While being a constant in the networking business for enterprises and mid-market companies, Cisco has been somewhat 'in and out" with SMBs according to VP for ANZ at Cisco Ken Boal. But during Cisco Live yesterday, he said that the company is now "Here to stay" for SMBs.
Boal said that the company is focusing on broadening their reach with businesses of all sizes - even those with fewer than five employees will be in their sights. One of the big shifts is that the systems that many businesses deployed just a few years ago are no longer up to the demands of today's business world. He noted that customers are now approaching Cisco, rather than the company needing to go out and find customers, as businesses strive to move their networks so they are ready for the challenges of today and tomorrow.
One of the big pushes, he said, was the way businesses had adopted hybrid cloud solutions. This has resulted in a need to change internal networks to accommodate a broader and more porous perimiter.
In the past, Cisco products were typically sold through partners and resellers who would offer services to install and configure Cisco equipment. But the company will be offering products directly to customers through online sales.
Part of that move to SMBs is also the continued push of the company's collaboration platform Spark. Whether the networking giant can translate their dominance in moving data around into the collaboration software business remains to be seen. Microsoft is making big moves with Teams and Slack, Dropbox, Atlassian and others are also fighting over what looms as the next business battlefield.
One of the shifts that's happening in Cisco that sales targets are not the only measure they will look at when dealing with customers. A new customer health measure will be a core deliverable to ensure customers are getting the most from their networks, with monitoring available to ensure everything is running well and so preventative maintenance can be done before there is an issue that impacts the business.
Broadening the base
Boal said that the focus on SMBs is about broadening the company's base.
"A lot of Cisco's pedigree has been at the larger end of town. And, a lot of the leadership infrastructure has been focussed on that as well. We have really moved our gauge, lifted our gaze to small to medium business".
That's coming through better pricing, distribution programs and by working with service providers. This has resulted in a doubling of the business to SMBs in about six months.
Boal acknowledged that the company had never really been successful with small businesses. They did acquire Linksys in 2003 during an initial attempt to gain traction in SMB and consumer markets but sold the brand to Belkin ten years later. He added that an expansion of Cisco's product portfolio would be how the company brings products to SMBs. Whether that will be through another acquisition or new product development is not yet clear.
"We've got our eyes set on the broader mass market," he said.
And while the company was one of the first to embrace digital channels for sales, that was mainly focussed on ordering systems for distributors and partners. That will be changing with end-use customers having the opportunity to purchase products directly themselves. But partners will be part of that somehow. That new model will be released "imminently" said Boal.
This is a reflection that customers are far better informed when they enter the buying cycle and don't need the same level of face-to-face support that they needed in the past.
As well as the SMB push, Boal said Cisco will continue building relationships with universities and the TAFE sector in order to build.