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9/18/2012
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Plantronics Gives Sales Pros New Software Tools

Plantronics wants to do more than merely connect calls, supplements its headsets with new apps that simplify CRM processes and harness users' social networks.

Plantronics is upping its stake in the software game. On Monday, the company announced a pair of applications that integrate data from tools such as Salesforce.com into the user experience of its headsets. The new resources fit into the Santa Cruz, Calif.-based organization's goal of producing smarter products that--rather than simply connecting salespeople to customers and collaborators--provide actionable, real-time information for on-the-go sales professionals.

The first app, developed in collaboration with ThreeWill for use with Salesforce.com, is called Popcorn. The software's interface is oriented around a dashboard populated with information from not only the CRM system but also social enterprise tools such as Chatter and Jive.

The program automatically launches the dashboard when it detects an inbound call coming through a Plantronics headset running the current version of the company's Spokes platform. Displayed information stretches beyond the caller's identity, including information such as his or her most recent interactions with the headset user or other people within the user's organization. The dashboard information allows salespeople to further drill given data points with just a few clicks, effectively sidestepping the often laborious task of summoning customer data through the native CRM interface.

[ See Reachable's 'Social Proximity' Helps Close Deals On Salesforce.com. ]

"When a call comes in, you have maybe 10 seconds before you answer it. [With Popcorn,] you're gonna know what's coming before it hits you," said Jeffrey Siegel, Plantronics VP of strategy and new business development, in an interview.

Siegel also pointed out that Popcorn streamlines database maintenance. "Salespeople hate CRM," he asserted, explaining that updating directly into the CRM after a call can contain up to 14 discrete steps. The app, in contrast, reduces this process down to a couple clicks. "It's like sending an IM," he said. "With Popcorn, say what you need to say, hit 'enter,' and the app puts [information] in the right place for you."

Datahug, the other new app, furthers the social integration offered in Popcorn, allowing the user to gauge not only whether his network includes links to a potential client or partner, but also whether the links are strong or weak. Siegel said that the program monitors relationships by drawing information from calendars, emails, and sites such as LinkedIn. "It doesn't say what [network contacts and the person of interest] talked about," he stated, "but it knows who talks and how frequently they talk."

The culling of data from messages and appointments, Siegel pointed out, is only part of the product's capability. He said Spokes integrates phone calls into the information, providing users another touchpoint for finding the best path to a desired end.

Siegel also positioned the new products within Plantronics' larger goal of "contextual intelligence"--that is, tools that automatically provide useful information based on what the user is doing and with whom the user is interacting. "We're blending the physical world with the digital world," he declared, "with user-aware applications that can do things you couldn't do yourself, either because they're too onerous or there's no time."

"People think of Microsoft and Salesforce as platform companies," he added, "and Plantronics is becoming that as well."

To further facilitate this vision, Plantronics established a developers' community in May and offers an SDK, which enables integration of the new apps.

Siegel said that Plantronics will look to software for the "magic" of the user experience but also recognizes that "hardware is a crucial component in making that work." To that end, the company has also introduced a new version of its Voyager Legend headset. Smaller than its predecessor, the device offers improved battery life and Smart Sensor technology that allows calls to be answered merely by bringing the headset to one's ear. It also features voice commands that include the ability to not only place calls but also to monitor power levels, and a carrying case that can charge the headset via an onboard battery. Siegel remarked that the case will be particularly attractive to traveling power users, as a headset that is depleted when one boards a plane will be ready for more work by the time the aircraft reaches its destination.

An additional Voyager model, dubbed the "UC" version, will be made available in January. It will include all the features of the just-announced model, as well as contextual intelligence enhancements that include improved access to information in cloud storage.

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