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Educating customers in a Covid world

Mark Stanborough, sales director EMEA & APAC at MediaStar Systems talks to Installation about his role and the impact of Covid on the business

How did you get into the industry?
I had been working in IT sales for many years and when I saw a job for an IT/AV sales executive, the AV part of it appealed. I’d always been keen on home cinema and photography, so it sparked an interest. 

What was your first job?
Obviously, the obligatory paper round, and a stint at McDonalds during college, then I started working as a programmer for a software company. 

What does a typical day at work look like for you?
During lockdown it has looked very different to normal. Usually I travel extensively, maybe one week in the UK for every week I’m in China, India, South Africa or Australia, and I attend exhibitions most months. At the moment though, I start early with emails to the Far East and Middle East and then I’m on voice or video calls all day with channel partners and distributors, and sometimes end user customers. I oversee sales, but I also talk to customers about making good use of their kit too. The past few months have given me back a lot of time, so we’ve focused on training and presentations and really built close relationships with a lot of partners and customers. 

What has been your favourite/proudest project to date?
We delivered an IPTV managed distribution system for Bloomberg across 73 countries, and installed a large system at their new European HQ in London. Not only was it extensive and complex, we were also working in a beautiful building, so it was a favourite project in many ways. 

What is the most ambitious project you’ve worked on?
I happened to be at a meeting with a banking customer in the City of London, and they were in the process of migrating from an old distribution system to our IPTV solution. There was a sudden power supply failure and they lost video access to 70 displays very quickly. I walked through the requirements with the bank, and our integrator on the spot and 24 hours later we delivered everything required to get them up and running again.  It was an ambitious requirement, but we did it.

How do you balance life and work?
It’s all about give and take. I’m up early working, but I finish on time in the evening and I see friends and spend time with my children. I have also been recovering from an operation during lockdown so I’m just getting back to running, and cycling, which is great because I’m spending so much time at my desk. 

What are the biggest challenges you face in your job?
Customer education is the biggest challenge – how to help companies really make the most of the IPTV systems we provide. We can install something and go back a few months later to find that all they are using it for is the delivery of ten TV channels to TV screens. I spend a lot of time pointing out that it can also push TV signals to desktops, they can add tickers and fire alarms. They can display information and restaurant menus if they want. There’s a lot to it, so education has to be the top priority.

How has Covid affected your business and what have you done to mitigate the issues?
It’s slowed down orders and put projects on hold. We’ve noticed that in the Far East and Australasia where we do a lot of work, projects are picking up again, and customers are thinking about adapting their existing solutions to help them through the pandemic. The use of digital signage has shifted so it can display safety guidelines and information for people still going into the workplace. The biggest impact for us has been the lack of exhibitions and events, so we’ve focused entirely on organising online training and webinars and increased our digital content to keep front-of-mind with customers.

How has the pandemic impacted upon you personally?
For the past few years I’ve visited customers overseas once or twice a month.  I’ve not set foot on a plane in the last year, with only a few face to face meetings in the UK.  We’ve been able to adapt however, and I can run training and demonstrations online now, allowing me to reach more people in a shorter space of time. I do believe it’s not the same as face to face, and I’m looking forward to the time when I can present to someone in person.

With the workplace likely to have changed for good, what is MediaStar doing in terms of changing its business approach to capitalise on the ‘new normal?
We’ve adapted pretty well internally to working from home and organising regular team meetings online and with customers and partners. Our technology is adaptable and we were quick to market those features that could enhance the changed workplace – everything from highlighting how vital messaging could be inserted directly into IPTV playlists to using automated controls to switch screens on and off without needing to touch them.

What are the company’s plans for 2021 and beyond?
Similar to that of the 2nd half of 2020.  Focus on online training and demos, and development of new products.