Cisco Systems chief executive John Chambers hopes direct involvement with customers will help it grow its sluggish European business, as the company pushes sales into smaller companies and new markets.
Despite dramatic success in the US and Asia, Cisco has grown more slowly in Europe but Chambers said he has found ways to boost the company?s sales outside the US. "Customer satisfaction and support is the key. We are giving them a direct touch - an option for customer support, in conjunction with our partners and not competing against them. For the first time in four years, [European] customer satisfaction is up."
Speaking after his keynote speech at Comdex, Chambers said Cisco is educating customers and resellers that "direct touch" does not mean direct sales, despite the massive success of its direct sales operation in the US.
"Let them fulfil business through the channel." He said the European management changes introduced 18 months ago have helped and hopes Cisco can challenge its competitors when selling to businesses that are smaller than corporations. "3Com has much more effective channels in Europe, especially at the low end," Chambers admitted. "3Com and Bay Networks have done a better job on small and medium-sized businesses but we are now keeping up."
Chambers admitted that 85 per cent of Cisco?s sales through distribution are aimed at the enterprise but said steps were being taken to appeal to smaller businesses.
Although Cisco will acquire 10 to 15 companies in the next year, Chambers said, they will not prove as much as a challenge as 3Com?s $6.7 billion merger with US Robotics because Cisco has "mastered the art of acquisition".
He claimed Cisco has managed to hold on to 94 per cent of its acquired staff, compared to an industry average of 70 per cent.
Cisco has also begun advertising to give it a consumer brand as it has not had customers outside computer departments until recently. "We are moving into all segments of the [networking] market and we will be number one or number two in all segments," Chambers said.
Chambers? keynote speech covered how the Internet affects work, learning and life for all. He compared the rise of the Internet to the Industrial Revolution, saying that an Internet generation will drive the acceptance and use of online media in all facets of life.
Online book sales will be followed by toys and cars, as companies realise the cost benefits of trading electronically, Chambers said, and Cisco has saved millions of dollars by training staff online and improving productivity and the time to bring products to market. The company also plans to bring its Network Academies promotion - an initiative to educate school children about technology - to Europe during 1998.
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