Cisco and Microsoft deal again

Cisco and Microsoft are extending their strategic alliance into the SMB space by integrating customer relationship management solutions that Cisco says will not only create incremental brand awareness in the market but provide leads and wins for the channel.

The combined technologies, which include the Cisco Unified CRM Connector 3.0 and Microsoft’s Dynamics CRM 3.0, allow users access to customer information on both inbound and outbound calls.

By automatically linking into the Microsoft application, the Cisco Unified Connector 3.0 populates related call information including a record of all previous communications, past and current purchases, sales and billing information and order status.

“Our relationship with Microsoft goes back seven, eight years. But it’s been very enterprise focused from a technology and marketing standpoint,” said Peter Ruh, director of worldwide commercial marketing at Cisco. In the last two years, Ruh added, both companies have focused on the SMB opportunity, which has led to more developments around CRM applications for both Microsoft and Cisco IP communications (IPC).

“We feel from listening to end users and channel partners that this is a technology marriage made in heaven,” he said. “These technologies truly enhance each other and SMBs are very focused on growing their customer base and adopting tools like CRM to do that.”

A new feature on Cisco’s CRM Connector now also enables customer information to be pushed to Cisco Unified IP phone displays. This capability, said Ruh, will allow a person in shipping, for example, who may not have a laptop or desktop computer, to retrieve top level customer shipping information from the phone’s display.

“Seventy per cent of all customer touch points still happen on the phone, even in a multi-channel environment,” said Brian McDonald, senior marketing manager for worldwide commercial marketing at Cisco. “That’s where we thought we could help by integrating Cisco IP communications with Microsoft CRM 3.0.”

To help drive the solution to SMBs, Cisco and Microsoft have also formed an integrated route to market. According to Ruh, a small group of U.S. resellers that have both a CRM and IPC practice have aggressively been taking the combined technologies to market for the last 18 months. “But that’s not the norm, CRM practice is very distinct and different from network infrastructure,” he said. “The key we have built in the last two years is how do we get the CRM gold VAR and the right Cisco IPC VAR together in every city, trained and ready to address the opportunity.”

To facilitate the matchmaking, the companies collaborated on a new channel initiative bringing Microsoft and Cisco partners together. The FastStart partner program includes a self-service Web site (www.ciscomicrosoftsmb.com) with resources to help partners locate other resellers as well as download sales tools and presentations, marketing campaign kits, end-user content, seminar guides and partner agreement forms.

“We estimate an additional 20 per cent increase in revenue is created for both partners when working together to deliver a business solution for SMB customers,” said McDonald. “This gives partners the ability to get some incremental revenue in services beyond just the sale of a CRM seat.”

IDC channel analyst Dave Martin said both companies do a good job informing partners and giving them the opportunity to succeed. But, he added, it’s a question of maintaining that work ethic with partners and getting the right messages out.

“This is a legitimate alliance that aligns itself to a real solution that can be very well received in the SMB market,” said Martin. “It’s a practical solution that solves problems targeted at a specific market size.”

One of the biggest benefits for partners, said Martin, is the FastStart program. “Partners focused on serving SMB businesses but who don’t necessarily have the ability to go breadth with regards to knowledge can search out partners to build added competencies in other key areas,” he said.

According to Martin, “we’re going to see a lot more of these partner coalitions, resellers in specific geographies partnering with other companies to build out breadth” in skill and knowledge.

Generally, said Ruh, customers will either have Microsoft CRM and be looking to add IPC, or will be a Cisco customer looking to add CRM. “So it’s either going to be a Microsoft CRM gold VAR that’s selling into an existing IPC opportunity or an IPC player implementing the Connector 3.0 for CRM customers,” Ruh added. “Or a customer that doesn’t have any of those but wants an integrated solution, in which case a partner is going to implement the business process first which is typically the CRM application.”

Cisco is planning 64 events this year in hopes of matching 64 Cisco partners with 64 Microsoft partners. “It’s very important that we scale the FastStart partner program to all partners, whoever wants to take advantage of it,” said McDonald.

McDonald added that Cisco is pushing to get the Microsoft Across America truck (of which there are seven in the U.S.) to Canada as a way to market and educate both customers and partners on these combined technologies. “Once that is available I look forward to doing similar things with our channel partners in Canada but for now they can leverage everything we’ve got in the FastStart program,” he said.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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