating new offers exclusively for small to medium businesses. So looking at our architecture counterparts, how do we get them things, bundles in the Meraki space, in the duo umbrella space, in all of those different architectures which help enable their businesses to be successful. The second piece of that is how do we get them to better and build their business? And a lot of the times we do that through MDF dollars and that’s where companies like Vendasta comes in handy for us. And we’re so thankful for the partnership because we were seeing a lack of traction in MDF utilization. We were at very, very low numbers in the under 10% category. And part of that we had to evaluate, is there an awareness, is there an education? Is there the right process or opportunity or partners in that space that are helping them with knowledge and expertise and the right things to make their business successful? And so we did a pilot with Vendasta, which got us from 8% to 32% utilization of MDF in the first quarter. And by the second quarter, we were rearing closer to 64% utilization of MDF, largely because of Vendasta solutions, helping them with their website and SEO and how they go to market and things that really are very unique and different for partners of this size. And so, when you look at MDF dollars for bigger vendors or bigger managed service providers like CDW and Presidio, they have huge teams invested into their success. But a small MSP, they don’t necessarily have the right or the same resources. And so partnering with key strategic vendors like yourself has really helped us facilitate the gaps in where their businesses are today and where we can help take them together. And that’s seen tremendous positive feedback. And so we’re excited to continue working with companies such as yours. And in addition to that, we also are working on marketing enablement. A lot of our partners, we know that MSPs in my consultant work were not known for marketing. They’re really good technicians, they’re really good sales leaders, they’re really good strategists. But when it comes to marketing their business, which in a digital normal is very important, it really is contingent on how can they leverage those marketing dollars and our marketing strategies, demand generation campaigns, et cetera, to help enable and empower their success. So those are some of the sneak peeks in what we’re doing.
George: I think it was pretty cool though because one of the things that when you and I were discussing this space in your consulting role was that the playbooks weren’t there. It wasn’t easy for those folks to be able to run a demand gen campaign, upgrade their website, and I like to go back in the past because sometimes that teaches us, I remember when I started hitting my targets selling radio back 30 some odd years ago was when I became a co-op dollar expert. So for all of our sales professionals on the call that are in the media space, you know that there are providers that have co-op dollars and I’m gonna use John Deere because I happen to have a meeting with the CEO of a John Deere dealer last week. And you know, if you use the right ad copy, if you run the right ad script, if you run the right billboard, John Deere will give you some of that money back. So when you’re talking market development funds, that’s co-op dollars on the salesperson’s side. But correct me if I’m wrong, I think that one of the reasons there’s been that level of success is that it’s a do-it-for-me. Like everything is done for the managed service provider because those dollars were always there, they just weren’t utilizing them.
Michelle: Right, yeah, absolutely. There’s two types of ways that partners of all sizes wanna receive it. It’s do it with me or do in advance and I’ll leverage your package and figure it out on my own or do it for me and really help me enable because I have gaps. And just as those MSPs are the people that are guiding their customers on their journey, why not use a specialist who understands it better than they do that can help them and then they don’t have to worry about it and spend time out of their day, which is precious. And you’re wearing many hats as you’re becoming a managed service provider and running a small to medium business that you just don’t need one more thing. If there’s somebody that can do it, empower the right people with the right tools at the right time.
George: And I also think that CFOs of organizations that are putting millions of dollars into marketing budgets are probably happy to see the money being spent on new innovative digital tactics rather than fidget spinners and another T-shirt and another steak dinner. That is where that money was leaning, right?
Michelle: Yeah, absolutely. I mean that is, you’re spot on. There was this element of people were doing the same things that have always been done. And so I challenged the team and they were very, very wonderful. They came to our advisory council meetings. That’s another example. I wanna take a moment to call out any partner and vendor, all the MSPs that have been a part of our advisory council. They volunteer and they give precious time out of their schedule once a month where we meet and we don’t just read things at them, but we ask them for their feedback. We don’t wanna operate in a vacuum and we say, what’s working, what doesn’t? How can we help you? What do you need from Cisco to help you improve? And this was one of the things that came out of it was the MDF dollars, the awareness. We need different things because we’re different types of partners. And so by result, we were able to put in the right people based upon those conversations. What are their needs? How do they wanna enable their success? And you know, MDF packages are kind of stagnant. It’s funny, even in technology we say that the only thing constant is change. And yet people are so hard to change programs that have existed for many, many years, but sometimes, especially when you’re building a new route to market, you require new ideas and new companies to partner with. And so we’ve had tremendous success exploring that option and I look forward to continuing to drive that for many, many partners around the world.
George: I’m not sure if you’re able to do this, but I have long known Cisco to be one of the most innovative companies on the planet, and I’m a big fan of John Chambers, former CEO, love his book “Connecting the Dots.” Roy Pereira, who is now with us through the calendar hero acquisition, worked at Cisco for a number of years. You’ve been there for 14 years on the Boomerang run. What’s the future hold for Cisco? Because you’re a very innovative organization and usually a little ahead of the curve. Can you share any of the things that are coming in the future?
Michelle: Yeah, I can tell you some of the most important investments we’re making from leadership down is very strategically you can see a rise in security in our space. Obviously, that is a huge opportunity for us right now as well. Looking at the landscape, 73% according to CompTIA of managed service providers want to become MSSPs. So managed service security specialists because of the overwhelming opportunity and need that exists, there was a cyber attack every 39 seconds, a ransomware attack every 14 seconds. And so there’s this tremendous shift. And so traditionally people think of Cisco as a very large networking company, maybe a collaboration company as well, but they don’t always think of us as security. And what’s really amazing about that is we’re one of the top three security companies in the world. We are ranked very highly according to many of the analysts and research groups, but also we use Talos. And Talos is the center of our threat detection, prevention, intervention, and education. So from governments around the world, down to local, small to medium businesses, all of this technology is embedded and enabled in all of our devices, whether it’s Meraki IoT or Networking Gear, or if it’s our new secure center, which we’ve launched through Umbrella and in the future duo, these are very big acquisitions that we’ve made strategically to get into this space even deeper and help support our partners even more. Another example would be the new secure center, which we launched in November of last year. Very different than a traditional Cisco process. It’s almost like a marketplace, credit card only, easy enrollment, rapid speed of deployment, and cancel at any time. So examples like this are ways that we’re innovating our software as a service, our subscription consumption model. And really right now, as a $50 billion revenue company, a third of our revenue came through software. So that says a lot about how a 38-year-old company with over 237 acquisitions has kind of blended together this perfect song of different technologies and security and networking and collaboration moving towards subscription consumption, say that three times fast, and enabling growth and acceleration in that space. But I wanna also add that we are double clicking on managed service providers and small to medium business growth. So that is specifically where I sit and I’m very excited. It is our fastest growth area as a company and we’re spending a lot of time and investment in that space.
George: Michelle, you’ve been enormously successful in your career. You were named as one of the top four people to inspire women to pursue a career in tech by Entrepreneur Magazine. You also were recognized by a small-medium business magazine as one of the 150 most influential people in the global IT business community. And I know that you are super passionate about women in tech and I’ve actually watched you speak to a group at one of the conventions. Our audience on this show is global. We’ve got sales professionals, we’ve got IT professionals, managed service providers. I’m sure we have lots of women that listen to the show as well. What advice could you give women that are considering moving deeper into a career in tech based upon your longstanding successful career?
Michelle: Thank you very much. Yeah, I mean, for me personally, I could not have done it without a support system. My tribe, as I call it, I think women and men supporting each other is very pivotal and relationships are key to this business and the technology channel. And in any business really, I think it’s a very important part. So I think there’s three things that I would say. One, careers and technology are wonderful opportunities. There’s lucrative careers. You have mobility where you can work remotely or telecommute or travel around the world. You have the ability, I mean, we work for a company that sells technology that enables this, right? So I’ve been working remote long before it was a requirement. And I do think that there’s ability, especially as you become, if you become a family or you have work-life balance or integration as I call it, you wanna make sure that you have an employer that supports those things that are important for many women, such as time with your family and philanthropic opportunities or taking care of aging parents. And that’s also true for men. It’s not just gender specific. So I think everybody needs a culture, especially in what we just went through, the great resignation, the quiet quitting. You wanna make sure that you feel like you’re a part of something bigger that helps you succeed. But I do think that mentorship is very pivotal, and I’m gonna call attention to a survey that Sheryl Sandberg did with LeanIn.org, which said, after the me too movement, 73% of men felt uncomfortable mentoring women. And so that is a huge problem because majority of times men are in positions of leadership, venture capital, and angel investment, C-level VPs. And without the right support to grow a diverse bench, you are gonna have a deficit. So I would say mentorship matters, men and women, we need to help enable growth of the next generation. And we need to not only attract women, but we need to retain and support them and help them grow. We still see a gap in pay. So equal pay for equal work, a lot of women tend not to apply for a role because they wanna have 10 out of 10 of the criteria where men will have five of 10 and throw their hat in the ring and get the job. And men tend to require different compensation. They have those hard-hitting conversations. So if you’re a mentor, let’s have those hard-hitting conversations and enable the success so that we can all rise together.
George: You know, the reason why I like to ask a question, and it’s a bit of a minefield for an old white guy to ask question like that, but I feel that in our organization when we built Vendasta from the ground up over the last 15 years, where we really started to take off as a company was when there wasn’t this massive divide between men and women. And it was tough because software, writing software is a lot of dudes that go into computer science and now we’re seeing more and more women in that space. But then we had sales positions and account management positions and onboarding and customer support and marketing. And the minute that those two components where it wasn’t so heavy as a boys club, that was when the magic really started to happen because you had that level of diversity. Now I could even go into the global diversity of all the people that we have working here from different countries and you know, but it really builds out an organization that has balance and by the way, our customers are diverse, so if we’re going to relate to the customer, we need that level of diversity. So thank you for sharing that. I know it’s something that you’re very passionate about. Now, you are my favorite McBain and you could tell your husband that because we did have Jay on the show here a while ago.
Michelle: I will.
George: I do know that you both are a power couple in the IT space and you and I, I don’t even know how the hell you do it because you got a family and you guys are very active with your family and you’re traveling and you’re speaking and you’re doing podcasts like this, and how do you guys keep it all on the rails with these two amazing careers that you have, your amazing family, and the giving back that you both do? Like you must be two of the busiest humans on earth.
Michelle: Thank you so much. Well, one, we don’t sleep much, although Jay sleeps more than I do. But I do think that there’s a few things that go into it. One, like any relationship, any partnership, you ebb and flow. There are times where one of us is more busy than the other and you kind of compensate and pick up the slack in challenging times. You have to realize that we have small children, eight and six, and so those children did not ask to be here. So we have requirements to make sure that they’re taken care of and fed and they get to school and that we support them and love them and give them everything they need to grow into good humans and adults. So in order to do that, we live by example. We try to always be good people and philanthropic people and take them places when and if we can, another way we do that is to make sure that we do take vacation time because that’s something very important to us. So our children will have almost been to all seven continents, which is pretty insane for some people because they’re so young. But for us, we want to expose them, because to your point, diversity of thought matters, right? Different people, religion, culture, language, and traditions. We want them to have a sense of how lucky we are, but also how much is important to give back to those in need. And so that’s a very big thing that’s a kind of the foundation and bedrock of our relationship. And then it’s just an ebb and flow. So you sort of tag team and support and cheer each other on. You have to remember that at the end of the day, we’re still friends. We may be married and we may be partners, but I think my husband is my best friend and I’m very grateful that he supports me and I can support him in return.
George: Well, I always love learning from folks that are doing it right. And it’s interesting you bring up the taking the kids on those trips. I was having dinner with a CEO friend of mine in South Africa here a couple of months back and he told me that in his contract negotiations, one of the things that he asked for was the ability to take his family if he was traveling, because he spends a lot of time on the road working with investors and various functions of the business. And it’s not something that you think about when you’re negotiating a contract is the ability to bring the family. But imagine how that helps the work-life balance. If it’s not the one partner is away at a conference and it’s not, he said it’s not all the time, but the ability to do a little bit of that then makes it easier to have that work-life balance. So it’s pretty cool to hear those types of scenarios for folks that may be in the middle of negotiating a new contract or moving to a new position to see that this is starting to become more the norm in progressive organizations. So thank you for sharing that and we really appreciate your time. I know that you guys are super busy and I’m very jealous that you’re gonna get to touch Antarctica. Enjoy the trip, be safe. It’s a bucket list thing of mine. I’m super jealous. But Michelle, it’s taken us a while to get it online here, but I really appreciate finally having you on the show. And we’re gonna put all of Michelle’s contact information, she produces a ton of great content in the show notes. And Michelle Ragusa-McBain, my favorite McBain finally on the Conquer Local podcast. Thanks for your time.
Michelle: Twice! So now it’s real. I love it, George, thank you so much. I appreciate you and your time as well and I look forward to continuing the Vendasta-Cisco relationship.
George: It was a pleasure speaking with Michelle Ragusa-McBain. She is a true powerhouse in the MSP space. As Michelle mentioned, there’s a lot of things happening in business today. It’s impacting the local and global economy. Managed service providers step in and their goal isn’t to onboard customers, but to continue to be partner driven and deliver products and solutions to their clients. Michelle talked about managed service providers partnering with key strategic vendors and that will help them to expand by fulfilling their clients’ products and digital solutions needs. If you liked Michelle Ragusa-McBain’s episode, discussing thought Leadership in Global Tech, let’s continue this conversation. Check out these episodes, 411, The Channel Software Tech Stack with Jay McBain, 436, Your Tech Stack Increases Valuation by 6 to 7x with James Ciuffetelli. Please subscribe and leave us a review wherever you listen to your podcast. And thanks for joining us this week on the Conquer Local podcast. My name is George Leith. I’ll see you when I see you.