Raju Venkatraman’s tryst with businesses in the B2B and B2C segments have given him a unique understanding of how customers differ in their expectations
Raju Venkatraman, a serial entrepreneur, is known for successfully starting and selling ventures such as Vetri Systems and RevIT, both focused on the B2B space, till he entered the healthcare segment a few years ago with Chennai-based Medall Healthcare. Having effectively branded each of his ventures in the B2B space, he is now exploring the opportunities of taking healthcare not only to corporate employees but to the common man as well and fine-tuning his branding strategy along the way.
Belief in brand
Venkatraman is no novice to the art of branding. In fact, his journey seems to have begun when he was still in school. His father was employed in a private firm and was also a stockist for chemicals and perfumes. Young Raju, who helped his father in his business, admonished his father for not understanding the importance of branding and successfully proved his mettle by making two ventures profitable. “At that time, the movie ‘Sankarabharanam’ had been released and was a super hit. So I sold incense sticks under that brand name and we made profits,” reminisces Venkatraman. By December, when many south Indians head for the Aiyappa temple in Sabari Malai, Kerala, chanting Swami Saranam, he branded and sold incense sticks under that name and managed to rake in profits again. This encouraged him to try other ventures successfully and use branding effectively.
“ B2C customers have very simple expectations. They come for a service, and if it is delivered to their expectations, they are happy. If there is even one complaint, I magnify it by a factor of 1,000 because most do not voice their concerns. ”
At Cadbury’s, where he began his career after studying at IIT-B, Venkatraman’s understanding of branding was enhanced, as he got involved in the branding and marketing of a new product released at that time. The brand was shut down after two years, but the lessons remained and helped him in repositioning EDS, a U.S.-based imaging technology company. At that time, EDS was a powerful brand, but considered a tape hanger – a vanilla tape solution provider for mainframes. A B2B company, it wanted to be known as an innovative solutions provider in the imaging segment. Venkatraman’s experience helped as he was roped in for the rebranding exercise and he managed to turn the quarter million dollar company into a US$100 million company in six years. “In the B2B space, you have to sell fear, uncertainty, greed and even death. You have to stroke their ego and position your company as the answer to their needs,” he points out.
The first chapter
By now, confident of his understanding of how businesses work, Venkatraman founded Vetri Systems in 1991. Initially he positioned it as a product company, but realising he had no skills in that area, he rebranded the company as a BPO.
When naming the company, he clearly did not believe in Shakespeare’s rhetoric: ‘What’s in a name’. A name should be crisp and intriguing but at the same time, mean something. He was inspired by names such as XEROX, which is made up of five letters but he wanted it to mean something. ‘Vetri’ seemed to fit the bill and was a good talking point with customers predominantly based in the U.S., as it kindled their interest and means victory.
“It was a phenomenal success. We created acrylic coffee mugs that had a sheen to it and our customers – who use mugs to drink coffee – never used this one, instead they preferred to put it on display,” recalls Venkatraman. In addition, he was where his customers were – in golf courses, conducting seminars on cost cutting, providing continuous education to his customers in ensuring strategic growth. But, though the brand was a success in the U.S. with the customers, he did not establish the same connect in India, which is where he was sourcing talent. As he recounts his life lessons, this is one area he wishes he paid more attention to, namely, connecting with your prospective employees through communication.
However, when he sold Vetri Systems, it was a win-win for him and the buyers who took over. Stints at Lason and RevIT followed, adding feathers to his cap and showing him that a giant like ICICI could use his expertise in reaching out to potential markets, internationally.
Dealing with expectations
A satisfying career and several laurels later, Venkatraman planned to retire but could not. Today he runs Medall, a diagnostic chain with 90 centres across the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh.
At Medall, like with his previous ventures, Venkatraman puts his brand first. One of the first considerations when taking up an office space was that the company’s signage should be visible clearly and it should be close to the airport road.
Sharing his experiences on the difference in branding for the B2B and B2C segments, Raju Venkatraman says, “B2C customers have very simple expectations. They come for a service, and if it is delivered to their expectations, they are happy. If there is even one complaint, I magnify it by a factor of 1,000 because most do not voice their concerns. So we have a strong customer service team and every complaint is drilled down to understand employee attitudes and behaviour.
Relatively, B2B customers have more complex expectations. “Here, it is not just about the service we deliver, but the assurance that the manager who signs us will not lose his job. That he can trust us to deliver on our promise. We cater to unstated needs beyond the obvious requirements.”
Having established many brands he says that he has no qualms in letting them go. “When I worked with Cadbury’s, I was called Cadbury’s Raju; then EDS Raju, Vetri Raju… We must know when the purpose with which we started a brand has been served and exit accordingly. I never lost sleep when I was with those brands and do not lose sleep about letting them go. Whichever brand I work for, I give my all. And then I let go knowing my purpose is served.”
COMPANY: Medall Healthcare
FOUNDER: Raju Venkatraman
After decades of experience in the B2B space, Raju Venkatraman turned to starting a B2C venture, focused on providing holistic healthcare and diagnostic services. Apart from visibility, customer service and delivering on a promise are the two best ways to make Medall a household name, he believes.