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At its annual Partner Summit this week, Cisco doubled down on its efforts to expand its presence in the SMB market by introducing new products and incentives to help partners increase sales and profitability.

About a year ago, Cisco began building a sales, marketing, manufacturing and support infrastructure designed to target the needs of solution providers targeting the SMB market, says Mark Monday, vice president and general manager for Cisco’s SMB business unit.

The time was right for such a move, says Monday, even in the midst of an economic downturn, and Cisco expects the payoff for investing resources, personnel and developing infrastructure for this market will be huge.

The new products include the SD208P unmanaged switch, a new SMB-focused ESW 500 managed switches, the Cisco SPA8800 IP Telephony Gateway, and the PVC300 IP camera, part of a video surveillance solution. In addition, Monday says, Cisco has released an upgrade of Cisco’s SBCS (Smart Business Communications System) collaboration and communications platform to release 1.5.

The new products fall into two main categories, Monday says: Cisco’s entry-level Small Business category and Cisco Small Business Pro.

Products in the Small Business category include products that are transactional and fulfill a customers’ immediate need without additional software life cycle upgrades, and are extremely affordable, Monday says. Cisco’s Small Business Pro category includes life cycle maintenance, service contracts and software upgrades around the products, and are designed to help solution providers build an ongoing services and support practice for customers, he says. 

The products are meant to help small businesses increase productivity, efficiency and offer purpose-built solutions for both SMB solution providers and SMB customers, Monday says.

Monday cites statistics that show the number of SMBs increasing each time an economic downturn has occurred, and predicts that because of the global nature of this economic crisis, the numbers will be even bigger and present a much larger opportunity for Cisco in what it says is a $7.3 billion unified communications and networking market in the SMB space.

“We created this division, this effort because we felt while we have a strong enterprise presence, we had a relatively low marketshare in the SMB space—which we define as businesses with fewer than 100 employees—and saw a huge opportunity to create a larger presence there,” Monday says. “Our partner base hasn’t traditionally been successful selling to SMBs, because the products they were offering were mainly enterprise products; thus, they’d make more money selling to larger companies rather than smaller companies,” he says.

Cisco’s acquisition of Linksys was one of the primary catalysts for this effort, Monday says, and while Cisco has run Linksys as a separate entity, Monday says that going forward the product family will be combined with Cisco’s own SMB products to create a stronger, more unified brand.

“Traditionally, Linksys was focused on the consumer market and the very, very small business market. We want to focus our efforts on one brand—the Cisco brand,” Monday says. “We now have over 100 products specifically designed for SMBs, though some still carry the Linksys brand. Over time, we’ll move toward a single Cisco brand, and in fact, all these new products we’re releasing fall under the Cisco brand,” he says.

He adds that Cisco understands that with the right products and support, many SMBs grow to become larger businesses. To help with this effort, Monday says Cisco’s new products will focus on a complete portfolio approach, helping SMBs and the solution providers that serve them develop a holistic hardware and services practice.

“There are a lot of SMB-focused companies that focus on one technology, but we are going to focus on an entire portfolio: routing, switching, voice, networking,” he says. “If we help partners make money selling to SMBs, they will be happy to stay there and establish SMB-focused practices,” Monday adds.