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Sonos Doesn’t Hate Home-Automation Channel; They Just Don’t Communicate Well

(UPDATE: new Sonos CEO responds) When Sonos surprised home-automation dealers with an auto-update that crippled some functionality, they should have communicated better. It’s not always about the technology.

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Update: New Sonos CEO Patrick Spence responds (bottom of page).

Home-technology integrators are ranting about Sonos’s rather abrupt auto-update, which “broke” Spotify and Amazon Music for thousands of customers who enjoy Sonos through their home automation systems.

“Like it or not, Sonos doesn’t love you anymore,” says one dealer commenting on the story we posted yesterday about the change.

“I attended a Sonos dealer conference in Manhattan several years ago, and we were told that Sonos felt the CI [custom installation] dealers were their most important channel,” says another. “I must say after selling Sonos as an authorized dealer for over 10 years … I truly don’t think Sonos considers us that important at all.”

I respectfully disagree with these sentiments. I think Sonos does care, but they don't do a very good job of showing it.

Believe it or not, their storied history of spurning integration is not the company’s worst offense when it comes to the channel. I believe their main problem is a lack of engagement and communication in the channel.

Imagine this Dialog

When Sonos announced last September its first API for integration, it was all sunshine and roses. Dealers and smart-home vendors alike cheered with approval.

But that was kind of the end of the conversation.

No one from Sonos really articulated the disruption the new API would cause. No one warned dealers that the company would push auto-updates to connected Sonos products. They just kind of surprised us one day in late December when users tried unsuccessfully to access Spotify through their home automation systems.

Commenting on RemoteCentral.com, one dealer said about the unexpected “update”:

Complaints. Every. Day.

Finger-pointing ensued.

And confusion from customers and installers alike.

You get access to favorites and that's it, no more direct access to the services … unless you switch back to the Sonos app.

Would it have been so awful if Sonos took dealers aside at CEDIA 2016 when they dropped this “great” API news, and explained the details?

Something to the effect of: “You know we need an official API. It’s the only thing that can guarantee reliability and scalability in the future. It is also imperative to our music-service partners, who are changing the way they do business. Unfortunately, some of the functionality you had with unsanctioned drivers won’t be available in our first release. Here’s exactly what you should expect from our first official integration initiative. Here’s what your customers should suspect. Here is the time frame. We look forward to working with you closely to ensure a smooth transition and an awesome integration experience in the future. We love you.”

By all means, if your main goal for streaming music is to have it seamlessly integrated with an automation system, and if you want to use vendors that really support the channel, then skip Sonos. Duh!

And then two weeks before the auto-update: “Greetings, our beloved integrator partners. Just a reminder that in two weeks we’ll be sending out an update to Sonos players in the field. Here is what your customers should expect, and here are some suggestions for communicating with them about the changes. Did you have any questions? Love, Sonos.”

One day prior: “Tomorrow’s the big day. As a reminder, your clients will experience a disruption to the way they access Rhapsody and Amazon Music. We continue to work closely with our music-streaming partners to provide the best possible user experience for your clients. Thank you for your continued support. Love, Sonos.”

In fact, Sonos owed nothing to the integrator community. Home-automation manufacturers and dealers were deploying unsanctioned drivers, so shame on them, right?

“We’ve never had a partner program or endorsed integrations until now, so right now nothing that is out there is supported,” a Sonos spokesperson told me last year when I asked about breaking existing integrations.

I also asked: Would Sonos cripple integrations from non-partners?

Sonos replied: “[W]e currently have no plans to deliberately impact existing solutions that are not supported, but the key is that they’re currently not supported.”

So, yes, they will cripple those integrations, probably in the next few months.

Again, Sonos doesn’t owe integrators or manufacturers any warnings about a future update that might damage the user experience.

But the truth is: The integrator channel is still important to them … bigly. So they really ought to communicate with dealers, letting them know their back-door integrations will break.

Crestron does it differently

Crestron, Control4 and Savant were Sonos's first official integration partners. Crestron's implementation is different from the others. Instead of incorporating Sonos functions directly into the Crestron home-automation environment, the company created an app-within-an-app, meaning it works just like a native Sonos app … because, well, it is. There are pros and cons with this approache.

These 'Awful' Sonos Practices Have Worked for Integrators

It may very well seem that Sonos disregards our channel. Just look at their (non) integration practices, shipping policies, inventory availability, and competitive business practices, not to mention their refusal to make special products for specialty dealers.

But all of these practices in the past have actually benefited dealers. The products don’t break, customers are always happy, referrals are plentiful and the brand is strong.

For these reasons, integrators continue to sell Sonos, no matter how much they swear they’ll defect to integration-friendly brands like Autonomic, Fusion Research, Denon HEOS, Bluesound, NuVo, Russound and so many others.

By all means, if your main goal for streaming music is to have it seamlessly integrate with an automation system, and if you want to use vendors that really support the channel, then skip Sonos. Duh!

At the end of the day, though: “Sonos is a great product for what it is. Absolutely best in class,” says another dealer commenting on yesterday’s story. “Unfortunately, it is anathema to our philosophy of providing solid and comprehensive control in a single app.”

As for Sonos, even if they continue to inhibit integration, even if they compete with custom installers, even if they don’t make special products for us … they should still show us love through better communications and channel engagement.

They have very good reasons for doing what they do – reasons that would make sense to integrators if they only Sonos shared them openly.

This isn’t just about Sonos. This little lesson is meant for all vendors who want to do business with home-technology integrators.

UPDATE: Tweet from New Sonos CEO

About the Author

Julie Jacobson
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Julie Jacobson:

Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson

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