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Another area where Cisco has been particularly aggressive in small business is in financing. Last year, Cisco mounted a hugely successful three-year, zero percent financing program for SMB deals between $1,000 and $250,000, covering everything from Cisco hardware and software to Cisco maintenance.
That program changed to a three-year, 3 percent-financing program -- it continues today -- and the deal ceiling is now $150,000. But earlier in February, Cisco revived the zero percent financing option for deals specific to unified communications. Specifically, Cisco will cover deals ranging from $5,000 to $75,000 where at least one of Cisco's SMB-geared UC systems, the UC540 or UC560, is part of the deal, and give $1,250 to customers who replace a competitive UC system with Cisco.
"Our customers continue to take advantage of both programs. Not categorically -- there are typically diverse financing needs for each, and many would rather just give you a check -- but it's been attractive," said Cynnex's Halper.
The majority of Cisco's small-business channel sales continue to be through VARs and also DMRs such as CDW and PC Mall, Sage said. Service providers, however, are coming on strong thanks to the growth of managed and cloud-based services with small-business customers.
As for products, switches, routers, wireless, IP telephony and handsets are all continuing to grow for Cisco, which declined to provider individual product category growth numbers or percentages. Physical security, data security, video and collaboration and remote backup and recovery are all coming on strong as well, said Sage.
Cisco's investment in small-business resources also will continue. In the past year, it has deployed field representatives -- Cisco calls them "road warriors" -- who actively reach out to smaller partners who have limited regular interaction with Cisco executives. Cisco also hosts free, small-business-focused training around the country and is looking to expand its small-business community and social networking resources.
"The small partners, it's amazing -- they talk to each other," said Rick Moran, Cisco vice president, solutions marketing. "A lot of large partners don't because they keep secrets, but with the small guys, the small biz communities and social networking have turned out to be hugely popular.”
The sub-200 customer segment is an $8 billion addressable global market, Moran said, and now that Cisco's been in the small-business trenches for a few years, the image of its products as "gold-plated" in terms of pricing is giving way to acceptance of Cisco as a small-business player.
"It's been convincing people we're not going to run off," said Moran. "If you're going into the small market, you need to build for the small market."
"Going back three years ago, I think there was still a lot of confusion, or fear, about incorporating Cisco into a small-business solution," said D&H's Schwab. "People thought that it was too expensive, or that it was overengineered, or they weren't authorized, and a lot of those barriers have been brought down now. It's resonating with the partners."