Comms Business Magazine reviews the current activity from the major headset vendors and their distributors to establish the trends in the market and provide some sales tips with which to generate extra margin.
With the growing market for unified communications and collaboration the headset market is hotting up. Manufacturers and distributors are competing hard for business and seeking ways to differentiate their offerings – price, features, warranties etc.
It’s worth remembering that the headset provides many benefits to companies and the individual headset users and Kim Jennings, Sales Director UK at Plantronics distributor ScanSource Communications, introduces this article with a practical up-front synopsis of why there is a great sales opportunity in the channel.
“The proposition really is compelling for end users. What if a relatively small investment could help improve their productivity, sales and profit without any expensive new systems or disruptive changes to process?
Plantronics headsets can have a real and positive impact on the bottom line of any business. They do this by helping to boost productivity and even improving wellbeing for any employee who uses the phone – from the call centre to the boardroom.”
Jennings says that most people know that cradling the phone between your ear and shoulder while you try to talk and take notes is not good for you.
“A study from the University of Surrey showed just how big an impact wearing Plantronics comfortable and lightweight headsets can have. They found that using a Plantronics headset had the following health benefits:
31% reduction in neck pain
16% reduction in lower back pain
9% reduction in upper back pain
27% reduction in headaches
Going wireless can lead to even bigger productivity gains for a broad section of the people in any business. There are several simple ways a Plantronics wireless headset such as the popular CS540 model can help businesses do more…
Never miss a call – even when away from your desk
Keep talking while you grab the paperwork you need
Easily take notes or type while you talk
It’s surprising just how big an impact these things have. When the team at Salesforce.com switched to Plantronics wireless headsets, they immediately reduced missed calls from an average of 4.9 to 2.1 a day; this led to an increase in sales opportunities of between 7.5% and 20%.
When the MIS Helpdesk at Kingston Technologies made the switch, they found their increased ability to multi-task lead to an impressive 22% increase in productivity.”
Concluding, Jennings says, “Increasingly, in a market rapidly adopting unified communications and collaboration applications the headset has become a key component in the mix. ScanSource pre-sales support can help resellers determine the right Plantronics headset for any application and ensure compatibility with the host PBX or communications platform so that resellers maximise their sales opportunity with their customers.”
What are the trends in the market?
In terms of volume sales the trend is definitely up according to Ioan MacRae, General Manager UK & Ireland at distributor Westcon Convergence.
“Headsets are quickly becoming an integral part of employees’ daily lives in the workplace and Westcon has seen a 22% growth in headset sales FY12 v FY13 and 41% up on FY14 Q1 v FY13 Q1.
More businesses are deploying unified communications and collaboration solutions (UCC) and the use of video communications is taking off due to applications such as Avaya Scopia, Polycom Real Presence Mobile and Microsoft Lync being available. Employees can communicate and collaborate across a number of different devices: smart phones, tablets, land lines and collaboration solutions. The headset enables the user to communicate and collaborate more effectively with ease, by delivering a more ergonomic way of working employees will be more productive and customer service will improve.
The BYOD trend is seeing an increasing number of remote and mobile workers resulting in a large market opportunity for headsets. Without a quality and reliable headset the entire UCC solution could under-perform, resulting in inadequate voice and sound quality that could lead to poor perception and customer service. For UCC solutions to perform to their optimum businesses need to invest in high quality headsets to provide a consistent audio experience using the best acoustic technology available – after all voice is key in UCC!
The requirement for headsets must be planned up-front along with the UCC solution. Deploying reputable headsets from leading suppliers such as Jabra or Plantronics is a must in order to harness the power of voice and sound of the UCC solution.”
Andrew Doyle, Managing Director at Jabra Business Solutions, UK & Ireland, says his company can confirm that the overall headset market has seen compound growth of 15% during 2012.
“The business solutions headset category is experiencing growth and this can be clearly identified to two specific areas: the growing popularity of wireless devices and the rise of voice application usage within unified communications and collaboration deployments.
Although the contact centre has seen static growth in terms of units sold, we are seeing a steady increase in the deployment of wireless devices being sold into this sector.
Historically wireless in the contact centre was cost-prohibitive. Now, with wireless devices only costing approximately 20% more than traditional corded headsets, we are seeing our entry-level wireless headsets, such as the Jabra PRO 900 series, becoming increasingly popular. This is especially true for home-based agents and team leaders who require freedom of movement and conference call ability without experiencing the DECT density issues that used to be prevalent with wireless headsets. However, with Jabra’s range limiter technology this issue is now a thing of the past.
As unified communications becomes a more accepted solution within contact centre environments we expect to see increased requirements of our UC, USB and Bluetooth enabled devices in both corded and wireless variants, to suit the specific user-types.
We are also seeing significant growth within the office space, driven predominately by the need for greater mobility and the increased deployment of voice applications within unified communications and collaboration technologies. This is driven largely by Microsoft, Cisco and Avaya UC solutions.
“With the adoption of UC set to reach approximately 50 million worldwide users by 2015 we predict that demand within the office space for UC-enabled audio devices to support an enterprise voice roll-out will supersede sales of traditional contact centre headsets by this date.”
Jane Craven, Director of Sales for Sennheiser UK Telecom also acknowledges the developments of UC telephony systems and the deployment of softphone clients has led to a major increase in headset attach rates and a corresponding decline in the use of deskphones.
“There is also a shift to mobile working patterns driving the BYOD phenomena. The use of personal mobile devices is leading to a big shift to the purchase of business quality headsets, as users want better quality than the earbuds that usually come in the box with their mobile device.
Enterprises want to benefit from the cost savings and efficiencies offered by UC with on-screen information including presence, instant messaging and unified messaging. The need for on-screen UC deployment is driving the adoption of hosted UC clients and in turn UC headset attach rates. Users are increasingly migrating from the desk phone to UC soft clients on their terminal of choice: PC, notebook, tablet or other device. Headsets can also deliver true business efficiency advantages; with a headset your hands are free which facilitates multi-tasking.
As teleworkers move around they want access to their contact directory on their chosen terminal which is the device they feel more comfortable in using. Many of the BYOD terminals do not however provide adequate levels of privacy or clarity for voice communication. As the trend towards work mobility continues to develop it is likely that fewer people will have a permanent office desk with more remote teleworking, further driving forward UC headset attach rates.
In the call centre market there has been a trend to repatriate centres back to the UK for better customer service levels. This has been matched by a recognition that using good quality headsets with clearer communications in contact centres improves productivity and decreases call time. Agent and especially supervisor mobility in call centres is another growing trend.”
The Lync Effect
With much talk in the market about Microsoft Lync we asked suppliers if they had noticed if the application was a factor in the market today.
Ioan MacRae at Westcon Convergence says Lync is most definitely a factor. “Headsets define the UCC experience with the softphone voice and video client and the rise in Microsoft Lync adoption can be seen by the rapid increase in demand for MS Lync Optimised headsets. Westcon has seen a 45% growth in sales of MS Lync Optimised headsets FY12 v FY13.”
Andrew Doyle at Jabra Business Solutions says that his company’s’ experiences of VoIP as consumers, utilising Skype, Viber and FaceTime for cost-effective communications on smart devices has been the starting point for their exploration and subsequent adoption of unified communications and collaborations within our working lives.
“Microsoft Lync really has been the game changer which has brought VoIP into the enterprise space, although there are other strong offerings available such as Cisco Jabber.
These business-focused platforms require a high quality audio device and this is helping to drive the growth of devices within the office market.
With this growth comes a challenge for IT departments, who are increasingly facing demands for collaboration technology and enterprise-quality voice delivered across multiple devices that were not originally created to deliver voice in its richest form. Overcoming this challenge relies on the recognition that the attachment of a good quality audio device can provide the bridge between ‘smart’ device and business-quality voice.
With this in mind we believe we will continue to see UC headset sales grow at double-digit rates during 2013 and beyond.”
Jane Craven at Sennheiser is also seeing the Lync effect.
“That is why Sennheiser places a strong emphasis on multi-vendor interoperability for its headsets offering integration with UC telephony solutions such as Microsoft Lync, IBM Sametime and Cisco Communicator. Sennheiser has Strategic Alliance certifications with other major suppliers of unified communication solutions such as Aastra, Siemens, and Avaya.
Our Strategic Alliance programme ensures that Sennheiser’s wired and wireless headsets are compatible with global providers of telephony and UC platforms and products. Working with our partners we develop integrated, easy-to-install, solutions that deliver the ultimate UC experience in terms of sound, comfort and hearing protection.
Softphone attach rates for headsets are rising rapidly and as a market innovator Sennheiser is leading the way with a series of headsets designed for softphone usage. Sennheiser wired headsets are available with a USB interface for connection to the growing number of comms devices that support softphone apps.
In any market there are sectors that perform better than others so where, in the headset market is the low hanging fruit?
Andrew Doyle at Jabra says the Public Sector is a key vertical for device vendors as we are seeing an earlier adoption of UC here than in other segments of the market.
“As they strive to reduce operating costs by moving to a home-working model, the public sector is deploying UC applications and therefore has a requirement for good quality audio devices to enable the user to feel the benefits of the solution.
This UC growth and device attachment can also been seen across both Enterprise & SMB.
SMB’s will find it easier to implement a UC platform by utilising solutions such as cloud based technology and will therefore see the financial benefits quicker than the Enterprise sector. The Enterprise sector might find deployment more complex due to working across multiple sites, countries, IT architecture and needing to take into account corporate governance. Both vendors and partners need to be aware of this and not only factor in the relevant timescales of this type of project, but also provide the right level of support to ensure the devices suit the user and the purpose.
The finance vertical is still an important source of revenue as they believe in the value of audio devices. Finance organisations use wireless devices more than any other vertical, allowing staff to benefit from that level of mobility as well as hands-free productivity, whilst on calls.”
Jane Craven, Director of Sales for Sennheiser UK Telecom notes that early adopters for UC solutions include the financial industry, emergency services and the IT sector.
“Many of new innovations such as UC are ‘disruptive’ technologies that are rapidly reshaping working practices. Remote working is on the increase, with working while travelling, and working from home becoming common place. Hot desking and other emerging working practices mean that even in the office mobile devices and PC based softphone applications are increasingly displacing the fixed-line deskphone.
As deskphone use has declined, headset attach rates are soaring because users need privacy to chat via their notebook, tablet or other mobile device. Change on this scale brings with it opportunities for the channel.”
Tom Downes at Quail Digital comments that in the sectors we operate in, customer service, speed of response, accuracy and efficiency are the measures of success.
“Clients identify wireless headset systems as products that free up time and help deploy staff more effectively, doing more with the same resource level.
Wired intercoms, walkie-talkies, PA announcements and pagers which have been historically the default choices for ‘group’ communication in retail premises, are today being replaced by headsets in many instances.”
Headsets on a High
Nimans is predicting a ‘perfect storm’ that will drive headsets sales into a new era of growth – based on advanced technology, customer demands, more manufacturer support and lower prices.
“All the big opportunities in the UK market are currently UC driven but we expect the general headset market will continue to blossom over the next few years,” says Director Richard Carter. “We recently landed a £500,000 order for 10,000 headsets (via a reseller) for an IT giant rolling out UC across Europe. This mirrors where the comms industry as a whole is heading. With UC you have the same headset whether you are in the car, office or home. These trends have been talked about a lot but it’s really happening now. The headset market has moved on tremendously in the last 12 months on the back of UC driving working practices and procedures. Home working is another influential factor.
“Five years ago, a headset would only pair via Bluetooth to your mobile phone. But now you can connect to a laptop, tablet, smartphone or deskphone for example. It’s about integrating lots of different communication devices via one headset. There’s some very clever and innovative technology being developed and this is further accelerating growth: UC and Microsoft optimised products. Prices continue to fall which again is another important consideration.”
Carter continued: “Growth forecasts with UC headsets are around 13% this year compared to 5% in the traditional call centre market and resellers should be able to capitalise in both areas. Corded remains the most popular in contact centres although UC is gaining ground.
“There’s more focus on the ‘last three feet’. Companies can spend millions upgrading their comms systems but they need to ensure their headsets are up to the job. Without a high performance headset everything can fall apart -voice, data and presence. The headset holds the key to it all because it’s the device that people.
The headset market has been somewhat blighted by most models being available from web sites thus making it a good chance that the reseller will be cut out of the sales loop. Richard Carter at Nimans told us that most vendors have recognised this and are taking steps to introduce reseller accreditation schemes. Whilst this will up the perceived skill level of resellers and add some value it will also eat up scarce reseller time and resources. Sennheiser says sell headsets at the outset of a comms proposal. That’s probably a better thing to do. Get the order before the user starts browsing.