In my last post, I wrote about a conference call I had with Oracle, in which they talked about their strategy for the small and midsize business market. At the end, I said there would be another large-enterprise vendor talking about its new emphasis on small businesses. The vendor is Cisco, and the new emphasis seems like it has the potential to be important for the small business networking market.
I spoke with Mark Monday, vice president of marketing at Cisco, about the changes Cisco is making in their product line, their strategies, and their means of moving products from warehouse to customer. Put it all together, and it could make a real difference in the products you consider for your small-business network.
Cisco has just announced a new round of initiatives aimed at small businesses, which they define as companies with less than 100 employees. They’ve looked at the market in more detail as part of their commercial focus, and the outcome of their research isn't surprising: The small and midsize business market is very large (around $10B), and Cisco hasn't been getting as much market share as they thought they could. Why is that? Well, Cisco has a reputation for building hardware that is enterprise-ready but hard to deploy and manage. A small business owner can solve that by hiring a VAR or integrator to do the installation and maintenance, but the reputation, once again, is that Cisco channel partners (the VARS and integrators selling Cisco gear) charge a lot for their services because they've had to eat such a large up-front learning curve. It's not an overall reputation that leads to a lot of small-business sales.
Cisco has decided to address their problems in reaching people who buy network equipment for small businesses by doing four things. First, the company created a new technology group focused on building products and solutions for the small business market. (Mark runs one of the business units within the group.) Second, Cisco created a new marketing focus and assigned a VP for small business marketing. Third, they're creating a new presence/community on the Web for resellers and customers. This community-based approach isn't unique, but it's interesting to see Cisco leaning more heavily on the community of users and resellers to help build confidence in small business technical and purchasing folks. As part of all the marketing and community-based activity, they’re also refocusing a small business sales unit, complete with a VP. The fourth thing is they're looking at how they’re supporting the small businesses and partners and creating the STAC (Small business Technical Assistance Center). They recognize that supporting the small business is different than supporting the enterprise IT person.