Plantronics Uses Mobile To Help Sales Associates Seal The Deal

Increasingly this year, developers and agencies are helping clients mobilize their B2B channels in addition to their consumer-facing presence. At next week’s OMMA Global in San Francisco (March 19-20 at the Marriott Marquis), our OMMA Mobile show-within-a-show will include two fascinating cases of brands leveraging mobile in the sales channel itself. Both Plantronics and Aflac have developed device-based programs that touch the salespeople who touch the consumer, but arm this important link in the supply chain with the right information.

For instance, we all know the pain of dealing with big box and telecom retail saleskids who know less about the technology than we the buyers do. Generally, they are young, at varying levels of commitment to the job, and more of them than not are new. It is difficult to fault the retailers themselves for this. Turnover is outrageous. Pay is meager. Online competition is both fierce, and the Web is super-educating consumers before they walk in the door. And the range of products any salesperson must fathom is daunting.

As we recounted here recently with the Etymotic brand of earphones, some manufacturers are trying to get their wares noticed in the sales channel by becoming part of the training cycle, and they are using mobile as the best way to reach these young staffers.

“If you look at the age demographics of the sales associates, I want to get to them with tools they are already comfortable with,” says Amber Gravely, channel marketing manager for popular mobile headset maker Plantronics. Her company sells through the big-box stores like Best Buy as well as the carrier retail outlets, Verizon, Sprint and AT&T. Typically, face-to-face training at the retailer is the most valuable part of the process for her because it puts the Plantronics sales team on the floor showing the associates how best to sell.

“But once we leave, we’re gone,” she says. Usually they leave behind flyers to keep the brand top of mind with the sales staff, but that is costly and quickly outdated. When Gravely surveyed the salespeople themselves, it turned out they all preferred to get communications via that device. Working with AvatarLabs, they developed a series of retailer-specific mobile Web sites that incentivized and inspired the salespeople to sell.

Understanding that they were developing for a younger tech-savvy audience of associates, Plantronics and AvatarLabs devised these sites to look and feel much more like consumer-facing affairs than the typical button-down B2B asset. Bright brand colors splash across the site. The user is invited to consult the three top points worth making about the product at hand.

“We are putting the key features of the product at their fingertips and why they should sell one product over another,” says Gravely. In other words, they are training young and often inexperienced associates how to sell.

In some cases (when the retail partner agrees) the associates are incentivized to register and provide their email with sweepstakes. The videos are very popular, and they serve a dual purpose. The demos of the product help the seller understand how it works, but it is also an asset that can be shared with the consumer.

By harvesting emails from the salespeople, Gravely is able to remind them of the presence of the mobile site and push new product information or just maintain a conversation. But all of this is done in concert with the retailer and their existing training programs. Gravely says the companies have been enthusiastic partners so far. For one retailer, Plantronics will make the experience available for their in-store PCs as well because the company does not subsidize their staff’s cell phones.

For Plantronics, the mobilized training system opens up a new channel of communication with the sales floor itself. They can see what the associates are and are not coming to use, and can push out to the salespeople real-time updates and incentives.

Ultimately, this sort of multichannel approach to mobile at retail may move us away from both retailers and even consumers weaponizing the in-store use of the cell phone. In this first wave of smartphone use in-store, retailers seemed threatened by overeducated consumers and the prospect of having customers poached by the newly portable Internet.

Manufacturers can be part of the solution by speaking directly to sales forces with information that is customized for the specific retail setting. In the end, you don’t want salespeople sniffing at the smartphone some customer is waving at them with a lower price or specs the clerk didn’t know. You want the salesperson and the consumer working collaboratively toward finding the right solution -- and perhaps doing so by sharing the one interactive platform they are accustomed to using.

How about the next time you walk into a retailer, the salesperson says, got a smartphone with you? Let’s get to this site to help you find what you need. 

Tags: mobile, retail
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