Linksys is continuing the rebuilding of its brand in the SMB market with the announcement of the first fully managed gigabit switches in its Linksys Business product lineup. It’s part of a multi-stage strategy to woo customers and channel partners back from the moribund state the brand fell into in the latter stages of Cisco’s stewardship.
Small business-focused networking vendor Belkin acquired the Linksys brand and engineering assets from Cisco last year, and has since been rolling out brand new and aggressively-priced products for the SMB market. While the Belkin brand will be used for a variety of cabling, KVM, docking and surge products, the Linksys brand will be used for the company’s networking products. Rebuilding that brand, and undoing the damage done in the latter Cisco days is a top priority
“There is still affinity for the Linksys brand,” said Wayne Newton, Americas sales leader for Belkin International’s B2B business. “But relaunches are harder than initial launches. There had been years of steady de-emphasis of the Linksys brand by Cisco. This made sense as a strategy for Cisco, but for the Linksys brand it was devastating. We lost all our SMB line, and just had the consumer line left, and the emphasis there was not on the channel. SMB used to be our biggest component and Cisco made it weaker and weaker.”
The rebuild strategy of the Linksys brand under Belkin involved developing an entirely new state-of-the-art for SMBs product line on the one hand, and on the other, it involved reaching out to a reseller community that had been alienated, and providing it with messaging why it made good sense to come back to Linksys.
“Most of our sales and marketing so far has been reseller outreach, because that’s the most effective way to get back into the business,” Newton said. “The real work has been getting awareness out there to our reseller community, and just getting people to try our product again after a long absence. We are actively recruiting to our new partner program, which we launched at Interop. So far we are happy with the results, and have a couple thousand resellers recruited into the program.”
Linksys has moved aggressively to get resellers back who had moved on to other vendors.
“We introduced a very active demo program, and more training, both face to face and through the Web,” Newton said. “We get them to compare to the things they have moved on to, because we have a richer set of services they can take advantage of as an end user or a reseller.
“We have plans to moderate and balance the marketing effort to provide for more end user demand generation,” Newton added. “So long term, it’s a blend, but short-term it was critical to re-establish a strong foundation to reseller partners.”
Re-establishing that foundation has been hard work, Newton acknowledged.
“Sales overall are pretty small still, but that wasn’t unexpected,” he said. “We knew it wasn’t going to be a matter of flipping on switch and immediately going 60 [mph]. It’s a long strategic shift to get back into the business.”
On the product side, the new smart switches being announced are part of a much more comprehensive long term Smart Business Product Strategy. It begins with a Connectivity stage, providing a full roster of switches and access points for small business. It will be followed by easy management of all these devices through the cloud, which should happen relatively soon. Long-term will see the leveraging for business of the Belkin WeMo platform for consumers, which uses the Wi-Fi network and mobile internet to control home electronics from a smartphone. This Linksys Business Automation is still over a year away.
“Today we offer smart Wi-Fi with WeMo, and we are bringing that consumer product into the channel as an option for small business to manage things,” Newton said. “Our vision is to be that service hub and unify it all in a seamless way.”
It all had to start with new products, however.
“The first thing we had to do is bring back a foundational group of products,” Newton said. “The knowhow is there. We have the engineers, and now their shackles have come off. They are excited because they can do some real development for the first time in a number of years.”
Newton said the new managed switches have the same design philosophy as the entire new line of Linksys products – reattract consumers and resellers by offering more features than are typically found in SMB products, at prices which are highly aggressive.
These new switches are available in a 28 and 52-port rack mountable chassis, with and without Power over Ethernet Plus.
“We are building enterprise quality switches at SMB prices,” Newton said. “They are commoditized, so there is only so much you can do. But we went back to the drawing board and looked for ways to do things to tweak, and add value, like moving to the newest PoE+ functionality more quickly than some competitors, and having more ports than competitors, so you can connect more devices for the same price.”
The PoE+ models support the latest IEEE 802.3at (PoE+) standard and provide up to a 30W power budget per Ethernet port while offering IEEE 802.3af (PoE) backward compatibility.
“Feature by feature, we feel we have a very competitive offering, and are being very aggressive about pricing,” Newton said. “We are inviting the channel to check out these high performance products. There’s a future by switching to Linksys. We feel we are really back in business.”
The Linksys Managed Gigabit Switches are available now.