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High Priority!
April 2004

Rich Tehrani Better Salespeople And Aural Ecstasy

By Rich Tehrani
Group Editor-In-Chief, Technology Marketing Corporation

Are you feeling the results of the 80/20 rule in your sales force? You know'20 percent of your force is selling 80 percent of your product? Perhaps there isn't such a huge difference between your top performers and the rest of your team, but I would venture to say you have salespeople who you wish the rest of the force could emulate more successfully. Sales managers are constantly trying to get the average and below average performers to perform like their best agents. I once knew a teleservices outsourcer that had an interesting way of improving the worst performers. Every day, the worst performer was singled out and brought into a room with the best performer. Both agents listened to recordings of one another in the hopes that the 'good' would rub off on the 'bad.' If the worst performer achieved this dubious rank three days in a row, he or she was let go. This method worked for the company.

Many salespeople fail because they don't understand that sales is a process and requires an ongoing relationship. In a perfect world, there would be a way to ensure your sales team understands this process and, more importantly, follows it with every customer in order to ensure success. A company called Salesnet has created a system that is designed to help you and your sales team manage the process from start to finish. The first step is to define a blueprint for sales success using something the company calls 'workflow technology.' The next step is to prompt the user through the process, capture appropriate results and track performance.

The company claims this is the way to take sales from an art form and turn it into a science. In this fashion, they feel they can drive the fastest ROI and improve sales performance. Salesnet is designed to be used online, offline and via mobile devices (28 different devices are supported). A dashboard is included in the package, telling you the activities you must perform. For example, you may need to send a presentation to one account while another account needs a contract. Color coding helps the team easily see which activities are to be done today, which were supposed to be done yesterday, etc. The company told me they feel their system is better than other packages that are milestone-based because they are activity-based. This makes it hard to skip steps and virtually impossible to cheat.
The software is available as an ASP model and at the moment integrates with 200 different products, such as Siebel, SAP, PeopleSoft, Notes and GroupWise. Salesnet points out that you don't need $100,000 to integrate their system like many in-house software packages, you pay $5 to $15 per user per month for each integration that you desire. Currently, there is no PBX integration, but there are clever touches like sales training built in as well as a 'new user' interface.

Aural Innovation
If hosted contact center applications are the leading edge of technology, the headset must be the trailing edge. Yet if you haven't paid attention lately, you would be surprised to see that headset vendors are using cutting-edge technologies to woo users by making us more productive, comfortable and efficient.

A case in point is Plantronics, the world's largest supplier of headsets. They have been on a roll lately, introducing a variety of different products at different price points in a variety of markets. For example, the company's new M3500 is an upgrade to M3000, a product that I have reviewed in the past (see 'Plantronics M3000 Bluetooth Headset'). The M3500 is improved, as it leverages its built-in DSP to actively reduce background noise. Additionally, the headset takes certain frequencies that compose the quieter parts of the voice signal and amplifies them specifically without adding distortion. While this device is not intended for contact centers, it gives you an idea of how headset technology is progressing. It is important to note that you can use this and other Bluetooth headsets to communicate via VoIP through your computer. I am looking forward to a hands-on review of the M3500 in the future.

Wireless At A Distance
Plantronics has also released a wireless headset called the CS50, and I have had the opportunity to use it for a few weeks. It is very impressive, allowing eight hours of talk time and clear communication up to 300 feet away from the base. (In case you aren't aware, Bluetooth headsets generally work up to 30 feet away from a phone or base.)

The headset features 64-bit encryption and operates at 900 MHz. I couldn't find any devices that interfered with the signal, and the sound quality is excellent. This is the perfect headset for call center supervisors who need to be mobile, as well as other office workers who can benefit from avoiding missing phone calls when they are away from their desks. Keep in mind that some estimates put missed office calls at 70 percent! Wireless technology is the best way to reduce this wasted time and effort. The headset is light, only 26 grams, or for the metrically challenged, less than an ounce. One drawback to this device is its excessive length, which makes it difficult to store in a pocket when not in use. Other than that, it is a winner and priced reasonably with a MSRP of $299.

The Call Center Headset Evolved
While wireless is great for many applications, you don't find this technology in many call centers. SupraPlus is Plantronics' newest headset for this market. As you might expect, it is the evolution of the Supra. This is a more stylish and durable headset than the one it replaces, while incorporating a better receive-side frequency response curve, which means that agents should be able to understand customers better. Most people don't think about headset clarity as part of call center productivity, but one of Plantronics' customers points out that if they can save their company an average of one second per call, they would realize a savings of five million dollars per year! This headset is much bigger than the wireless headsets I have been reviewing lately. It works well for a call center headset, but is still a good-sized product that is lighter and more comfortable than it looks.

Support At Speed
Other positive twists in the headset department are Plantronics' QuickWeb and QuickFax repair programs that cross-ship headsets to you via expedited mailing while you mail your defective units back via ground shipping. A further area of improvement is TCO, where Plantronics supplies a video to help train agents on how best to wear their headsets for maximum comfort and productivity.

One Wire To The Desktop
Plantronics also recently announced its DA60 amplifier, which enables you to take advantage of Plantronics' sound quality when using VoIP applications. The device connects to the USB port and features echo suppression and a noise-canceling microphone.

A Headset Audiophile's Dream
The DA60 comes with PerSono Pro 2.0 software, which allows users and supervisors to have immense control of VoIP calls. The software allows agents to tailor sound quality by altering bass or treble tones according to personal preference. There are also preset profiles that can be utilized. A supervisor can enable or disable these features as needed to maintain consistency among agents if desired. There is also a feature that maintains comfortable volume levels over time to ensure that agents' exposure to loudness levels over time is not exceeded. Agents can switch headsets and their personalized settings will be restored when they log in. Supervisors can further monitor to see if a connection is broken by an agent.

As the market for headsets becomes commoditized, Plantronics does its best to differentiate itself with superior sound quality and technological innovations. By using technology that is widespread in their gaming headsets, where sound quality can be critical, Plantronics is able to continually increase the sound quality of their telephony headsets.

Amps Go Digital
GN Netcom, too, has been innovating like crazy. Aside from coming out with the 6110 dual-use Bluetooth headset (see 'Product Reviews: GN Netcom GN 6110 And GN 6210 Bluetooth Headsets'), the first Bluetooth headset to allow you to connect to both a mobile phone and a second landline phone, the company has come up with a completely digital amplifier for office use. While digital amplifiers are used in some countries in response to strict headset regulation, this technology is not commonly used around the world.

Analog amplifiers are very capable; they amplify volume and are also capable of cleaning up sound to some degree. When you enter the digital realm, you can perform many more functions such as canceling incoming noise. This is important because there are an increasing number of phone calls to call centers from mobile phones. Aside from the noise that most cell phones already introduce, agents must struggle to hear over engine sounds and road noise.

The GN 8210 amplifier can further reduce noise on both ends when paired with the proper headset. In addition, the amplifier is able to adjust volume based on the incoming signal. An agent today can take a VoIP call, then a mobile call, then a landline call, and each of these might be at different volume levels. This amplifier can correct for the noise level differences and ensure agents have clear sound on all calls without risk to their ear drums.

While the current GN 8000 analog amplifier, GN Netcom's most high-end analog amp, can stop noise peaks over a certain threshold, the new GN 8210 is able to ensure that noise levels never exceed a weighted average of 85 decibels, which is the international standard for noise. The ability to monitor noise over time is an advantage of using digital over analog. I should point out that with appropriate circuitry, you could achieve the same result with an analog amp'it just isn't very easy to do. No matter how it is achieved, reducing noise in this fashion also reduces agent fatigue.

Improvements For The Elderly
As the number of older agents working in call centers increases, it becomes important to ensure they are able to hear as well as their younger counterparts. This amp can accomplish this task by boosting higher frequencies (this is where we usually experience hearing loss as we age), allowing for crisper and louder sound. Credit GN Resound, GN Netcom's sister hearing aid company, for pitching in with the technology to make this happen. One last attribute of the amp is its ability to compensate for headsets with foam cushions by effectively increasing sound volume.

In The End
If there is a single theme throughout this column, it's that technology suppliers are increasingly launching products and services that are aimed directly at boosting productivity and ROI. In my discussions with each of the above companies, there was continuous talk of productivity, efficiency and ROI. As the economy picks up, it is clear that companies are still spending money cautiously and they are looking for immediate returns on their investment dollars. The good news is that the vendors are listening and responding with products that are meeting marketplace needs more than ever before. This is a great trend, and thankfully isn't limited to just the top 20 percent of the industry.


Rich Tehrani
Group Publisher, Group Editor-in-Chief
[email protected]

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