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Plantronics Product Blitz Puts Focus On UC-Led Sales

The growth of unified communications is creating drag for flexible headset and accessory sales, according to Plantronics, which released new products in its key lines this week.

videoconferencing unified communications

"We lead in every category we participate in," said Bill Loewenthal, Plantronics' vice president, unified communications. "And a lot of companies, for various reasons, are reconfiguring their work environments to find better ways to communicate. Doing that creates a whole new set of communications challenges, and a lot of them are mobile."

Plantronics has typically been strong with large enterprises -- its products are seen in 100 percent of the Fortune 100, according to Loewenthal. An emerging opportunity, however, is small and medium sized businesses just starting to embrace UC. Plantronics, Loewenthal said, is seeing a steady stream of new opportunities up and down the enterprise thanks to its compatibility with UC products from Microsoft, Cisco, Avaya, Alcatel-Lucent, Siemens and a host of others, and its outreach to channel partners that work with those vendors.

Among four new products Plantronics is releasing this week is the Savi 700 series, a UC-enabled headset that can switch seamlessly among uses with desktop phones, softphones and mobile devices.

There's added appeal in its weigh -- Plantronics claims it's the lightest wireless digital enhanced cordless telecommunications (DECT) headset available on the market -- and also its 350-foot roaming range, and an auto-answer function that opens the line when the headset is picked up from its cradle. Its battery is hot-swappable, and it can be configured to wear over-the-ear, over-the-head and behind the neck. Savi 700 headsets are priced between $379.95 and $399.95 MSRP, and will be available in June.

Next up is the Savi 440, a USB wireless headset that according to Plantronics can manage PC calls from distances as far as 300 feet, and also enable call connectivity through PC anywhere an Internet connection is available. It includes a similarly light headset to the Savi 700 and also includes a hot-swappable battery. MSPR is $279.95, and availability is May.

Elsewhere is Plantronics' Blackwire 435, a USB corded headset convertible from mono (or, one ear) to stereo (or, two ear) wearing-style, and finally, the CS500 wireless headset system, used with desktop phones and also with a range of 350 feet from the base unit. The Blackwire 435 is $99.95 MSRP and available in July, while the CS500 is priced between $299.95 and $329.95 MSPR depending on features, and will be available in August.

All of the new products fit in to what Loewenthal called a focus on "contextual intelligence." Along with the products, Plantronics is also releasing the next update to its UC Toolkit, which helps organizations map out UC products and systems in enterprises. The current version is available for use with Avaya, Cisco, Microsoft and IBM-led UC deployments.

"We need to address all of the devices that enterprises use with their communications platforms," Loewenthal said. "A lot of things in our business are really about helping IT staff manage, deploy and even plan for their resources."

Plantronics' Connect channel program, which launched in 2005, now has more than 2,500 authorized partners, according to Sandy Boklund, manager, channel enablement at the vendor. But as Plantronics continues to update the program, one goal is to have it better reflect the various ways solution providers take Plantronics products to market, Boklund said.

New within the past year are more specialized partnership programs, including a "solution provider" designation, which is different from Plantronics' other partnership tiers because it doesn't have specific revenue requirements. It is a intended to be a more strategic relationship with Plantronics -- and have the partner receive commensurate partner rewards and attention from the vendor -- than a revenue- or volume-based reseller partnership, Boklund explained.

There's also Plantronics' UC voice specialist program, a pilot program launched last year in which participating VARs put more dedicated resources into selling Plantronics products with their UC implementations, and receive greater sales and training incentives from Plantronics as a result.

"We feel strongly than educating partners on the importance of audio endpoints is a big part of the solution sell," Boklund said.

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