Cisco resorting to intimidation tactics

Bloomberg story cites customer examples as company looks to regain footing

Customers accuse Cisco of intimidation when they did not buy anything, or enough from, the world's leading and largest networking company. According to this Bloomberg story, Cisco questioned the competency of IT and networking officials at companies that rejected Cisco in favor of equipment from its competitors.

Ticket broker StubHub and technology manager Robert Capps found this out first hand when he decided to build out the company's data center networks with Arista, Mellanox and Xsigo gear instead of Cisco. From the Bloomberg story:

Cisco responded to Capps's decision by calling his boss and questioning his competence as a technology manager, he said.

"Cisco wasn't serving our needs," Capps said. "They were not innovating in the areas of data-center operations that we needed innovation. The way they go about their sales process is through pressure and intimidation."

Interstate Battery Systems International was another customer that felt Cisco's wrath. IT Director Ken Widner chose Juniper for its data center rebuild and to support a new sales tracking software package even though Interstate Battery was, at one time, a "100 percent" Cisco shop.

Widner apparently felt Juniper went the extra mile to win Interstate's business, according to the Bloomberg story. Cisco did not take kindly to the decision:

Cisco also called Widner's boss after Juniper was chosen, he said. Cisco claimed he was jeopardizing Interstate Battery's infrastructure, Widner said.

Only 30% of Interstate's networking gear today is from Cisco, according to the Bloomberg story.

Cisco would not comment specifically on these or any similar incidents for the Bloomberg report. But Senior Vice President John McCool defended the company's practice of basing its product development on listening to customers and their needs. He also defended Cisco's market share in data center networking, which has remained "relatively stable" in recent years, according to McCool.

And the Bloomberg story did cite some customer examples, such as the Walz Group, a document management company in Temecula, Calif., where Cisco was called in to replace a competitor after that competitor's sales people sold Walz the wrong gear for the job.

The whole angle of the Bloomberg story is that the customer defections and resulting intimidation tactics are thwarting Cisco's attempt to recover from five straight quarters of financial results that disappointed Wall Street and exposed the company as overly ambitious and unfocused as it aggressively pursued new markets that distracted it from traditional ones. But one would be naïve if they were to believe these tactics were not employed by Cisco's competitors as well.

When Cisco was not against the ropes like it is now, when it was the king of the world just a few quarters ago winning sale after sale against the Junipers and HPs and Brocades of the world, it would be surprising if the competition did not resort to similar tactics. But now that Cisco is fighting harder for every sale in an effort to turn its business around, and competitors are taking share from the company, desperate measures are called for once again.

Yes, Cisco plays mean and plays to win.  But so does everyone else. Business is war. War is ugly. Beyond the discardable professional etiquette, the only unfortunate result is that the customer is usually caught in the crossfire.

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