HP Unveils SMB Strategy

UPDATE: HP's plan centers on promoting services, expertise and support that will appeal to smaller businesses.

Reports of Hurricane Isabels wrath stopped Carly Fiorina in her tracks Wednesday, causing the Hewlett-Packard Co. chief to cancel a trip to Washington, D.C., where she was to unveil her latest strategy to tackle the small and medium-sized business market.

The much-hyped SMB strategy is largely—but not entirely—a repackaging of goods and services already for sale as well as a redoubled marketing campaign to smaller businesses. The plan centers on promoting services, expertise and support that will appeal to the smaller operation.

"Technology is the lifeblood of small- and medium-sized businesses," Fiorina said during a Webcast conference Thursday morning. "They need more than easy; they need smart. They need a company that can help every step of the way."

HP already serves the SMB market, deriving more than $21 billion in sales from it last year. Now, the Palo Alto, Calif., company is tying together its SMB initiatives.

"We have had pockets of [SMB] focus, and we have realigned that focus into a global organization," Robyn West, vice president for SMB Americas in HPs Personal Systems Group in Houston, told eWEEK. "A lot of this is around packaging what we have."

The initiative, called "Smart Office," includes a targeted sales effort and some retail sites dedicated to SMBs, West said. Additionally, HPs Web site provides an opportunity to chat live with customer representatives with specific expertise in the SMB market. Through the site, users can be connected to local support experts within HPs network of partners.

The strategy also includes making more products plug-and-play, removing the complexity of products and making them easier to integrate, West said.

New products will include: HP ProLiant servers installed with Microsoft Corp.s Small Business Server 2003, which supports 75 users; integrated desktop systems and a health care PC; flat panel monitors; wireless access point; and printers with do-it-yourself marketing materials, easy-to-use networking, cost-saving features, and network-based printing.

The new initiative includes online support for wireless hardware, software and services, called Mobility Now. It also encompasses new financing options, with payment method choices and simpler multi-vendor purchasing and trade-in deals. An HP Care Pack services provides an integrated series of warranty extensions with application support, data backup and recovery.

"Starting today, HP offers the smartest financing in the market," Fiorina said during the webcast. "Owning it one thing. Paying for it is another."

Contending that the Dell Inc. business model of selling directly to the customer is passé, West said that SMBs are looking for more support, which HP can provide via its network of partners.

"The discussion now has moved on from [the direct sales model] because everybody can provide that," West said. "Where we come absolutely into our own is in the network of business partners that we have."

HP has 34,000 business partners in the United States, and they receive special training for the SMB market, according to West.

IBM, which unveiled its own SMB strategy—the IBM Small and Medium Business Advantage—a few months ago, boasts more than 90,000 business partners across the globe

HP is also trying to differentiate itself through its vertical market offerings tailored to the real estate, law, accounting and health care industries, West said.

"Are they just looking for a cheap product to buy over the phone? The answer is no theyre not," she said. "Were going to offer the customers an experience that no one else in the industry is going to offer. At the end of the day, customers arent just looking for a piece of hardware."