SMB Nation Blog

SMB Nation has been serving the Bainbridge Island area since 2001, providing IT Support such as technical helpdesk support, computer support, and consulting to small and medium-sized businesses.

What’s the real value behind Unified Communications?

If you asked 10 IT Directors or Managers for their definition of UC, you’d probably get 10 different answers so let’s simplify it to “An easy way to work together via voice, video, online collaboration and mobile devices”.

That easy way to work together is really what Unified Communications should be about.

In this sense Unified Communications is simply a way to describe what business has always needed – communications and collaboration working in harmony to achieve tangible benefits for the bottom line and for the user experience.

Defining the ‘what’ of UC is good but we also need to ask why businesses need Unified Communications.

“Using Mitel’s suite of UC and collaboration solutions, we can close about 10-15 sales a day at the end of the month, and can get the money into the bank account faster.” Paul Whiting, IT Manager, Revolution Tea

Mitel works with businesses across the world and here are five of the most common reasons these customers cite for choosing UC technologies.

Productivity Enabling better ways for people to get more done together.

Continuity Ensuring the business is always available to do business.

Mobility Supporting a connected workforce demanding 24/7 access from anywhere and using any kind of mobile device.

Integration Leveraging, rather than stranding, existing and potential IT investments.

Future Proofing Being ready for future challenges and developments in technology.

This customer feedback is covered in depth in a guide which explores the most popular reasons for Unified Communications deployments and shares real-life feedback from businesses about the potential value of UC.

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Sennheiser helps activate the potential of Unified Communications with the launch of wired headset series Culture Plus

Old Lyme, Conn., November 9, 2015 – Sennheiser, a leading provider of premium headsets and speakerphone solutions, announces the launch of its new wired deployment headset Culture Plus. The new headset series is designed to facilitate office workers’ adoption of Unified Communications (UC) solutions and help activate their full potential.

Culture Plus headset  Seinhauser

Transitioning to UC environments means changing habits and communication cultures – within the organization as well as for the individual employee. As a direct communication interface between people, headsets play a significant role when implementing UC and positive communication experiences are crucial for higher adoption rates and hence a positive Return on Investment (ROI).

Sennheiser’s new Culture Plus wired series has been specifically designed for UC environments and swift user acceptance. The new, comfortable headset combines Sennheiser’s outstanding sound quality, 'instant comfort' features and an attractive design. Certified for Skype for Business and compatible with all major UC and softphone brands, the Culture Plus series is ideally suited for enterprises and offices that are adopting a new UC work-culture.

Culture Plus features Sennheiser’s sound quality, benefiting caller and listener alike. Sennheiser Voice Clarity, which is based on wideband sound, provides a warm, more natural listening experience while the noise-cancelling microphone ensures optimum speech intelligibility by filtering out ambient noise, delivering an optimal communication experience even in the noisiest environments. In addition, sound enhancement profiles automatically adjust audio settings to optimize either the voice quality of calls or the user’s multimedia experience. Culture Plus also features Sennheiser’s advanced ActiveGard™ technology developed to safeguard users from acoustic shock and sudden sound bursts.

The new headsets’ sleek look and quality design help ensure rapid user adoption. The stylish, contemporary appearance has been crafted with the user in mind, ensuring a good look whether used at the office desk or during video calls. The flexible, lightweight headband features leatherette padding that adjusts for a personalized fit, while large, acoustic foam ear pads with soft, removable leatherette covers ensure flexibility and wearing comfort throughout the day. The bendable boom arm allows the microphone to be placed in perfect position to ensure optimal microphone performance.

A functional in-line control unit ensures calls can be managed intuitively and seamlessly with the touch of a finger. In addition, the unit controls the switchable Noise at Work limiter compliant with EU’s Noise at Work Directive¤¤. When not in use, the headset can be stored and transported in a practical carry pouch.

“Headsets are an important consideration in any UC deployment”, says Lars Riis Rasmussen, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, EMEA, at Sennheiser Communications. "Culture Plus is an ideal solution for organizations that want their office workers to rapidly adopt headsets in a UC environment. It combines Sennheiser sound quality and instant wearing comfort in a communications experience that will make it easier to enjoy the benefits and activate the full potential of UC solutions.”

The addition of the Culture Plus wired series complements Sennheiser CC&O’s broad product portfolio of headset and speakerphone solutions for contact centers, office and UC environments, which capitalizes on Sennheiser’s 70 years of sound leadership, research and development.


About Sennheiser
Audio specialist Sennheiser is one of the world's leading manufacturers of headphones, microphones and wireless transmission systems. Based in Wedemark near Hanover, Germany, Sennheiser operates its own production facilities in Germany, Ireland and the USA and is active in more than 50 countries. With 18 sales subsidiaries and long-established trading partners, the company supplies innovative products and cutting-edge audio solutions that are optimally tailored to its customers' needs. Sennheiser is a family owned company that was founded in 1945 and which today has 2,700 employees around the world that share a passion for audio technology. Since 2013, Sennheiser has been managed by Daniel Sennheiser and Dr. Andreas Sennheiser, the third generation of the family to run the company. As part of the Sennheiser Group, the joint venture Sennheiser Communications A/S specializes in wireless and wired headsets and speakerphones for contact centers, offices and Unified Communications environments as well as headsets for gaming and mobile devices. In 2014, the Sennheiser Group had sales totalling €635 million. www.sennheiser.com


For more information on our professional headset solutions, please visit www.sennheiser.com/cco

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Battle Tested – Sennheiser Headset in O365 UC Environment

For many, this is the brand that needs no introduction. Who can forget this German company with its yellow headphones in your youth, when you listened to the likes of the Allman Brothers, Fleetwood Mac, et al. I remember well, and Sennheiser headphones both revolutionized the listening experience and also kept family peace (so I didn’t play my rock-and-roll too loud).HarrySenn

Fast forward the movie and this well-respect brand associated with high-fidelity is not only alive and kicking but more relevant than ever. Sennheiser is now a major player in Unified Communications (UC) headsets. I’ve put the SD Pro1 to the test these past few weeks, and can report the following:

Supporting multiple call types. The ability to switch between my traditional Polycom VoIP phone and computer-based services like GoToMeeting and Skype is amazing. I can have my traditional calls via the SD Pro1 headset and my phone and then switch to Skype with push button ease for overseas clients. The “switching” has been flawless.

Range. Tested on the 20th floor of a busy downtown Seattle building, the range was impressive. I could migrate around the entire floor (even outside my leased office space) and once rode the elevator down, keeping the session alive until the 18th floor. That was unexpected.

Fidelity. The proof is in the ear of the customer. When using SD Pro1, I repeatedly asked how my sound quality was. I did this for two reasons. First, I wanted to know how well the SD Pro1 actually works. I’ve heard reactions from “fine” to “best ever.” Second, I wanted to practice what I preach. I’m so pissed off at people using UC solutions like Skype for Business and talking into their built-in laptop microphone. The sound quality for computer-based microphones sucks. I refuse to devolve about 15-years to poor quality VoIPy-like conversations. My point is that I’ve made a commitment to sound quality with Sennheiser and my entire staff is outfitted with the same. Stamp out poor sound quality in UC!

Music to my ears. Returning to my Sennheiser roots, I discovered I can listen to music while working and switch to incoming phone calls with ease. Using the online streaming capabilities of my laptop, I can listen to my beloved KEXP public radio (www.kexp.org) during the day. This hip station streams alternative music that keeps me calm and young at heart.

So find out for yourself if Sennheiser SD Pro1 allows you to step up to the next level with UC.

PS – Sennheiser is a sponsor at this weekend’s Fall conference in Redmond! Still time to join us in-person or via live streaming. Visit fall2015.smbnation.com.

by Harry Brelsford, CEO, SMB Nation

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Digium Switchvox Cloud 6.0 provides lower cost option to SMBs

Competitors hoping to entice both small business and enterprise customers need to offer fair, scalable pricing with high-quality solutions, and VoIP provider Digium realized this with Switchvox Cloud 6.0.

Digium, Inc. announced yesterday the release of cloud-based UC service Switchvox Cloud 6.0, which now offers a metered pricing structure for organizations with low usage patterns that want the features and opportunities of a business-class phone service.

"Switchvox Cloud's new, lower cost, metered offering starts at $12.99 per user, per month, reducing the barrier to entry for customers looking to migrate to cloud communications," said Channing Hinkle, product manager for Switchvox Cloud.  "Companies with variable call volumes, due to seasonality or other events, can save money by paying for only the minutes they use.  It's the perfect complement to our current Switchvox Cloud unlimited minutes offering for users with more consistent call volumes."

Important features of version 6.0 include updated call control and call visibility widgets, options for integration with CRM tools such as Salesforce and enhanced administrative tools.

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Tapping into Channel Program Resources to Support Reseller Growth

By Pete Engler

As a business owner, you know the best formula for distributing funds and other resources throughout your organization in order to support growth. Even so, the budgeting process can be tedious, and for small to medium businesses (SMBs) there is often a give-and-take strategy. That means sacrifices may be required in one or more areas of the company to allow for larger investments in another part of the business.  The first question then becomes: Where are the cuts (or savings) going to come from to help fuel your plans for growth? The next question should be: Are there any alternatives to help offset the ‘sacrifices’ you’re making, or are there creative ways to add resources without implementing drastic cost-cutting measures? If you are a value added reseller, the answer to the second question is a resounding, “Yes - there are alternatives!”  

The vendors, whose products and services you sell, may hold the key to you accessing platforms and services that could be utilized within your organization as part of your growth strategy. By tapping into these vendor-provided resources, not only does it help you avoid having to make cutbacks, but it may also free up precious cash in your budget. After all, why invest in marketing or training solutions with your dollars if one of your vendors offers you access to similar solutions as a benefit of their channel program?

Before your next cycle of budget planning begins, take a closer look at the sales, marketing, and training tools, along with any other resources your vendors provide. Here are some examples of common vendor-provided resources and support that have been successful for partners:

Training tools are extremely important resources to utilize for your entire customer-facing staff.  Having a well-educated staff for the products and services you offer translates into satisfied customers, especially if your business model is that of a managed services provider. When your customer calls in with an issue, having a knowledgeable staff to answer the call will help lead to a quick resolution and make a significant difference in that customer’s experience. Some vendors may also provide partners with free (or discounted) end-user training videos and classes that you can offer to your customers. Using these pre-packaged resources means you don’t have to invest money in creating your own training materials or programs (and in some cases, you can sell the training and use it as another revenue source).    

Content Syndication is a web-based tool that allows vendors to replicate product or service microsites to their resellers. That means you get a hassle-free way to add vendor-specific product and service information to your website. Content syndication services are usually pretty simple to use so you don’t have to invest in a lot of extra web resources. While the vendor controls the information and how it is presented, as a reseller, you benefit from the consistent look and feel of the design, and from having up-to-date information maintained by the vendor with minimal effort needed by you to implement these tools. For replicating microsites the process is as easy as generating HTML code from the content syndication platform and adding it to your website. In addition to providing product-related content, some content syndication platforms also provide email functionality and social media, or social sharing, functionality. This additional marketing support can make a big difference for your business.

Joint webinars are seminars conducted over the Internet by a vendor and reseller. They allow your customers to get information, answer questions, see a product or service in action or become educated as to how the product or solution can solve problems they are experiencing in their business. Webinars are great for any level of customer interest but may work best for those not too far along in the decision-making process. Vendors will often host the webinar with you, or provide you with webinar content so you can host your own. This saves you from investing your marketing efforts to create a webinar from scratch. And, if using the vendor’s webinar hosting solution (such as GoToWebinar), you avoid having to pay for the cost of that solution.

Lunch and learns are in-person training or educational opportunities designed to circulate information to the attendees on a specific topic. Lunch and learns present a more personal experience and should typically be reserved for prospects further along in the buying process but haven’t committed to a purchase. These prospects may need this extra, in-person session to be swayed into making that final decision. Vendors will often provide you with program content, marketing messaging and materials to promote it. They may even send additional sales or technical support to help you properly staff the event.

Live event promotions can be more creative and casual than a standard lunch and learn. Vendors are usually willing to help you identify, promote, and host a fun, but effective prospecting event. While golf tournaments may be come to mind, ask vendors for insight into alternative events that have been effective for other channel partners. A couple of ideas that have worked in the past includeaMovie afternoons/evening event and even an indoor skydiving event. Typically there is a sales pitch before or after the event to the prospects. These types of events would also be perfect for prospects well along the purchasing decision process that need a final push to make a buying decision.

Partner Portal is a website that allows a vendor's partner community to access marketing resources, pricing and sales information, as well as technical details and support (that may be unavailable to end users). For example, a partner portal may list promotions or discounts for the partner or end user, marketing collateral, competitive data, selling practices, training or support information, and host of other content. The partner portal is typically accessed through the vendor's website, with the use of sign on credentials assigned to each partner. Having access to this information can be extremely helpful, especially competitive data and industry insights/reports that you may otherwise have to pay for or spend lots of time researching and putting together on your own.

Marketing Collateral is the collection of tools used to support the sales of a product or service. Collateral can be, but is not limited to, printed and electronic product information (brochures, flyers, postcards, etc.), product data sheets, white papers, PowerPoint presentations, competitive battle cards, case studies and more. These tools are intended to make the sales effort easier and more effective. Using co-branded vendor collateral can benefit you by creating credibility for your business. It also provides your marketing and sales teams an effective way of explaining the benefits of the vendor’s product or service.


The marketing tools can vary a great deal between vendors, from simple collateral (brochures, competitor slicks, etc) and promotions (giveaways, contests) to the shared cost of events and B2B platforms that integrate into a reseller’s sales tools (website, content syndication, etc). Utilizing all that is offered by a vendor will still require using some of your own budget, but it’s possible to further offset the costs if there is potential for using marketing development funds (MDF.) MDFs are funds made available by avendor to help channel partners sell its products and create awareness. Regardless of the availability of MDF funds, there should still be plenty of vendor-provided tools and resources available to make your sales process easier and help supplement your company’s own resources to make your budget stretch a little farther.

Pete Engler is the channel marketing manager at Digium, a business communications company based in Huntsville, Ala., that delivers enterprise-class Unified Communications.

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NEC Releases Update for UC for Business Solution

NECEarlier today, the NEC Corporation of America (NEC) announced the latest release of its UC for Business software application. The company explained that version 7.0 has been updated to include TouchPoint, a customer interface program with support for global multilingual contact centers.

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Zultys Releases Update to MX Unified Communications Platform, New Cloud-Based IP Phone System

zultysZultys, a Sunnyvale, CA-based VoIP/UC solutions company, announced the debut of its MX Release 9.0, the latest version of its MX UC platform. In particular, this latest release comes with the addition of a cloud-based UC platform in the MXvirtual solution, and other features that allow the user to have a similar communications experience to a system admin.

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Polycom Announces Expanded Interoperability with BroadSoft UC Services

polycom smallYesterday, Polycom, Inc., announced that it has expanded interoperability with the BroadSoft UC Services line. This announcement added Polycom’s VVX300 and VVX 400 phone models to the interoperability list, which will help SMBs provide HD video and voice capabilities in their offices.

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Digium Launches Digium Cloud Services with Acquisition of VocalCloud

Digium logoDigium earlier this week said that it acquired VocalCloud, a provider of cloud-based VoIP solutions, in order to create Digium Cloud Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of Digium.

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Guest Blog: Decoding UC: 5 Core Benefits of Unified Communications

Brian FergusonBy Brian Ferguson, Product Marketing Manager, Digium

The term Unified Communications (UC) has been poorly defined by the industry and clouded by mixed marketing messages. Every major IP communications vendor has a UC section on its Web site with hyperbolic statements such as, “UC is changing the way you do business” or “Reinvent your productivity capacity with UC!” To help clear it up for those SMBs that may be in the market for a UC system, let’s first define Unified Communications: UC is the merging of many different communication methods including voice, email, video and instant messaging into one unified system.

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Microsoft WPC: Chinook Communications Launches Total Connect UC Package via Lync

And the news out of Microsoft’s WPC event this week just keeps on a comin!

Chinook Communications said today that it has made enhancements to Total Connect, a fully integrated advanced collaboration and communication bundle for SMBs. The Total Connect updates are enabled by Chinook Communication’s production release of Microsoft’s Lync Server 2013 Multitenant Hosting Pack.

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Guest Blog: 7 Tips for an Effective Unified Communications Security Strategy

By Billy Chia, Technical Marketing Specialist, Digium

Unified Communications (UC) presents unique security challenges because it brings disparate technologies, such as VoIP, video, chat, email and presence, together into one unified messaging system. As the technology has become more complex and more accessible from the public Internet, the security threat has increased. While large businesses can dedicate substantial resources toward securing their communications, SMBs need solutions that are both effective and simple to manage security.

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ShoreTel President/CEO Set to Retire

ShoreTel confirmed this morning that Peter Blackmore, the company’s president and CEO, has informed the company of his intention to retire as soon as a successor is announced.

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Unified Office Releases Total Connect Now Solution

Unified Office logoMore news today from the Enterprise Connect 2013 event in Orlando, FL as Unified Office, a cloud MSP, launched their Total Connect Now solution. Total Connect Now was designed by Unified Office for use in SMB environments, and is built to help organizations embrace BYOD.

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Alcatel-Lucent Announces Release of Cloud-Based Collaboration Suite

Alcatel-LucentYesterday, communications service provider, Alcatel-Lucent announced the availability of a new collaboration application suite for small to medium businesses. The OpenTouch suite, revealed at the Enterprise Connect 2013 event in Orlando, FL, is aimed at helping organizations meet their growing communication needs.

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Plantronics Announces Suite of Lync 2013-Enabled Devices

Plantronics logoToday, Plantronics, Inc. announced a suite of Microsoft Lync 2013-enabled devices at the Lync Conference 2013 in San Diego, CA. This suite includes some of the company’s most well-received lines and is designed with options for any mobile worker.

The Plantronics Optimized for Microsoft Lync 2013 suite includes the following devices:

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SYNNEX and Avaya Enter Into Agreement

SYNNEX LogoThe SYNNEX Corporation recently announced that they have entered into an agreement with Avaya to provide the ability for partners to capture Unified Communications opportunities through the SYNNEX CONVERGEsolv Secure Networking program. Through this program, the two companies will work together to develop a comprehensive collaborative communications solution.

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