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What's Up At Cisco's Small Business Technology Group?

Late last year, Cisco created a $100 million Small Business Technology Group (SBTG) to go after companies with fewer than 100 employees. But what exactly is that group all about, and what exactly does it do?Although I wrote about the SBTG when it launched last November, and I covered the rollout of some of its first new products earlier this year, the unit operates differently from the rest of Cisco, so I wanted more information on how the strategy fit together. Last week, I headed down to Cisco's offices for a fuller explanation (where I met the RoboReceptionist!).

The SBTG consists of two separate units, the Small Business business unit, headed by David Tucker, and the Small Business Solutions business unit, headed by Mark Monday.

The Small Business unit sells Cisco's Small Business series of products, which are meant to be sold to price-conscious buyersold through retailers or direct to small businesses. The Small Business Solutions unit sells the Cisco Small Business Pro line of more-sophisticated products through consultants and resellers. While higher priced, the Pro products are designed to work together for customer lifecycle management.

(The Linksys brand is going away for the small business market.)

As a whole, the SBTG consists of engineering and product management folks, who work with the dedicated small-business folks in customer assurance, manufacturing and sales in other parts of Cisco in what Monday -- vice president of the Small Business Solutions Business Unit -- called a "horizontal, matrixed organization." That's different from most Cisco groups, which focus on a particular technology, not a market segment.

Instead, the SBTG is a "business within the business" that includes many of Cisco's core technologies like switching, routing, voice, security, and wireless, and is expanding into storage and other products. "Cisco sells a lot to small businesses," Monday said, but hasn't been focused on that market. The idea is "capture customers who would not have considered Cisco before... Cisco's enterprise strengths are not necessarily valuable to small businesses and their partners."

But he said the company does bring three key advantages to the SMB market:

  1. World wide scale
  2. Ability to ride out the current economic crisis
  3. Technology available from the wider company.

"Small businesses are not technological risk takers," explained Rick Moran, vice president of Ciscos SMB Solutions Marketing. So Cisco's size and reputation help it do well "with companies who have had a less-than-professional experience" with other vendors. They don't want to get burned again, and Cisco's sheer size can make the vendor seem a safe harbor.

At the same time, Cisco needs to convince small businesses it cares about their needs, not just its big enterprise customers. So Cisco has rewritten its small business Web site and built a new support center for small businesses -- including support communities for businesses and resellers.

Here at bMighty, we're all for big vendors taking the needs of small business seriously. It's not always easy, but if we really believe our manifesto claiming that Small Is The New Large, then why can't Cisco try to show that Large Is The New Small?