Cisco To Expand Small-Business Reach With New Products, Financing Options

"Small is a market we've been addressing accidentally for 10 years. It's a 100 percent channel-driven business for us," said Andrew Sage, Cisco's vice president of small-business sales, in a briefing with "We realized that if we wanted to be really successful in small business we had to address the market in a consistent way. I think this is the only way we can do it."

Cisco Tuesday launched five Small Business Partner Development Fund tracks, each catering to different types of channel partners and rebate levels, from small-business-focused Cisco VARs to DMRs. Cisco is also offering partners new partner registration and program intelligence tools to track sales and calculate payments owed by Cisco.

Cisco began offering the programs a few months ago and has signed up more than 3,500 partners, Sage said, with the goal of 20,000 partners by the end of the year.

On the product side, Cisco unveiled the SA 500 Series, a $550 network security offering and new addition to Cisco's Small Business Pro Series featuring built-in firewall, VPN capabilities, optional VeriSign Identity Protection and optional e-mail and Web security through Trend Micro's ProtectLink Gateway.

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Cisco is also now offering SPA 500 Series IP Phones -- five new IP phones, ranging in price from $135 to $430, that work with Cisco Unified Communications 500 Series or hosted IP telephony solutions. The company is also unveiling Cisco Smart Business Communications System Release 1.6, which supports the IP phones and Cisco's SR 520-T1 router ($1,495), as well as supports third-party applications specific to vertical markets like automotive, insurance and health care.

Cisco used the product releases and program adjustments to promote Small Business Pro Service, which offers tech support, software upgrades and advanced access to Cisco small-business resources, and its Cisco Capital program, which offers interest-free financing to small business.

Cisco further said that in the U.S. and Canada, it would until the end of 2009 extend zero percent financing on voice solutions to include Smart Business Communications System, Unified Communications Manager Express and Unified Communications Manager Business Edition.

"A lot of the discussion from small businesses out there centers on how do I get my name out there, leverage Web 2.0 technologies and communicate to my existing customer base," Sage said. "We want to give them options."

Cisco's full-on press toward a stronger small-business-oriented portfolio -- an area Cisco that Chairman and CEO John Chambers singled out as "one of the fastest growth opportunities" during Cisco's fourth-quarter earnings announcement Aug. 5 -- will also include ongoing recruitment of SMB-focused partners and more demand generation activities, Sage added.

"Historically, Cisco has been seen as a complicated company to work with," Sage admitted. "We knew that with small business that wasn't going to work for much longer. We definitely know the market has yet to accept us fully as a small-business-focused vendor and we're out to prove them wrong."