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Cisco, Microsoft step up small-business push

The two tech giants bring corporate-level customer management software to mom-and-pop shops.

Cisco Systems and Microsoft's partnership in the small- and midsize-business market is bearing fruit.

On Monday, Cisco announced a new software product that will link its voice over Internet protocol products with Microsoft's customer relationship management (CRM) software.

The product, called, Communications Connector, was developed with technical assistance from Microsoft. It builds on a partnership in the small- and midsize-business (SMB) market that the two companies announced last February.

CRM software, which helps companies manage customer relationships more efficiently, has typically been used by large businesses. According to The Yankee Group, only about 20 percent to 25 percent of small and midsize companies use CRM software.

SMB represents a relatively untapped market for Cisco and Microsoft. Today, there are roughly 5.6 million small and midsize businesses in the United States, according to Yankee, making up about 97 percent of all U.S. businesses.

Cisco said that with its new product, smaller companies will be able to improve customer service and reduce operational costs, just as larger companies have done for years. For example, the Cisco-Microsoft offering enables incoming calls to automatically trigger screen pops with customer account information and contact history. This enables all employees--not just help desk personnel--to more quickly and effectively respond to customer needs, resulting in more productive employees and more satisfied customers, Cisco said.

Cisco and Microsoft have been partnering for years. The first joint offering from the SMB relationship included a Cisco Ethernet broadband router, meant for companies of fewer than 20 employees, and Microsoft's Small Business Server 2003 Standard Edition, a combination of the Windows Server operating system and Microsoft's Exchange e-mail server software.

Cisco has also been targeting small and midsize companies aggressively on its own. In the past six months, it has launched a new sales channel program, introduced new products and enhanced old ones to address this market.

The new software application is available at no cost to Cisco channel partners.