Cisco goes big on small business

Marc Monday, global small business leader at Cisco

At its Partner Summit last week, Cisco announced a renewed push into the SMB-space in the form of a series of new offerings pulled together into bundles and offered under the Cisco Designed for Business brand. 

The networking giant hasn’t historically been synonymous with small business, but it’s aiming to change that with the launch. While the company’s bread and butter of routing and switching certainly feel more enterprise-focused, Marc Monday, the company’s new SMB leader, notes that with small business-focused offerings including Meraki WiFi and its Umbrella DNS-based security, it already has significant business in the space. 

“We already have a multi-billion-dollar small business business, we just really need to lean in,” Monday said. “Small is strategic.”

The company is planning to offer SMB-focused networking, security, and collaboration offerings at the space, which Monday put at a $50 billion-a-year global opportunity for the company’s partners. The full portfolio, which will join existing SMB-focused offerings including Meraki, Umbrella, and WebEx, is slated to debut in January.

At the heart of what the company is doing is a new global marketing campaign that aims to position Cisco and its partners as the key to unlocking the value of technology in building a small business, but without making managing technology itself a full-time job. Monday said that kind of air cover is vital in the SMB space, where there are a huge number of customers, and a majority (between 60 and 90 percent) of the decision-making process is made online before reaching out to a local VAR or MSP about a solution.

“We’re focused on meeting small businesses where they are,” Monday said. “We’re focusing on solving business problems through technology, and not just talking about technology itself. We’re taking more of the customer’s voice than the technology voice.”

With a massive customer base and the need for lots of “on the street” support to hit the market, the company is relying heavily on its partners for the effort. And of course, when Cisco heads in new directions, there are new programs and incentives to help partners move along with it. Monday said that between marketing efforts and new programs, the company’s efforts amount to a 50-percent increase in investment in partners that serve SMB.

Andrew Sage, vice president of global distribution sales at Cisco

New programs include Perform Plus, an evolution of the existing Partner Plus program that rewards growth across multiple Cisco architectures in the SMB space. Andrew Sage, vice president of global distribution sales and the small business lead for the company’s global partner organization, said Partner Plus currently includes about 1,800 partners, and the company is aiming to double that number as it transitions to Perform Plus.

The company has also announced it will streamline small business deal registration, aiming to get to an SLA of four-hour turnarounds, with that number improving.

At the same time, it’s revamping its Cloud and Managed Service Provider Express program. Sage noted that MSPs, in particular, “are really key” to Cisco’s success in the space. 

“It’s a strong business, but I think it can be much stronger,” Sage said.

And finally, the company announced X-Sell, a global sales community of about 500 partners that jointly fund sales resources for targeting small business customers. Sage said that X-Sell members will receive first chances on the opportunities that company’s lead-generation uncovers “because we know they can close them up.”x

Rola Dagher, president of Cisco Canada

An outsider can certainly be forgiven for believing Cisco hasn’t to date been terribly focused on SMB, at least dating back to its divestiture of the Linksys business. Even those in the business share that perception. Rola Dagher, president of Cisco Canada, said that her first question when she came into the company was why Cisco didn’t have “a major focus on SMB.”

“We’ve been waiting for this for quite some time, and we’re going to turn the volume up in a big way because it’s a prime place,” Dagher said.

Already in Canada, the company has turned up the marketing volume in SMB, including high-profile sponsorships of events like Collision and Elevate, that are very focused on the startup and small-business world. Dagher predicted that a year from now, the company would be even more invested in the space.

“It’s the smart thing for us to do, period, full stop,” she said.

Mark Collins, vice president of Cisco Canada’s partner organization

The company’s ramp-up in the space has included the hiring of Lissa Ricci to lead a new small business-focused team within Cisco. Mark Collins, vice president of the partner organization for Cisco Canada, said the company has a significant business in SMB especially with service providers, but “getting to true small has been though.”

The opportunity includes 1,200-plus partners in Canada that Collins said have been working with Cisco in some areas, but as SMB-focused solution providers haven’t had the company’s full offering top-of-mind. Putting together a series of more packaged offerings designed with the space in mind will make it easier for those partners to lead with Cisco, rather than requiring partners as in the past to “do the hard work of packaging enterprise technologies for small-business customers.”

“We haven’t really got our fair share in that small space,” Collins said. “Our partners have been waiting for us, and it’s overdue.”

Robert Dutt

Robert Dutt is the founder and head blogger at He has been covering the Canadian solution provider channel community for a variety of publications and Web sites since 1997.