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Distributor Westcon Group wants to help VARs with every facet of the sales cycle as they seek to do business in the vast small and midsize business market space.

To that end, the Tarrytown, N.Y., distributor has launched a program through its Cisco-focused Comstor division that puts in the hands of resellers tools to help them refine their sales approach to SMB customers. The tools include lead generation, multimedia product demonstrations, technical and business training, and a Web portal through which VARs can access some of these resources.

The program, called SMBx, revolves around Cisco Systems Inc.’s SMB offerings and compatible products from other vendors, such as voice-over-IP company Stonevoice.

SMBx grew out of the recognition that while enterprises have technology procurement processes in place, this typically is not the case with small and midsize companies, where connectivity products that once were the province of enterprises are now becoming more pervasive, said Duncan Potter, Westcon Group’s vice president of worldwide marketing.

Identifying connectivity opportunities in the SMB space is, therefore, challenging, and resellers need help in finding and preparing for those opportunities, he said. By teaming with Cisco and vendors that make compatible products, Westcon aims to simplify the information resellers present to end users to help make the sale.

“If we are really able to increase the level of simplicity that resellers are able to project to end user customers, that’s always a good thing,” Potter said.

For Cisco, the SMB market opportunity is as significant as the enterprise opportunity of the late 1990s, said Peter Alexander, vice president of Cisco’s Commercial Market Segment. To succeed in seizing the opportunity, he said, Cisco needs its channel partners.

“With the introduction of programs like SMBx, Comstor is enhancing the specialty distribution model and providing SMB partners with targeted tools and resources to help them develop their go-to-market strategies,” Alexander said.

To help target presentations to customers, Westcon created a DVD-based tool called SalesVision that guides VARs through business development, account management and sales representation.
VARs can extract presentations from vendor executives and combine them with other information for custom multimedia demonstrations. Potter said SalesVision far surpasses the PowerPoint presentations that sales representatives typically use when pitching customers.

Vendors targeting SMBs must first learn everything they can about their audience. Click here to read Pedro Pereira’s column.

“It changes the level of interaction you have with the end user,” he said.

Also key to SMBx is a lead-generation system that VARs can access through the Web portal. End-user customers can log on to the site to get quotes from VARs, who use the lead-generation system, LeadVision, for access to a choice of leads. Once a VAR decides to pursue a particular lead, other resellers are prevented from going after it.

The idea is to supply VARs with qualified leads involving customers about to make a purchasing decision, said Potter.

“Quite frankly, the world is awash in leads,” he said. “For those resellers interested in qualifying and prospecting for new business, they certainly are out there. But what we’re doing is providing some of the red-hot leads and opportunities.”

Besides leads, the SMBx site gives VARs access to online tutorials on such technology areas as voice over IP, network security and fast Ethernet. Westcon also offers a comprehensive training curriculum through Web-based courses, conference calls and on-site sessions.

“Training is a huge piece of the business. That’s traditionally where a lot of our value has been anyway,” Potter said.

Because of the complexity of many of the products it carries, Westcon made an early investment in education to help VARs acquire networking expertise.

Alexander said Cisco is banking on the SMB market to provide a growth engine for the company.

“While there are only a handful of new Fortune 1000 companies every year, literally tens of thousands of smaller companies get created every year. These smaller businesses are taking advantage of technology in an unprecedented pace, which translates into great opportunities,” he said.

With that in mind, Cisco has been shipping more SMB-focused products than ever—18 new products in the last six months alone, he said.

Potter said Westcon plans in the near future to add more vendors of Cisco-compatible products to SMBx. “We’re signing up vendors for a specific program that allows them to position themselves very clearly as part on overall Cisco solution.”