Cisco announces major SMB play

Select Partner program targets resellers primarily focused on SMBs

Looking to make significant inroads into the SMB market, Cisco has unveiled a new specialisation and partner tier. The program coincides with the launch of a quad-play communications platform for small businesses.

Senior director of worldwide channel marketing, Andrew Sage, announced the Select Partner program at the Cisco Partner Summit in Las Vegas as the first partner certification the vendor had introduced in 10 years. It is targeted at resellers primarily focused on SMBs and will sit between Cisco's entry-level, registered partner tier and gold, silver and premier levels.

In order to qualify, Select Partners will need to complete an SMB specialisation. This incorporates a two-day technical and two-day sales training course and exam. Unlike other certifications, resellers can choose to have the same individual qualify under both categories. Training is free.

Sage said Cisco had built the SMB training program from the ground up.

"This is not a cut down version of enterprise training, unlike some of the things we have done in the past," he said.

Select Partners will have access to a range of incentives, including Cisco's new SMB opportunity incentive program, which rewards resellers for bringing in new business; its value incentive program; and the Partner Development Fund. They will also be included on the vendor's global partner locator. The vendor is also extending its Easy Lease financing options to SMB customers.

Sage said it currently had 5000 resellers registered under its three-year-old SMB select marketing program. All need to complete an SMB specialisation over the next two quarters to secure Select Partner status.

Cisco's global SMB revenues currently sit at about $US1.5 billion. Sage said it expected the market to be worth $US10 billion by 2009.

Up to 55 per cent of SMB sales are made by large systems integrators and VARs, with the remainder coming from smaller, localised SMB resellers. Sage hoped to have 10,000 resellers signed up as Select Partners in the next 3-5 years.

"The channel is a huge differentiator for Cisco in this space," he said. "Partners are the ones driving the customer experience - they are the trusted advisors."

To support increased partner numbers, Sage said it was scaling up internal systems and investing in dedicated SMB channel account managers.

Cisco also used the global summit to introduce its Smart Business Communication System (SBCS) for the small business market. The platform is based around the new UC500 (unified communications series) product: an 8-port, plug-and-play appliance integrating voice, data, video and wireless networking functionality.

Other products under the SBCS umbrella include the new power over Ethernet switch (Catalyst Express 520), the Cisco 521 Wireless Express Access Point, and the 526 Express mobility controller.

The hardware is being complemented by several new "smart" tools, such as a single GUI configuration assistant, monitor director and monitor manager. These were a great way for resellers to up their services offerings to SMBs, vice-president of solutions marketing, Rick Moran, said.

"Up until now, technology has been user-vicious for SMBs," he said. "They need a complete solution. SBCS has been purpose-built for them leveraging all Cisco technology."

The SBCS can be integrated with existing desktop applications, such as CRM and ERP. As part of its launch showcase, Cisco demoed the new kit with the IPsmartsuite range of vertical market applications from third-party provider, IPcelerate.

Nadia Cameron travelled to Las Vegas as a guest of Cisco.

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