WebEx, the world's leading on-demand provider according to IDC, has slashed the entry-level cost of its web conferencing service to mark its entrance into the small and mid-sized business market.
Until earlier this week, the lowest cost WebEx account for web conferencing cost $375 per month for an enterprise account with five meeting hosts. With the launch on Tuesday of the new WebexOne division targeting small businesses and professional individuals, the entry price has plummeted to $49 per month for a single host under its new WebOffice Personal and MeetMeNow services.
The new price points are a sign of how serious WebEx is about making headway in the small business and professional market with the launch of the new division. But there's a lot more to WebexOne than more affordable web conferencing. The new division is the result of WebEx's acquisition of Intranets.com earlier this year, a company that was itself 21st on IDC's top 25 list, with an impressive roster of 9000 small business customers.
Founded in 1998 — coincidentally the same year as WebEx — Intranets.com provides what WebEx calls 'aynchronous' collaboration to distinguish it from the real-time conferencing that WebEx has hitherto specialized in. As its former name suggests, its offering is an online company intranet service for small businesses with five or more users, including document management, group calendaring and a Microsoft SQL Server-powered database manager. Any existing customers logging in on Tuesday will have seen very little change apart from the rebranding of the service as WebEx WebOffice Workgroup, plus the addition of new conferencing options on the side menu. The integration is very neat — the group calendar that was already part of the intranets.com service now has the option to invite outsiders to meetings, invoking the WebEx online conferencing service.
The acquisition and launch of intranets.com as WebexOne signals that WebEx now aims to move beyond its web conferencing niche into a broader set of applications, as well as extending out of its traditional larger and mid-size enterprise market into the small business and microbusiness territory — a strategy it calls "going deeper and broader."
Acquiring the intranets.com team to spearhead that strategy is a smart move, because it means WebEx can avoid the mistakes other companies often make of assuming they already understand the needs of small businesses just because they are used to dealing with larger businesses. Often the reverse is true.
"We're not going to try and treat [smaller businesses] like a miniature version of the enterprise," WebEx VP marketing Karen Leavitt, a long-term member of the former intranets.com team, told me in a briefing last week. "Small businesses aren't baby businesses. [Many of them] want the nimbleness and personal interaction they can only get by being a small business."
Long experience taught intranets.com to value three 'E's: "Easy to get, easy to use, easy to pay for." That's a philosophy more on-demand providers ought to adopt if they're really serious about making headway in the small business sector. WebEx seems to have taken this on boardand could become a formidable player.