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Cisco SMB initiative includes unified communications and sales support

The new Cisco SMB initiative includes a package of SMB collaboration products as well as more extensive sales support for smaller market VARs. Will another Cisco SMB initiative work?

Cisco is making another attempt this year at beefing up its SMB business, launching a new partner support initiative and a couple of unified communications products aimed at smaller companies.

At the Cisco Partner Summit in New Orleans last week, Cisco CEO John Chambers said the company is not getting its “fair share” of the SMB market. Cisco has an 8% share of the $33 billion SMB market, Cisco execs said.

Over the years, Cisco partners have complained that the SMB partner programs and products were too complex and costly for small businesses. The new Cisco SMB initiative aims to address those complaints.

“The legacy business was geared toward the enterprise,” said Jason Waldrop, CEO of Cisco partner CWPS. The new gear is not a “skinnied down” enterprise product, but it is engineered to provide as many collaboration options as possible in a less complex package.

Sales support for Cisco SMB-focused partners

The new Cisco Partner Advisor sales support program is central to the new SMB initiative. Basically acknowledging that SMB-focused partners haven't necessarily received the same support as enterprise players, the program offers a click-to-chat or phone-based sales support service that will cover 24,000 Cisco Select and Registered partners in the U.S., Europe, emerging markets, Asia Pacific and Canada.

“We've been told by partners that they want to talk to a person when they have an issue,” said Andrew Sage, Cisco vice president of worldwide small business sales. “We've implemented a case management system, so when a partner comes with a question, they get a case number and that number perseveres until the case is closed.”

Cisco SMB unified communications products

Cisco's new collaboration products include the Cisco Unified Communications 300 Series for businesses of two to 24 users and the Cisco Unified Communications Manager 3000 which can support 300 users across 10 sites.

The 320W (the first in the 300 line) enables IP telephony, voicemail, auto attendant, voice-to-email notification, a 4-port Gigabit Ethernet switch, WAN connection and a built-in WLAN access point.

The Cisco Unified Communications Manager 3000 enables conferencing, voicemail, auto attendant, single-number reach and works with the new Cisco Unified SIP Phone 3905. The list price for the 3000 is $12,400 for 100 users, while the 300 is listed at $995 and comes with three-year, zero-percent financing from Cisco Capital.

Cisco promises the products are plug-and-play simple, which would seem to detract from the necessity for channel partners to offer extensive installation and maintenance services -- and form a services portfolio. But Laurent Silvestri, founder of Open IP, a French partner that  sells through an indirect channel of 700 resellers, said  “anything that takes less time” will enable partners to “maintain their level of margins,” especially in the French market, which has a very large number of SMBs.

Cisco adds hosted WebEx to the SMB collaboration effort

As part of the SMB push, Cisco will also make it possible for partners to resell the WebEx conferencing service on a subscription basis. Until now, Cisco partners worked on a referral model in which they passed along deals to Cisco, taking a commission. The latest business model will offer partners a recurring 21% margin annually.

Cisco expects the SMB channel to bundle WebEx with UC products, said Barry O'Sullivan, senior vice president of the Cisco Voice Technology Group.

Big vendors battle for little accounts, but with how much luck?

Cisco is only one of many large vendors who have recently launched SMB initiatives. Last week, Hewlett-Packard launched an SMB partner initiative called SMB Central, offering partners a one-stop support portal as well as $1,500 in market development funds per quarter. In February, IBM urged its partners to strategize in gaining SMB market share as well.

More problematic for Cisco than competition, this recent push isn't its first SMB initiative. Back in 2008, Cisco rolled its Linksys brand for small businesses into the main product line, launching products under the names Cisco Small Business and Cisco Small Business Pro with the promise that products would be better engineered for the needs of SMBs. That strategy clearly hasn't obtained huge SMB market share for Cisco.

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