Plantronics Touts Channel Gains Alongside UC Market Growth

As adoption of videoconferencing and unified communications continues to grow in the enterprise, Plantronics says sales of its UC-enabled headsets are taking off -- and that solution providers are starting to take notice.

According to Erna Arnesen, vice president of channel and field marketing at Plantronics, the company has added roughly 500 partners to its North American partner base over the past year, with many of them being UC-focused solution providers looking to round out their portfolios with Plantronics offerings.

"It's a growing trend," said Arnesen. "Prior to the explosion of UC or collaboration, most of [our partners] tended to be headset specialists or voice and data VARs that were really just supporting a desktop of an individual or even the network, but they weren't really heavily engaged with unified communications."

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Now, Arnesen said, thanks to the proliferation of UC in companies big and small -- and to Plantronics' out-of-the-box integration with UC platforms from market leaders including Cisco Systems, Avaya and Microsoft -- the face of Plantronics' partner base has changed.

"As unified communications has become the norm for our customers, and the deployments are largely coming through Cisco, Avaya and Microsoft, we now, as a result, are recruiting more heavily with partners that are already partners with Cisco or Avaya, or many of them are Microsoft partners," Arnesen said.

Arnesen, who spent four years at Cisco before joining Santa Cruz, Calif.-based Plantronics last July, said the company now has roughly 5,000 partners in North America and 10,000 worldwide.

This growth, she noted, wasn't fueled just by the rise in the use of unified communications, a market that saw sales shoot up 27 percent in the first quarter alone, according to research firm Infonetics -- but to the integration Plantronics has enabled between its headset systems and UC products from companies such as Cisco.

Plantronics' Aware application, for instance, was developed specifically for Cisco's DX80 deskphone, allowing users to seamlessly transfer audio calls between their smartphone and the DX80 using the proximity detection capabilities built in to Plantronics' Voyager Legend UC headset.

Plantronics also aimed to grow its channel footprint last year with the launch of its revamped Connect Partner Program that includes an expanded deal registration program, a new online training program and sweetened partner incentives.

"It's helped us a lot in gaining mind-share with partners, especially with UC partners that are the larger partners of Cisco, Avaya and others," Arnesen said of the new Connect Partner Program.

Von Bedikian, CEO and president of GBH Communications, a Monrovia, Calif.-based Plantronics partner, said he is "absolutely" seeing growth in his Plantronics business, especially as cloud-based videoconferencing services, such as those from Blue Jean Networks, make collaboration more accessible and affordable for mid- or smaller-size companies.

Trends such as BYOD and working remotely are fueling interest, he said.

"What we have done is try to become a company that enables collaboration and, yes, you need the software and a great UC platform. The foundation needs to be strong," Bedikian said. "But if you don’t have the right tools -- like the right headset, the right speakerphone, the right camera -- you might say a $1 million UC deployment was in vain. Without the right endpoints, it defeats the purpose of the efforts that a huge organization would go through."

GBH Communications' Plantronics business is on pace to grow between 10 percent and 15 percent this year, with that projection being "conservative," said Bedikian. The company also partners with UC platform vendors Blue Jeans, Polycom and LifeSize.

Roughly 20 percent of the employees at each GBH Communications customer site use headsets today, according to Bedikian, and he expects that number to reach more than 60 percent over the next few years.

Plantronics plans to broaden its portfolio to include not only more UC applications and software, but also new kinds of wearable devices, especially as the buzzed-about Internet of Things continues to take hold.

"We are moving into a lot of areas where form factors are shifting," Arnesen said.