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Techaisle Blog

Insightful research, flexible data, and deep analysis by a global SMB IT Market Research and Industry Analyst organization dedicated to tracking the Future of SMBs and Channels.

Perspective: Cisco’s SMB Channel Partner Success Management

Cisco and the SMB market

Cisco has established an undisputed leadership position in the enterprise market. The company combines a widely-adopted and well-integrated portfolio of networking products with a highly-skilled (and paid) direct sales force to manage/expand its presence within major accounts.

The SMB market is a separate challenge. Here, buyers are less likely to require integration across multiple network components and more likely to emphasize price. They are also more likely to receive advice/management from channel partners, further reducing Cisco’s control over the acquisition process.

Against this backdrop, Techaisle’s SMB Channel Trends research illustrates the strengths and challenges Cisco must manage, as it looks to expand its share in the SMB segment.

Cisco Commands High Trust and Reputation within its Channel Partners

Within the channel community, Cisco enjoys a sound reputation and a high degree of trust. Techaisle’s SMB channel partner survey shows that 78 percent of Cisco’s SMB channel partners trust Cisco, a higher percentage than is registered by competitors such as HP and IBM. Nearly 70 percent of the partners believe that Cisco has quality products – again, the highest ranking recorded within the ‘hardware leader’ group including Cisco, HP, IBM and others. However, only 52 percent mention that Cisco has cutting edge technology, a percentage lower than that for both IBM and Microsoft. Moreover, 60 percent of Cisco’s SMB channel partners say that they Like Cisco, lower than corresponding rates for HP and Microsoft, only slightly higher than is found for IBM.

In its 2013 Annual report Cisco has written, “A substantial portion of our products and services is sold through our channel partners, and the remainder is sold through direct sales.” With specific reference to SMBs, Cisco wrote, “Generally, we define commercial businesses as companies with fewer than 1,000 employees. The larger, or midmarket, customers within the commercial market are served by a combination of our direct salesforce and our channel partners. Small businesses or companies with fewer than 100 employees, within the commercial market are primarily served by our channel partners.” Techaisle’s data shows that Cisco has attracted positive attention within this channel partner community, but that its technology and relationships may not leave it especially differentiated from competitors.

Data shows Cisco's SMB Channel Partner Challenges

Cisco is seeking to capitalize on market transitions and is steadily driving its channel partners to offer products and services that deploy cloud, mobility, virtualization, managed services, data center solutions and now Internet of Things. This is by no means an easy task as most SMB channel partners are being actively courted by competitive vendors that also want to grow their emerging technologies’ business. SMB channel partners selling emerging technologies have an average of 3.46 vendor partnerships; this average jumps to 4.21 for Cisco SMB partners, a difference of 21 percent. With this increased contention for mind/market/wallet share, it can be difficult for Cisco to manage brand identity and its related messaging.

This difficulty is illustrated by study findings showing that of the Cisco SMB channel partners, 44 percent consider Cisco to be their top partner. The other 56 percent mention Microsoft, Oracle, HP, IBM and several other firms. Within the VAR/SI community, Cisco’s share of preference is 48 percent; this drops to 39 percent amongst the MSPs/SPs that are viewed as critical to the success of future cloud initiatives.

It is not enough to only measure customer satisfaction or brand awareness to identify overall channel and market presence. Techaisle believes that it is important for IT vendors like Cisco to measure their Brand Equity within SMB channel partners as well as SMBs. Techaisle’s Brand Equity Score, BES-360, helps to identify areas where IT vendors can improve to increase share of wallet.

Cisco’s SMB Channel Partner Brand Equity

Our research finds that Cisco has done extremely well in building trust and reputation within its own SMB channel partner base. Cisco’s Brand Equity Score within its SMB channel partners is higher than most – but lower than scores for both IBM and Microsoft. The implication of these findings is that even through Cisco has high brand equity amongst its channel partners; it is not necessarily true that its entire SMB-focused channel base is firmly wedded to Cisco’s game plan.

Breaking down the data for Cisco, Techaisle’s study finds that almost 25 percent of Cisco’s channel partners have a Brand Equity rating of 80+ (on a scale of 1 to 100). This group forms Cisco’s core partners. The data also shows that almost 35 percent of Cisco’s SMB channel partners have equity of less than 40. These are the partners that Cisco needs to work on.

Interestingly, small business focused channel partners give a higher Brand Equity Score to Cisco than mid-market focused channel partners. This is a segment that Cisco should address as the mid-market is a battleground for most IT vendors and there is yet no clear dominant player.

Among all SMB channel partners of Cisco, VARs are actually driving up the Brand Equity Score. In fact 41 percent of VARs constitute the HBE (High Brand Equity) group. On the other hand, MSPs constitute only 20 percent. In order for Cisco to continue to grow its CMSP program and build on its initial successes, Cisco has to turn its attention to the MSPs that serve the SMBs to understand the key reasons for lower brand equity.

Drilling down further into the data, Techaisle finds that Cisco is not doing better within the overall managed services community than it is within MSPs focused on cloud. A higher percentage of Cisco’s HBE partners are offering managed services to SMBs whereas a higher percentage of ABE (Average Brand Equity) partners are offering Cloud to SMBs. Cisco’s SMB cloud ambitions would benefit from moving some of these ABE cloud partners to HBE segment. The HBE segment offering cloud services need extensive training on cloud solutions to become more successful in offering cloud to their SMB customers. More than 40 percent of these channel partners are working with SMB customers that have private cloud. This may be good for Cisco in the short-term but it does not represent best practice in this segment, and it is misaligned with the ongoing acceptance of public cloud as a preferred IT delivery platform.

Product resale revenue is 43 percent for HBE partners as compared to 38 percent for ABE. Similarly, recurring revenue is 57 percent for HBE as compared to 61 percent for ABE. Naturally, this bodes well for Cisco’s current revenue as the High Brand Equity partners are driving higher revenues from products. However, if Cisco plans to increasingly promote services then a lot more work is required to identify partners with higher services revenues and move them into the High Brand Equity segment.

Final Perspective

Brand Equity Score findings help indicate areas of expansion or exposure as vendors, like Cisco, assess their potential for expanding the footprint of their brands within the SMB channel partner community. The composition of Cisco’s BES across its channel indicates the core strength of its brand. Techaisle’s analysis indicates that Cisco has both strengths to build on and areas requiring focus as it moves to position its next-generation solutions (especially, cloud solutions) through its channel to the SMB market.

Techaisle’s brand management work is anchored in the belief that if a vendor’s brand equity is good, then it can compete successfully with vendors with lower brand equity for sales of comparable products or services. Vendors with sound products/services but low brand equity will struggle to maintain parity with competitors that have higher brand equity, even if that vendor’s products/services are (somewhat) inferior.

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Small Businesses - Newer PCs Positively Impact Productivity and Reduce Operating Cost

A study conducted by Techaisle with 736 small businesses in six countries – US, Brazil, China, Germany, Russia and India exposes the true costs of maintaining older PCs, frequency of repairs, hours lost due to system performance issues that unbeknownst to many small businesses are chipping away at their cash flows and productive work hours.

Maintaining Older PCs Negatively Affects Operating Cost

The study reveals that small businesses are spending an average of US$427 per PC that is 4 years or older on repair cost. Cost implications vary widely for small businesses of different sizes. For example, among small businesses with 50-99 employees, the average cost of repairing PCs 4 years old or older is US$521 per year. The repair cost therefore either equals or even exceeds the purchase price of some new PCs.

Older PCs Diminish Employee Productivity

As the system performance of older PCs begin to degrade and the number of applications running simultaneously increase to an average of eight for small businesses, it is not surprising to see that 25 percent of older PCs are upgraded each year by small businesses. The upgrades add another US$134 per older PC.  The average per PC cost to upgrade an older PC is highest within the 1-49 employee size small businesses. Combining the average upgrade cost across all small businesses with the average repair cost the total cost of maintenance equals US$561 per older PC. This is a “stealth” cost that drains cash flow and adds to the operating cost of a small business which they can hardly afford.

The study also reveals that an average of 42 hours is lost due to an older PC being repaired by either internal IT staff or reseller or even friends & family. Slightly over 36 percent of small businesses have 4+ years’ old PCs which create many different types of problems for the both the owner and the employees.

Newer PCs Positively Impact Productivity and Reduce Operating Cost

Small businesses using newer PCs have felt several positive impacts; among the top are improved application performance, improved productivity, and reduced operating cost. Small business owners mentioned that newer PCs allowed them to run 60 percent more number of applications simultaneously without any degradation in system or application performance as compared to PCs that are 4 years or older. This is a significant improvement as small businesses are increasingly using several different types of applications simultaneously including business productivity applications, Email and web, online chat and video, line of business applications, social media interactions, finance and accounting as well as music and games.

Improved performance directly leads to improved productivity and efficiency. Along with better manageability and reduced overall maintenance expenses, newer PCs directly impact the bottom-line of small businesses by reducing operating costs.

Financial Impact to Small Businesses

More than two-thirds of small businesses have moved away from a PC replacement policy and many others are keeping their PCs in use longer than in previous years. 47 percent of small businesses cited lack of budget as a key reason for not replacing older PCs in spite of frequent issues and lost productivity. However, these small businesses should re-evaluate their decision given the higher cost of maintaining older PCs which has a larger cumulative effect on the budget. They should consider both direct and indirect costs resulting from PC downtime, that is, both the “visible” and “hidden” costs. Replacing, rather than repairing and upgrading will reduce cost of operations and free up budgets.

For a typical small business that has six PCs - three PCs more than 4 years old and three less than 4 years old the study finds that the direct maintenance and lost productivity costs yields a total of $4,203 per year. To put it in perspective – that is equivalent to buying two to four new notebooks (depending upon specific purchase price).

 techaisle-small-business-pc-cost-study

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Cloud is the Center-Point of IT operations for 15 percent of SMBs using Cloud

Techaisle’s SMB Cloud Computing Adoption Trend research (US, Canada, Germany available now; upcoming Australia, China India, Brazil, Mexico) shows that cloud computing has moved beyond a niche approach to IT, and is now the center-point of IT operations for 15 percent of US SMBs that are currently using cloud, and for 25 percent of US mid-market (100-999 employees) businesses that are using one or more cloud-based system. However, SMBs in other countries do not yet exhibit the same acceptance of cloud’s role within their IT operations. For example, in Germany, only 6 percent of SMBs consider cloud to be the center-point of IT operations – but a whopping 56 percent use Cloud to supplement traditional IT resources.

techaisle-smb-role-of-cloud-computing-study

Drilling down into the data gives a fascinating perspective of profile differences across businesses that view cloud either as center-point of their IT strategies or supplemental to strategies rooted in conventional on-premise technologies. The data also exposes the fact that businesses are still struggling to really define how best to use Cloud.

Within the small business (1-99 employees) segment, we find that small firms using cloud are most likely to add cloud into a physical device-based IT approach: the average small business reporting that cloud is used to supplement traditional IT resources has 10 employees and only one location. Small businesses that have achieved higher growth levels are more likely to position cloud as the center-point of an agile IT infrastructure; these companies are about two times larger (17 employees, two locations) than the “cloud is a supplement to traditional IT” small business average.

In mid-sized businesses that are currently using at least one cloud-based system, this trend is reversed. Mid-market businesses that position cloud as the center-point of IT operations average 227 employees working from four locations. The averages increase to 321 employees and six locations for mid-market businesses that use cloud as a supplement to traditional IT resources. However, the trend of averages is just the reverse for small businesses.

When this data is analyzed along with the use of public, private and hybrid Clouds and the planned changes in Cloud workloads it shows that there is no one strategy for all sizes – though we see growth in hybrid in all segments, the paths that different kinds of operations are taking to hybrid vary by size and by other factors

More detailed data is available in Techaisle’s report titled SMB Cloud Computing Adoption Trend which covers:

  • Benefits & Inhibitors of Cloud Adoption: Why is Cloud Being Used? Why Not Cloud?
    • Drilling down into small business and mid-market perceptions of Cloud benefit
    • The intramural divide: ITDM vs. BDM perceptions
    • Inhibitors: Why not use Cloud?
    • ITDM and BDM inhibitors
  • IT or Business: Who is driving SMB Cloud adoption?
  • Private, Public or Hybrid: What is in use and planned to be used?
    • Adoption of hybrid
    • Aligning Cloud delivery with requirements
  • Current & Planned Cloud Applications: Where is Cloud being deployed?
    • Understanding the gateway to new platform and/or business specific capabilities
    • Key Cloud applications and workloads by employee size
    • Vertical workloads becoming ubiquitous; Role of content publishing, CRM
    • Differences in small business and mid-market SaaS adoption patterns
    • Free vs. paid Cloud applications
  • SMB Cloud Future: When will Cloud usage patterns change – and how?
    • Overcoming Cloud Adoption barriers                                                                     
    • Tracing the trajectory SMB Cloud usage: Where are we heading from here?
    •  Workload and application perspectives
  • SMB Cloud Security Management
    • Roles and responsibilities in Cloud security management
    • Mid-market – management responsibility is increasing
  • Key attributes of Successful SMB Cloud solutions
    • Assessing success: key Cloud solution elements
    • Difference in needs across small and mid-market businesses
    • BDM and ITDM perspectives

For more information on Techaisle’s SMB Cloud Computing Adoption Trend research, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Small Businesses exhibit remarkable consistency in their business Value-Statements

Across geographies (US, Germany, Australia and India) and across different years, small businesses are showing remarkable uniformity and consistency in their response to which value statement best describes their business.  We first asked small businesses in 2010 (for India in 2012) to tell us which one of the following statements best described their business success:

    • Business success depends upon a strong relationship with the customer & being responsive to their demands

 

    • Business success depends upon implementing highly efficient & optimized processes to deliver products/ services at the lowest possible cost

 

    • Business success depends upon implementing cost effective IT solutions to improve productivity, efficiency and profitability

 

    • Business success depends upon ability to consistently innovate and bring cutting edge products to market



We did expect customer relationship to be garnering highest number of responses. What we did not expect was the rapid rise in efficient process implementation with the size of business. We certainly did not expect the same sentiment to be represented across four different countries – US, Germany, Australia and India.

In 2014 we repeated the question to a completely different random sample of small businesses and we got similar responses across all countries.

The data clearly shows that for very small businesses, business success is dependent upon customer delight whereas for 50-99 employee size businesses, process efficiency and optimization also become important. The data consistency exhibits that irrespective of size or maturity of country, small businesses have similar mindsets in what defines their business success. With this foundation in place small businesses systematically build their business but the rate at which they are able to truly scale and achieve their value statements becomes dependent upon the absorption of IT. In fact, the role of IT has increased by an average of 38 percent between the two years of comparison. In today’s market, IT is generally delivered in the form of systems that improve sales process efficiency and visibility, collaboration, project management, analytics and social marketing systems that capitalize on connectedness within an economy that increasingly relies on person-to-person, cloud-enabled communications.

techaisle-small-business-value-statement-blog

 

There is tremendous future interest within SMBs in cloud-based marketing systems, sales systems, and solutions supporting business operations. Availability of cloud-based business solutions will drive tremendous growth in automation across seven functions:

1/ Marketing solutions
2/ Sales systems
3/ Customer service solutions
4/ IT Operations solutions
5/ Solutions supporting business operations
6/ Solutions supporting financial operations
7/ Solutions supporting HR/talent management

And when we further consider that each solution area can (and often does) incorporate multiple applications, and that some cloud applications are outside of these seven areas, we will see that both the scope and depth of cloud workloads will increase to support small business value-statements.

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