Customer Experience

Data-Driven Music

Sound United finds the missing piece in its strategy: rich customer data from Oracle.

By Tara Swords

Spring 2018

A lot of audio equipment companies operating today have survived formats—MP3s, CDs, cassettes, LPs—that have come and gone, but not many can claim to have launched with the gramophone. Denon & Marantz (D+M), however, gets those bragging rights. Denon was founded in 1910, Marantz launched in 1953, and the two merged in 2002. Before that point, each company had established itself as a leader in the world of professional and high-end audio systems.

“Our industry is marked by changes in either control or format,” says Brendon Stead, senior vice president of product development at Sound United, the parent company of D+M since 2017. “Every time there’s a dislocation in the industry, new businesses emerge and some of the incumbents die.”

Don Freeman, Vice President of Commercial Operations, Sound United

As separate companies, Denon and Marantz had lasted through several of those seismic industry shifts, and the D+M merger appeared to form an industry powerhouse. But by 2008, the company’s age was beginning to show. Consumers were turning to digital music and streaming services were on the horizon, but D+M wasn’t ready. So after years of declining sales, Bain Capital acquired the company and sold off the professional audio portion of the business to focus solely on consumer and home audio. Three years later, an all-star team of executives came in to transform the organization from a reactive, disjointed collection of global offices into a reinvigorated, cohesive company that was laser-guided by rich customer data.

The company’s new leaders had recognized that the audio industry was changing, and they knew they couldn’t respond to those changes effectively if they didn’t have the right tools to understand their customers.

“About 85 percent of our revenue was from audio-video receivers, but that category was flat or down year after year, and the average age of our customer was somewhere in the mid-40s to mid-50s,” says Don Freeman, vice president of commercial operations at Sound United. “We recognized the importance of getting in front of a younger audience with wireless music, so we needed a platform to help us understand and market to that segment.”

We wanted one platform for marketing and customer service, with the ultimate goal of having one customer scorecard that gives visibility throughout the organization and helps us manage the business and manage customers.”–Don Freeman, Vice President of Commercial Operations, Sound United

To complete the transformation, D+M turned to Oracle to deploy a totally cloud-based solution that would give leaders deeper understanding of the customer journey, a better way to market to prospective and existing customers, and a service platform that could cut costs and leave customers feeling satisfied. With that solution in place, D+M would be poised to launch a game-changing product line that would lead the company into the future of home audio with an expanded customer base—and provide a template for transforming the rest of its product lines.

Providing the Missing Links

To alter the company’s path, its leaders first needed to revamp the way D+M approached sales and marketing. Before, these operations were reactive rather than proactive, and customer data was limited, scattered, and mainly transactional. Different offices had different, disconnected customer relationship management (CRM) systems. The marketing organization lacked a single source of truth that it could use to reach customers, and there was no enterprise-grade email marketing solution to move consumers through the sales funnel.

Data now informs the choices Sound United leadership makes about the company’s product lines.

D+M’s IT team had previously installed Oracle Sales Cloud for the sales organization, but the application wasn’t used consistently. In addition, D+M’s sales and marketing teams needed a full platform that would address every part of their operations and integrate customer support. For that, they turned to the Oracle Customer Experience Cloud (Oracle CX Cloud) suite, including Oracle Customer Data Management Cloud, Oracle Sales Cloud, Oracle Social Cloud, Oracle Marketing Cloud, and Oracle Service Cloud.

“We wanted one platform for marketing and customer service, with the ultimate goal of having one customer scorecard that gives visibility throughout the organization and helps us manage the business and manage customers,” Freeman says. “That’s what Oracle gives us.”

The Oracle platform connects all customer-related data across every channel and turns it into insight that helps sales and marketing teams understand customers better, both individually and as a group. Today, it gives Sound United employees the power to engage with end users when and where customers want, and it gives leadership real-time reporting so they can make timely decisions about everything from marketing campaigns to product roadmaps.

Selling with Clarity

Many of Sound United’s sales happen through retailers and dealers. In the past, D+M treated these partners as its customers, relying on them to report what consumers were saying.

“When I first started, in 2013, the only person you interacted with was the buyer at retail,” Stead says. “Whatever that person told us was treated as gospel, whether or not he knew what he was talking about. We were strongly abstracted from the customer.”


Sound United

Location: Vista, California

Industry: Manufacturing

Employees: 1,100

Oracle products: Oracle CX Cloud suite, including Oracle Customer Data Management Cloud, Oracle Sales Cloud, Oracle Social Cloud, Oracle Marketing Cloud, and Oracle Service Cloud

Don Freeman, Vice President of Commercial Operations

Don Freeman

Length of tenure: Six years

Education: BS, University of Maryland

Personal quote/mantra: “Success boils down to three things: people, process, and systems.”


But after Sound United deployed the Oracle CX Cloud suite and underwent a significant culture shift throughout the organization, all of its employees now focus on the end user, not the seller. Because they now understand every interaction a customer has with the company—online, through internet-connected products, and on the phone—they can see clearly what customers want.

“We’re no longer guessing,” Freeman says. “When you can walk into the CEO’s office and say, ‘Here’s what we want to do, here’s the messaging, and here’s why’ and you have the data to support it, it’s a lot easier to get funding for projects, whether product development or marketing campaigns. We’re in the driver’s seat with rich data that helps us do our jobs better, and there’s now a lot more trust in the organization.”

The Oracle CX Cloud suite gave the sales and marketing organization the ability to target individual customers and prospects on a highly granular level. It captures website visitors’ email addresses and maps how every customer uses the site so Sound United can retarget them with specific content online. The company can also follow up with subject-specific newsletters to close the deal.

Data has taken the emotions and opinions out of our prioritizations. The data we collect through our products and through Oracle CX Cloud has made us more efficient and fact-based.”–Brendon Stead, Senior Vice President of Product Development, Sound United

Compared to the past, the addition of these capabilities alone would have been revolutionary. But a key piece was still missing: understanding what customers did after they purchased products. With the combination of a new product line and rich data from the Oracle CX Cloud suite, that was all about to change.

The Data Flows

By the time of D+M’s systems overhaul, it had become clear that the next big industry trend would be wireless music. So decision-makers at the company began developing a new line that would rival the top in-home wireless speaker systems on the market. When it was done, the new HEOS brand would be the company’s most important development in decades.

HEOS is a wireless music system that lets consumers control music anywhere in the home. Consumers can put a speaker in every room and connect it to a Bluetooth controller—whether a smartphone, tablet, or computer—for high-resolution audio. They can use the HEOS app to stream music from any major service, playing the same song on multiple speakers simultaneously or different songs in each room.

Jim Flatt, Senior Manager of Service Operations for Sound United in the Americas

This top-of-the-line, modern home audio solution breathed new life into D+M’s lineup. And because HEOS is connected to the Internet of Things, it’s also a direct link to end users that the company never had before, exposing a wealth of data that has completely changed the company’s relationship with customers and made it more agile in a highly competitive market.

When customers purchase and install a HEOS system, one of the first things they do is enter their email address into the HEOS app. It’s a simple step for customers, but for Sound United, it’s the key to the future. Now, Sound United teams don’t just know what the customer purchased; they also know details about how the customer uses the product.

Unless customers wish to opt out, the HEOS system reports back to Sound United each night with data about how the system is being used. That information has already changed the way decision-makers operate. For example, users name their speakers in the HEOS app, and the most common approach is to name them based on their location. When the product team noticed that a large number of customers had a speaker named “Bathroom,” they saw an opportunity.

“Our speakers were made with felt cloth, which is pretty traditional but not great for a bathroom,” Freeman says. “Yet so many customers were putting speakers in the bathroom, so we decided to make one specifically for that environment. The HEOS 1 has a metal grill, so it’s resistant to humidity, it’s white to better fit in with bathroom décor, and it’s smaller so it takes up less space.” That device is now the best-selling speaker in the HEOS line.

The collected data also tells the support and product teams when there are problems or bugs and gives them a nonintrusive way to fix them. That exact scenario happened recently with the HEOS sound bar.

“We knew there was an issue with fewer than 100 units, so we fired out a software update overnight,” Freeman says. “We fixed that issue, and what was beautiful was that the customer never even knew it was a problem.”

Sound United’s new HEOS line connects via an app to Oracle Service Cloud—helping to create a richly detailed picture of how customers use the products.

Stead says these decisions never would have been possible before.

“Data has taken the emotions and opinions out of our prioritizations,” Stead says. “The data we collect through our products and through Oracle CX Cloud has made us more efficient and fact-based.”

Gaining Insight

The HEOS app links with Oracle Service Cloud and gives customers a direct link to Sound United support through chat, phone, remote cobrowsing, contact forms, and an extensive knowedgebase. Every interaction ties to the customer’s account in Oracle Service Cloud, creating a richly detailed picture of how customers use the products and the feedback they share.

“We used to have all of these separate systems that did things in siloes,” says Jim Flatt, senior manager of service operations for Sound United in the Americas. “Because of the way Oracle is designed, it puts all of these various systems into one package so our agents aren’t navigating through multiple systems.”

As a result, time spent on calls has decreased by 20% and customer satisfaction has increased. The bulked-up knowledgebase went from 25,000 views each month to 147,000 views because it can answer more customer questions. Agents log everything customers tell them, and that data feeds into the CRM system so marketing can use it.

The data that agents collect also informs product direction, as in the example of the bathroom speaker that the product development team decided to create.

“Customer service used to be a backstage function, but now it’s starting to take center stage for everyone, including our executives,” Flatt says. “We now send a quarterly ‘voice of the customer’ report to people throughout the company so everyone knows what’s working well and what the customer pain points are.”

A Clear Path Forward

With all of this data, Sound United decision-makers are now operating the company with more visibility than ever before. They’re making more of their products internet-connected, developing more voice control to make the products easier to set up and use, and incorporating more customer requests in future products.

“I think one of the biggest outcomes is that we’re now a company that’s willing to take some risks,” Freeman says. “We made mistakes along the way, but we learned from them and we continued. And now, across the entire organization—from engineering to marketing to services—this has been a massive culture shift for everyone.”

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A Massive Culture Shift

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Photography By Christopher Lane/The Verbatim Agency, Sound United