I had an interesting interview with the folks at Cisco earlier this week. Cisco is expanding its small business product portfolio for businesses with under 100 employees. It comes as the company is feeling "cautiously optimistic" about the future, and sees small business buyers dipping their toes in the water to start buying again, according to Rick Moran, Vice President of Cisco's small business marketing. Do-it-Yourselfers vs Those Who Hire Consultants Cisco has an interesting approach to its small-business product lines that makes sense from the small business perspective, and that I think more companies selling technology to small businesses should adopt. Cisco divides the small business world up into two types of product needs: do-it-yourself small businesses that tend to install their own technology; and those using outside technology consultants and IT service providers. The new products announced this week are for the latter (those small businesses using outside service providers to help them with their IT). This week Cisco introduced a new network security product, called the Cisco SA 500 Series (pictured above). It is a hardware firewall, to prevent intrusion into your network. It also lets employees connect to the network from anyway, with fast connection speed and high performance. Another product is a plug-and-play SIP-enabled phone for VOIP.\u00a0 (More information here.) These products are part of Cisco's Pro line, which means they are available through IT resellers and consultants. According to Moran, "Some customers are brave enough to install and maintain products themselves, but not everyone is. So we have the Pro Series."\u00a0 The Pro Series is ideally suited for businesses with 10 to 100 users -- although smaller businesses probably could benefit from Pro products, too. Cisco's addition to its product line is a reflection that they believe small businesses are starting to purchase more now, compared with earlier in 2009. To spur purchases even more, Cisco is extending zero percent financing for the United States and Canada until the end of 2009. Another Trend - Strategic Use of Technology Besides seeing small business IT purchases starting to pick up, one of the trends Cisco is observing is more small businesses using technology for the front end of the business.\u00a0 Small businesses are using technology strategically to get sales and to market their businesses. Technology is not being relegated to back office functions, or treated as a "necessary evil." Says Moran, "Business owners are looking at how to change the customer experience with technology.\u00a0 That is what is going to change the way their businesses look tomorrow." He referred me to videos on the Cisco website for examples of real-life businesses using technology for sales and marketing.\u00a0 Unfortunately all links to any customer videos I could find, except one, seem to be broken. However, I was able to find an article with 10 tips for serving customers better. The article, titled "The Basics of Serving Customers Better" points out that "reducing customer attrition by 5 to 10 percent can increase annual profits by as much as 75 percent." \u00a0 The article is pretty good and may give you ideas for how to use technology strategically to get and retain customers, and gain a competitive edge in your business.