Cisco and John Chambers: In Search of a Solution

At the Cisco analyst conference, the company lost a major opportunity.


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Posted December 13, 2007

Rob Enderle

Rob Enderle

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I was at the Cisco analyst event this week and, if you’ve never been to one of these things, they’re kind of a love fest between a vendor and the analysts that cover them. The bigger the vendor the more analysts, and this one was done better than many I have attended.

However, it struck me in watching John Chambers’s opening pitch that, for a communications company, Cisco should be held to a different standard with these things because enabling communicating is what they do, and communication typically is done badly at events like this. This is because communication is a two way street with folks on both sides participating but, by nature, analyst events are executives waxing eloquent on how brilliant they and their companies are, while the analysts sit back and whisper to each other the long form of “BS.”

In almost all cases, at some point, the vendor spokesperson will use the word “solution,” as in, they have one. But it is rare that this statement really means anything because the vendor hasn’t asked the audience what the problem is.

I had a large vendor in the other day that represents itself as a solutions vendor. When their offering didn’t work right, they blamed Microsoft, which clearly communicated to me they were a parts supplier and no one owned that solution.

Let’s talk about that this week and use Cisco as the example, both because they are actually better than most, and because that is like reading “has great potential” or “has a great personality” on an employee or blind date recommendation.

What Business is Cisco In?

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Let’s be clear at the outset, John Chambers is no Steve Jobs. But he did a really great job of entertaining and representing his company.

That alone is rare in an industry that is often defined by CEOs who could, when they speak, put rocks to sleep. He moved through the crowd, he made eye contact; he even called out some analysts by name. All excellent practices but, all the time, going through my head was: what business does he think he is in?

This is because we saw Cisco through his eyes as a series of products (not unusual) that spanned a number of areas. But we never really saw Cisco as a complete company. Analysts, for the most part, specialize and tend to focus on the area they cover and tend to focus on that but, at an event like this there is the opportunity to get them to see how what they follow fits into the bigger picture. That is where the heavy lifting comes in. Few do this well.

In stepping back, Cisco is in the communications business and if we were to step back and think about this, an event like the one I was attending would be an ideal place to showcase how Cisco is enhancing communication. But, I think, at their roots they think of themselves as a network business, kind of a huge enhancement over the can and string “solution” we played with as kids. This doesn’t convey either the strength of their initial offerings or their potential going forward.

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