Cisco, a leading enterprise networking Goliath, today announced a $100 million global strategy designed to develop technologies and products for small business with less than 100 employees. The initiative involves organizational restructuring that includes creating both a Small Business Technology Group and a Small Business Council to direct and implement the strategy.
Tasked with developing new technologies, the SBTG will focus on six different categories that, according to Cisco, small business owners repeatedly rank as top priorities. They include connectivity, security, remote access, productivity, customer interaction and customer support.
Cisco created the Small Business Council to administer the company's SMB strategy. Sue Bostrom, chief marketing officer and executive vice president, heads the Council, which also includes Keith Goodwin, senior vice president of worldwide channels, and Ian Pennell, senior vice president of the Small Business Technology Group.
According to Mark Monday, Cisco's vice president of marketing, the company has a history of doing well in the small business market, but not well enough. "We were generating about one billion dollars a year in revenue from small businesses with less than 100 employees," he said.
The company, however, rates the total value of the SMB networking and communications products and services market at $16 billion in 2009. Cisco estimates that $10 billion of that figure comes from companies with fewer than 100 employees.
"This is a great opportunity to approach small businesses in a way that's more committed than opportunistic," said Monday. "Previously we got that business by chance rather than by direction."
The new focus will combine sales, marketing, service and technology groups working on products and services for this segment of the SMB market. Cisco plans a dedicated partner strategy, specialized marketing programs and customized service and support, including a worldwide call center operation.
The company plans to organize the products into two family groups. First is Cisco Small Business, designed for companies with less tech-intensive needs. Monday said this group might include do-it-yourselfers and people who may be inclined to buy IT products off the shelf.
The second group, Cisco for Small Business Pro, is designed for companies with more sophisticated technology needs that require the services of a VAR or service provider. "The division between the two groups is based along technology needs rather than the actual size of the company," said Monday.
The first products, due to begin rolling out in December, will focus on video surveillance, data storage and wireless office communications, the company said.
Cisco said it plans to spend part of its $100 million investment on programs that deliver support to small business customers. These include:
The Small Business Support Center: dedicated call centers in South Carolina and around the world to provide SMBs with technical support in English, Dutch, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Polish, Korean, Mandarin, Portuguese and Arabic.
The Small Business Support Community: an online, collaborative space where Cisco partners and customers can share their knowledge about small business networking and communications.
Cisco Small Business Web Site: the new site features tools to help customers find and chat live with local sales partners to help them customize, install and support their Cisco products.
Monday said that the sole purpose of the new support centers is to provide phone support and technical services for small businesses and the Cisco partners that support them.
"The techs are trained in supporting the specific needs of small businesses," he said. He also noted that the company has certified more than 9,000 Cisco partners through its Select program for small business specialists.
Lauren Simonds is the managing editor of SmallBusinessComputing.com
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