How Cisco Is Helping Partners Zero-In On ‘Hot’ SMB Business

The tech giant wants SMB customers, with the help of channel partners, to be in it for the long haul with Cisco. That means more focused marketing support, managed services, and a focus on business outcomes, according to the company’s SMB leaders.

Cisco Systems sees the small-to-midsized market as a $30 billion dollar market opportunity. A great deal of that opportunity is around customers moving to the cloud and SaaS models for their IT needs. About 20 percent of SMB business is being generated by new customers coming to Cisco for the first time.

Needless to say, there’s a lot of reasons for Cisco and for partners to be pretty “jazzed” about the SMB opportunity, according to Cisco executives.

The SMB market, according to Cisco executives, presents a “hot” area for partners to drive growth and profitability through managed services and cloud offerings. Cisco, a historically enterprise-focused vendor, is making it its mission to be the best partner to solution providers and MSPs targeting SMBs. To do that, the company has unveiled its Scale go-to-market strategy aimed at enabling partners as they support their existing customers, identify new ones, and grow their businesses.

In a recent Cisco SMB webinar, Luxy Thuraisingam, Cisco’s vice president of global SMB and head of global partner marketing and Andrew Sage, vice president of global distribution and SMB sales, shared the steps Cisco is taking to support partners going after SMB business through new marketing initiatives, managed services, headcount, and a focus on business outcomes.

Here’s what Cisco’s SMB leaders had to share with partners.

Investment Dollars

Cisco defines SMB customers as businesses spending $50,000 or less in annual bookings. The company sees SMB as a multi-billion opportunity and 100 percent of Cisco’s SMB business goes through the channel. In fact, $4.5 billion of that business can be generated by partners going back to their existing customer base and broadening out what they are bringing to customers.

During its fiscal 2024 year, which began August 1, Cisco got the go ahead from its executive leadership team (ELT), including CEO Chuck Robbins, to invest “tens of millions” in marketing and incrementally in partner programs beyond what the company is already doing to go after this large opportunity, Sage said.

Marketing Support

In order to reach the right customers, Cisco is investing heavily in end-to-end demand generation in a way that caters to the unique profile of the SMB customers, Thuraisingam said.

An important part of that marketing is outcome messaging, she said.

“This is one of the areas we actually invested in early on in -- really looking at our tone and our voice and how we approach the customer … so we can build that trust and confidence with our SMB customers,” she said. “We’ve shifted our language to focus on affordability, simplicity, and flexible solutions.

Because SMB customers prefer to engage first through a digital format, the company launched, its landing page and new face for its SMB business. Nearly 85 percent of visitors to the site have been not just staying and learning and consuming the content, but also taking action. These actions include clicking through to calls to action, such as “connect to a partner” or to a virtual sales team to get more information, or transacting via E commerce, she said.

The site’s content is now live in 16 countries.

Managed Services Model

About one out of every two customers in the SMB space want to procure IT through a managed service model. And about 44 percent of Cisco’s SMB business goes through a Cisco Provider Partner, a figure that the company expects to climb to 50 percent or higher.

Cisco is relying on partners to manage ongoing SMB relationships, backed by Cisco support, Sage said.

Cisco has and will continue to lead with its Meraki portfolio, the fastest-growing platform for the company’s SMB business, he said. The single dashboard allows businesses and partners to manage network infrastructure, endpoint security, and SD-WAN.

Support On The Ground

Another way Cisco is investing in its SMB business is by investing in marketing talent and additional headcount. Thuraisingam said that she’s investing in hiring global marketing talent on her team, but also, the company is investing in talent within the regions for localized support. This is so Cisco can partner closely with not just Cisco resellers, but also the regions themselves to understand the specific needs of customers in those areas, she said.

A Focus On Outcomes

SMB customers don’t want to talk about zero trust network access, SD-WAN, or wireless networking. They want to talk to us about outcomes and how to make their businesses run better, Sage said. To that end, Cisco recognizes the importance of summarizing outcomes in conversations between partners and customers. The first is the Hybrid SMB, which includes some was working from home, some was working from their mobile devices, and some in the office. For these customers, partners should work with their prior investments in devices and with the Webex platform to ensure a great collaboration experience, he said. The second is the Secure SMB, a conversation about making sure that vulnerable SMB customers have the confidence to be able to move some of their data into the cloud, and the Remote SMB is about making sure that everybody that is connected is protected and prioritizing application performance with the help of tools like ThousandEyes, Sage said.

Perhaps most importantly, Cisco we want to retain the SMB customers that have chosen Cisco, Thuraisingam said.

“We want them to be in it with us for the long haul, so our holistic plan also includes nurturing and adding value post-sale, focusing on supporting them from everything from the onboarding process to the enablement, to growth,” she said. “As we nurture them in a surgical way, we want to build loyalty and trust. And when they’re ready to have the next best solution conversation, we want to be there for them, we want to be the first phone call with them and through our partners.”