PC and software makers race to woo small businesses

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Computer makers are launching products and overhauling their sales strategies in an attempt to woo small business customers, as companies with 100 employees or less come into their own as sophisticated consumers of information technology.

The moves come as falling prices make technologies previously available only to the world’s biggest companies affordable to small businesses. “The technology is more affordable, cutting across all product categories,” said Ray Boggs, an analyst at IDC, the market research company. “Small firms today are looking like mid-sized firms did five years ago.”

At the same time, smaller companies have become increasingly computer-savvy, with business owners spending more on IT to increase productivity and boost sales.

“Even small businesses with a few employees are a lot more computer literate than they were in the past,” said Satjiv Chahil, a vice-president of marketing at Hewlett-Packard’s personal computer division. Earlier this year, HP rolled out a dozen products, including servers, PCs and storage devices designed for small businesses.

Dell, IBM and Cisco Systems have also launched products intended for small businesses in recent months. On the software side, Microsoft and SAP have been stepping up efforts to win small business accounts.

Technologies of interest to small businesses include wireless networking, servers, and business applications such as e-mail or customer relationship management software, Mr Boggs said.

Mark Shearer, general manager of IBM’s small business server line, said: “Small businesses essentially need the same kinds of infrastructure and capabilities that larger businesses need. They’re competing in a global economy and their customer needs are intense.”

HP and IBM have been overhauling sales strategies while Cisco Systems last month announced plans to double to 10,000 the number of sales partners trained to work with small businesses.

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