EPOS has had a reassuringly busy start to 2021, with a new partner programme, a high profile sponsorship deal with Aston Martin and a raft of new product announcements. James Goulding finds out more about developments at the audio specialist from Sales Director Jane Craven.
Audio brand EPOS has achieved a lot of firsts this year, including its first video product, its first mid-range wireless Bluetooth headset and its first global partner programme, which it is introducing to help partners upsell and cross-sell to their customer base from the company’s expanding product range.
Like a lot of technology companies, EPOS experienced a boost in demand for its products last year, as previously office-based employees started working from home and collaborating over Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Headsets were often provided as part of a Work From Home toolkit, but as with some other emergency purchases, they were not necessarily the best ones for the job, so while it’s possible that everyone who needs a headset already has one, Jane Craven believes there is now a great opportunity for partners to upgrade existing headsets to something better.
“Most people who understand they need a headset have one by now, but they are often entry-level headsets because at the time the business simply said ‘give me something that we can connect with’ and left it at that. Now, businesses are coming back to us wanting to know what the right headset is for their needs.”
Craven cites the example of a bank that still greets callers with a recorded message warning that agents are working from home and apologising for any background noise. This, she suggests, is bad for customer confidence, as consumers don’t like the idea of an agent’s partner or children being next to them when discussing confidential financial information, and also unnecessary as equipping agents with the right headset would block background noise anyway.
“In this case, it’s very much a matter of ‘Let’s get you the right headset, so you can take that message off: you will feel more comfortable; the agent will feel more comfortable; and the consumer will feel more comfortable’. So, yes, there will definitely be a rise in demand from businesses looking to upgrade to the right headset.”
Backing this up, Craven cites EPOS research showing that 83% of global decision-makers now think that audio equipment is as important or more important than the quality of laptop and PC equipment for efficient collaboration. “That’s really good news for our partners, because it means customers are going to continue to invest in this technology,” she says.
Craven adds that having a headset portfolio that meets specific customer needs is important now that IT departments are reasserting control over the headset buying process and increasingly involving end users in the selection process.
“We are seeing a big move away from Bring Your Own Device. BYOD was immensely popular a few years ago, but IT departments really struggled to support a lot of devices from a lot of different manufacturers, especially if they had to do it remotely. So, throughout the pandemic we have seen procurement brought back under central control to make things easier for the IT department.
“At the same time, companies are getting really good at involving cross sections of their employees in the choice of headset. Rather than dictating one size fits all, the IT department or whoever is responsible for the roll-out is spending time asking ‘what is the job you do; do you travel a lot; do you sit in one position all day, so is comfort important; do you have a noisy environment at home, so is noise cancellation important. They are making sure people get the right headset and have a say in selecting it as well.”
EPOS helps resellers facilitate this process, not only by engaging with the business on their behalf and providing trial equipment, but also by producing training guides showing how businesses can get the best out of each product and tailor settings to each individual’s needs.
To help partners maximise these opportunities, EPOS has launched its first tiered global partner programme. Called Amplify, this standardises the support that EPOS has been providing informally on a country by country basis and, instead of the previous division between managed and non-managed partners, introduces a tiered structure (Silver, Gold and Platinum) for the first time.
“We operate a selected distribution system at EPOS, and in order to be a partner of ours you have to be pre-approved so we already have the crème de la crème on board as partners. This new programme is about making sure we keep developing our relationship with them. This is something we have done in individual countries in an informal way for quite a time now, offering market development funds, dedicated account management, local marketing support, but we have never had a formal process for it, delivered on a global basis,” explains Craven.
“Partners are tiered by revenue and by engagement level. This means that smaller partners have as much opportunity to become a Gold or Platinum partner as the large multi-national partners that we have. It is not about how much you are trading with us, how much revenue you are doing, it is about your growth potential as well. If someone is a Silver partner now, we want them to be a Platinum partner in the future. The Amplify programme very much supports this, with dedicated e-learning, full training, marketing tools, everything a partner needs to be able to move up.”
In devising Amplify, EPOS asked partners what they did and didn’t like about other programmes and on that basis have made improvements, like a more structured deal registration process, or introduced things it didn’t have before, like an NFR programme to ensure partners get samples of new products before anyone else.
“We’ve really listened to what partners want Amplify to do, and the fact that we’re not just basing it on revenue but also on engagement level is something they’ve really got behind,” says Craven. “A lot of other partner programmes are very much about revenue and that’s not fair to smaller channel partners that are really dedicated and put everything behind the brand but are never going to be turning over millions.”
She adds that the response of existing partners has been excellent, with nine out of 10 already signed up. Not that this surprises her. “There’s no reason why anyone wouldn’t sign up for it because it is 100% benefit – we are not asking partners to do anything additional to what they do already.”
At the same time as launching its new partner programme, EPOS has been expanding its product portfolio in interesting ways, bringing new cross-sell and up-sell opportunities. New products that really stand out are the Adapt 200, Expand Vision 3T and Expand Capture 5.
*Adapt 200: Craven describes EPOS’ first mid-market wireless Bluetooth headset certified for Microsoft Teams as a ‘game-changer’ for the company. “This is the product we have needed in our portfolio. When we have gone and shown it to people, there has been a lot of excitement. The pre-orders for it are like nothing I have seen before,” she says.
*Expand Vision 3T: This video bar certified for Microsoft Teams Rooms on Android and suitable for meetings with up to seven people is EPOS’ first video collaboration device – the first of many. “You have to have video now,” says Craven, “With the shift to hybrid working, everything in the office is going to be about meeting spaces and the meeting room environment. All businesses are looking for technology to help them with collaboration, and that is going to be the main focus for audio brands as well.”
*Expand Capture 5: Already launched in the US, and available here in Q3, Capture 5 is a speakerphone for Microsoft Teams Rooms that also captures and transcribes meeting audio. Thanks to built-in AI and enhanced voice pick-up, Capture 5 is able to identify different speakers and attribute transcribed comments to the right person.
In addition to its headset and conferencing devices, EPOS has been developing apps and management software, like EPOS Manager provided free to every customer, that make it easier for IT departments to personalise settings and manage and administer a corporate headset estate.
Craven adds that further product innovations are likely to come from being part of the Demant Group. “They have got some amazing technology around hearing aids and very much see EPOS as the place to invest in moving forward, in terms of both technology and headcount.”
In the meantime, she urges resellers to make the most of the company’s new partner programme, which has been designed to help them increase their engagement with EPOS and profit from the company’s expanding product line-up: “There is still a huge opportunity for partners and resellers in this market and we want to help them in every way we can to take advantage of that opportunity, and one of the best ways we can do this is through the Amplify programme.”
Aston Martin’s return to the F1 track after an absence of more than 60 years is being supported by EPOS, which, as Global Audio Partner, is providing the Aston Martin Cognizant Formula One Team with cutting-edge sound and communication tools for use in the factory and at trackside. EPOS President Jeppe Dalberg-Larsen said: “Formula One today is about so much more than speed – it’s about unleashing human potential through technology, innovation and state-of-the art engineering – pillars that are at the very heart of what we do at EPOS. More than in any other sport, Formula One demonstrates the importance of sound excellence and that seamless communication holds the power to enhance both team performance and individual achievement. We can’t wait to harness our shared expertise to mark a new era in Formula One racing.”