Just in time for CEDIA Expo 2018, Sonos invited a handful of journalists - both trade and consumer-focused - to their Boston-based office to announce the new Sonos Amp and a commitment to the industry that is poised to be the audio darling's most significant triumph yet.
And while the Sonos Amp philosophy goes hand-in-hand with empowering dealers (which you can read about here), the intangibles that they bring to the table may be the most exciting news the company has released since they first began formally courting the integration channel in 2012.
All for One, One for All
Sonos' CEO Patrick Spence has brought a lot of positive attention to the community he hopes to build up and has been relentless in bringing new initiatives, and programs to its loyal partners including a rep-free direct-service model, co-op funding, and freight initiatives regardless of company size. Sonos has also recently joined Azione Unlimited, bringing three pillars of success to the buying group.
But Sonos doesn't want to piece-meal a few favors here and there - they want to build on their foundational success to empower the industry.
Which makes the ventures from Andrew Vloyanetes, Zack Kramer, and Patrick Gall so important. Combined, they are spearheading the Installed Solutions efforts, acting in unison to address the pain points of dealers from around the globe, and, importantly, in our own backyard. Although their venture is relatively new, Vloyanetes is already starting to see an internal recognition of why this channel is so essential in impacting the industry.
"I've spent almost my entire career here at Sonos solely rooted in the installed solutions channel," said Vloyanetes, Head of Sales, U.S. Installed Solutions. "It was myself, and another guy who managed all the business for the U.S. and I think, in that moment, there were seven or eight people here at Sonos who understood the channel or how it works. I'm so happy today that if you pick any random person and ask them 'what is this channel about?' or 'how do they operate?' and anyone can tell you about it."
"It's a testament to the investment that the company has made, not just in the products we are seeing today, but the people investments made," he added.
In tandem with Vloyanetes, Gall, Installed Solutions Marketing Lead, and Kramer, Global Head Retail & Commercial Installed Solutions, can continue their grassroots-esque campaigns to build "above the line awareness." They are able to develop programs and initiatives that focus not on the size of the company but on their loyalty to the company. Other initiatives include working with account managers to make sure small firms can run the same promos that Amazon and Best Buy run, and not pay the difference out of pocket. It also means they can participate in giveaways to generate brand loyalty.
More importantly, the Installed Solutions team can also take impromptu ten-city tours to explain the Sonos Amp value prop to 700 dealers, solidifying their value to the client by hearing about products ahead of time. That also means installers stay in front of lengthy sales cycles, speccing out products like the Sonos Amp for jobs as soon as the product is available. And even if the dealer missed a few details, a new dedicated tech support line will put troubleshooting to the front of the queue to avoid wasting time on-site.
Underscoring all the campaigns, Sonos is also launching a brand new portal. Added functionality allows dealers to build out proposals in the same day, manage multiple shipping destinations, bundle products together, track progression to freight discounts, and built-in account-based management and coupon codes. And Vloyanetes says that's just the start.
The new portal will also support a community platform, giving installers a private peer-focused forum to ask questions that might not be relevant to consumers. The move is inspired by the warm reception occupying Azione Unlimited's slack channel after their recent partnership earlier this year, wherein members can transmit real-time information that might otherwise get lost in a feedback loop between forwarding emails between people.
"It's just getting back to basics," Gall said. "Historically we have not been great at communicating with dealers on a consistent cadence. Now, for the last year, we have had a monthly newsletter with whats hot, we have had weeks of webinars for new products. It's all these amazing new tools, but it's just making sure we have the obvious communication lines for our dealers."
All this combined, Sonos is adding one more chip to the pot in a go-to-market strategy that involves pre-qualifying clients with local integrators. In what should be more than just "someone local in your zip code," it will tell the story of what an installer is and what they can do.
"What we don't realize in the industry, customers might not realize what is possible in their home, and that's really the value prop of what a professional installer can do," Vloyanetes said. "Being able to qualify those customers and show what an installer can do will live on our website and ultimately connect those customers with that installer. It just feels like a long time coming."
This is by and large the most ambitious manuever from Sonos, but there is no reason to doubt the dedication and passion leading the Installed Solutions arm that will once again set the industry pace for what it means to be a leading-edge company.
Bridging the Gap
Setting foot in the Sonos office, an abstract black-and-white wall, a 1,300-square-foot living plant wall, and speaker paraphilia signed by music legends vie for attention. It's a workspace that matches the personality of the products and employees, painting the picture of dedicated staff hungry to change the way the industry at large perceives the company and the products they make.
Truthfully, Sonos has had a few hiccups since their 2002 inception, but have been primarily committed to making sure that their product philosophy stayed partner-agnostic in both who they work with and who they sell to. That means balancing a reputation for being the best DIY wireless home product for audiophiles but agile enough for integrators to manipulate it into any project. Finding their stride meant sacrificing their opportunities in the custom market to remain consistent with a consumer-facing image, but the recent about-face has made it feel like a calculated loss that Sonos refuses to take lightly.
And CEO Patrick Spence's opening comments that morning acknowledged just that. He has noticed a shift in the way clients interact with integrators, underscored by an industry ready to court architects, builders, and designers. He is also markedly aware of when a client's demand for a whole-home wireless audio solution becomes a point of friction if the manufacturer and integrator are not on the same page.
"There is a ton of strategic alignments between this installer community and the mission goals of Sonos," Spence said. "We know when we build products that make our partners more successful and let them do more sophisticated installations - that we learn how to make the Sonos system better. We are all in the business of using technology to improve the quality of the people's lives in the home."
Those comments made by Spence not only reflect the direction of Sonos, but they also resonate down to every corner of the company - especially for Kramer and his role with Installed Solutions.
"We see so many things pushing into the integrator space," said Kramer. "We see some of the biggest, if not the biggest opportunity for Sonos more and more in the space as these very different solutions come together in the home... There's just a lot of reasons to be optimistic about how this all plays out for the industry. We're excited to be a big player in that and really build our experience, to take advantage of that."
"We see big things ahead for the channel, and it's a really exciting time to be working on it," he said.