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An interview with Imago’s Wayne Mason

Wayne Mason could have been a professional rugby player – but instead, decided to get a proper job. That ‘proper job’ turned out to be as the second or third person to join Tandberg in the UK. In 2005, he joined Imago, and is now Head of Group Marketing and Products. Here, he talks about what it takes to succeed in videoconferencing – and the lessons he wishes vendors would learn.

How do you see the videoconferencing market?

It’s been really interesting to me to see the shift that’s taken place there. We’ve seen household name companies like Microsoft, Cisco and Logitech come into it – none of whom has what you might call an AV background, which is where the videoconferencing market used to be. That whole discussion – is videoconferencing an AV technology/solution or an IT technology/solution? – got stirred up again when Lifesize parted company with two AV distributors – Touchline and Medium – and replaced them with an IT distributor – Avnet. Questions were asked about whether this was the end of the line for AV distributors in videoconferencing.

From our point of view, it’s a non-argument. The key to success in videoconferencing is focus. It doesn’t matter whether you come at it from an AV perspective or an IT perspective – the key is to embrace it, to make it part of your core offering. It’s vital to understand the end user, and the kind of solution he’s looking for.

Even now, videoconferencing is very much an evangelising kind of business – it’s as much about articulating the benefits of the technology as it is about communicating the benefits of specific products. And it’s changing all the time. Tablets will have a big impact, and so will the cloud.

There’s no question: companies that are committed to the market are the ones that are succeeding. Imago is a prime example, Our focus is exclusively on video media technologies like videoconferencing, video streaming, VOIP and VOD (video on demand). We don’t think of ourselves as an AV distributor or as an IT distributor, but as a video technologies distributor. If you look at the thousand or so resellers we deal with, it’s clear that the ones who specialise, who focus, are the most successful ones. Where failures occur, you can almost always put them down to a lack of commitment, to an opportunistic attitude to the business.

Our business model is a very different one from those of the broad line distributors – precisely because we’ve elected to specialise. Where other companies may have account managers who have videoconferencing among their offerings, we have 25 account managers who do nothing but videoconferencing and its related technologies. We’ve made a substantial investment in people and skills – and it’s paying off for us.

How has Imago’s business developed?

I think it’s fair to say that we’ve become much more educated, more professional, more imaginative, more creative. That’s what competition does to you. It’s an on-going process. ‘Value-added distributor’ is a much over-used phrase – but I think it accurately characterises what we try to do. We want to invest in our resellers’ business, because we’re under no illusions: their success is our success.

Where we invest a good deal of time and effort is in uncovering the products that help to round out the solution we can offer, that complete our portfolio – the peripheral technologies that add value, both for the end user and for the reseller. A prime example of this is what we’ve done with Revolabs and their wireless mics. They’ve just now introduced their Flx 2 audioconferencing product. We’ve grown with them, and there’s a real feeling of partnership between the two companies. What Revolabs bring really enhances the value of our core offerings. Of course, we have that same close relationship with Polycom – and that’s probably why we’re their largest distributor in EMEA.

What does your focus on the video market mean in terms of the products you carry?

Where we invest, in terms of product development and product acquisition, is in our core video media market. But we’re well aware that, for many of our resellers, they want to be able to buy pretty much anything from us – displays, for example. And we’ll ensure that we can supply the displays they want – we would never turn business away. It’s all a question of value, though, and margin. We need to be able to generate the returns that will enable us to invest in supporting our resellers – and there certainly isn’t the margin in some technology corners that allow that. It’s all about being aware of what we’re good at, and making the most of it.

How do you see the challenges of the next year or two?

There are three challenges that I see. One of them is how we can communicate better with our channel about keeping their hearts and minds open to all the added value opportunities that exist around the core videoconferencing offering. I mentioned the Revolabs product set earlier, and that’s the kind of thing I’m talking about – opportunities for value-added for both the end user and the channel. We need to do a better job of showing them how it all fits together, and how it’s good for their business.

The second is about the channel as well. If you look around the industry, there are many, many good people. The challenge is how do you provide them with the education, the skills, the support that it takes to succeed? This business isn’t getting less complex, and the need for training is both pressing and on-going. We have a vital role to play there, and we need to ensure we execute on it the best we can.

The third concerns vendors. I started my working life with a vendor – Tandberg – so I’ve been there. Vendors can be their own worst enemies. They’re forever looking over the fence at what their competitors are doing – but that’s not what’s important. Resellers are always complaining about how vendors engage with the channel – and they’re not wrong to complain. Vendors need to listen to the channel. Yes, we want them to create the brand, to develop the market, to engage with end users – but we need them to listen to the channel, and to invest wisely in that channel.