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Cisco sharpens small business focus for channel

Along with new SMB-focused products, Cisco is focusing its play for the small business customer with new partner enablement initiatives

Cisco Systems (NASDAQ: CSCO) sharpened its focus on the small business market this week with new products, a new partner specialization, and new channel enablement and support tools designed to help Cisco partners succeed in the S of the SMB.

The announcement included a number of new small-business optimized products, including the Cisco 100 Series Switches, the RV 120W Wireless-N VPN Firewall and new platforms for SMB-focused service providers.

However Robb Berger, director of business development, worldwide partner organization for Cisco, said the announcement wasn’t as much about products as it was reinforcing the key elements of Cisco’s small business portfolio and go-to-market strategy for its channel partners. Cisco wants partners to understand the play, how Cisco technology fits into a customer scenario, and how to make it successful.

“We want to help partners understand, and go deeper,” said Berger. “We see product as just one of three pillars of what we call the Cisco SMB advantage.”

The other two pillars are support, with Cisco training and partner enablement, and profitability, with programs such as zero per cent financing and other partner development funds.

As part of refreshing that second pillar, Cisco announced a change to its specializations by creating the Small Business Specialization. Essentially, the “medium” has been removed from the old SMB specialization to now just focus on the “S” of the SMB, with the training and support also being refreshed to be more focused and small-business specific. Berger said partners more focused on the midmarket, or 100 seats and above, will still have the Express Foundation and Express Unified Communications specializations.

“It’s really around the focus we see in small business. We’re trying to focus on some distinct areas, sub-100 seats,” said Berger. “The lines have become blurred in the past, but we’re trying to be very focused in our approach to small business.”

Part of that sharpened focus is Cisco’s new Web-based Small Business University. It includes new and updated partner tools, quick learning modules and videos on demand, video and text data sheets, and smart designs.

“It’s really the focal point for all our SMB training enablement and tools for our partners,” said Berger. “There’s everything around a small business solution to make it successful.”

Other new initiatives include Small Business Partner Practice Builder, an enablement platform for Cisco small business partners; Small Business Roadmap, a Web-based training framework; and Small Business Technical Labs, self-paced, hands-on technical training for small business partners.

Berger said Cisco’s goal was to take its existing resources and content and make it available in one place for partners in a self-service format, so they don’t need to go searching for it and can access it on-demand, as needed.

Todd Madgett, director, small and medium enterprise for Cisco Canada, added partner feedback was strongly in favour of having one central location to access all small business-related partner information, in order to increase their productivity.

Madgett added that with the Canadian economy being dominated by small businesses, Cisco’s Canadian partners are ideally positioned to capitalize on the vendor’s sharpened small business focus.

“We’ve put more resources over the course of the last year into the SMB. We’ve always had good learning and training materials, but now you’re seeing a real focus on enhancing the small business aspect of it,” said Madgett.

Madgett added Cisco’s small business partners in Canada are beginning to see signs of economic recovery.

“We asked and they are seeing an uptick, the majority are positive,” said Madgett. “The general consensus seems to be the economy is probably recovering, and we’ll do what we have to do to help our partners have the opportunity to be successful.”