It used to be not long ago that headsets were thought of as add-ons in the channel, a throw-in to make a sale, especially within the telecom channel. Then voice over IP (VoIP) and unified communications (UC) made their way into the IT channel, making communications technologies such as headsets a critical part of a solutions bundle.
Likewise, it used to be that Sennheiser was known strictly for its microphones and high-end headphones, sought after for their crisp, high-quality sound output by audiophiles who didn’t care about the price. But Sennheiser changed with the times, and along with the proliferation of UC in the business space, expanded its lineup to include high-quality yet affordable business-class headsets.
Now the company is looking to get the word out to the channel.
“Our telecom division has been in existence and working with channel partners since 2003,” said Bill Rice, national sales manager, Strategic Alliances at Sennheiser. “And we’ve been experiencing double-digit growth since then.”
But those partners have been mostly telecom specialty partners including those in the contact center business, which meant a whole population of partners offering UC that had no idea Sennheiser was playing ball.
“As the UC market has expanded and our portfolio has grown into a fully rounded portfolio, we looked at the availability of our products and learned we need to be where the buyers are,” Rice said. “They don’t source through specialty distributors but more through integrated distributors.”
That realization led to Sennheiser striking a deal with Ingram Micro (IM) and D&H Distributing, giving the headset an instant audience for its full range of headphones, earphones and headsets, both wired and wireless. “We don’t want to be over distributed, we want to be properly distributed,” Rice said.
The company also invested in its in-house channel organization, hiring more field salespeople to get the word out about Sennheiser’s offerings. The next big hurdle, Rice said, is making it known to the channel and end users that quality doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.
“There is the assumption that [Sennheiser products] are going to be more expensive. And when you look at products that are comparable, it’s easy to compare and say they are more expensive. But if you look deeper at offerings with similar features and similar functionality we are absolutely competitive,” Rice said. “We offer a good-better-best scenario with our products—we want to deliver something that is high-quality but affordable—and all of our products excel in durability. It’s not a scenario where users are going to have to replace their headsets in a year.”
The idea seems to be sinking in: Sennheiser has experienced double-digit growth in the channel this year, Rice said. “There is an acceptance from the end user community that quality can make a difference.”
Also spurring the company’s growth is the growing adoption of UC, especially as the technology has moved downstream, and the popularity of wireless as more people want to be mobile even within their offices.
“I think what is interesting is the growth and demand for wireless products. It’s an area that continues to grow. We see more organizations migrating their once-static users to wireless because they want a more collaborative work environment. Wireless gives them the ability to do so,” Rice said.
That desire spells a perfect opportunity for channel partners to prove the importance of the headset in a solutions bundle.
“Headsets once were thought of as commodity, but they are the last line of communication to the customer. End points are critical—you don’t want that communication with the customer to be sub-standard. When IT departments start to realize a headset is an asset and communications device and tool rather than an afterthought, they can actually end up spending less and show an amazing amount of ROI,” Rice said.