The marketing partner

Large organisations usually work with different agencies to outsource their marketing requirements, often as individual tasks. This could be right from market research and brand promotion via physical and online channels to interest generation and sales. With such diverse responsibilities, the marketing manager’s role becomes more of a project manager. However, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and family owned businesses rarely have the resources to hire the required talent or outsource to established agencies. With 25 million SMEs, the need of the hour for these organisations is to have an able partner who can oversee the function of marketing. This is the gap that Chennai-based CMO Axis hopes to plug.

Brothers Vinod and Pramod Harith together have more than 25 years of experience working in the marketing departments of large organisations. While Vinod has worked with organisations like Wipro Technologies, iGATE Global Solutions, Hyundai Motors, SSI and Medimix, Pramod has been with companies such as The Times of India, Usha International, SSI and MeritTrac. Having been a part of a vendor’s marketing ecosystem, they realised how fragmented it was. Even at larger companies, there is a need for a partner who can manage all the tasks outsourced to different vendors (silo-based approach) as a project, provide solutions and take ownership of the results. Seeing the potential and the market requirement, the siblings came together to form CMO Axis in 2008.

“We had seen the marketing ecosystem from a vendor perspective and realised that it was very fragmented.”

Large vs. small

The model that CMO Axis follows is similar to that of any other business process outsourcing unit. Its clients outsource the complete marketing process to the company so that they can focus on their core business. For large organisations, the role of CMO Axis is to supplement in-house marketing activities. “We can get through to the larger enterprises more easily since they understand what we offer, but the cycle time to take the decision is long,” says Vinod Harith, co-founder. Also, here, the company’s role is only to manage tasks.

With SMEs, the time taken to sell the concept is high as there is not much awareness and educating the customer is critical. But once the client is sure of the concept, the cycle time to decide is shorter. At smaller organisations, CMO Axis’ role is more prominent, at times substituting an entire marketing team. And this is what excites the founding duo.

Today, its mix of clients from large and small organisations is 60:40, but Harith expects this balance to shift. “We have not got into aggressively selling ourselves yet. About 60 per cent of our clients have found us through the Internet,” he says. According to him, this is due to a great need in the market for an integrated solutions provider. Small organisations in the BPO and information technology space understand the process better. Interestingly, the need is very high in the traditional industries, because of which the interest shown is high too. “The small players are competing with the large ones in a limited market space. Therefore, our services become very important,” he points out.

Offering solutions

Anything related to marketing an idea, service or a product is just up CMO Axis’s alley. Harith, rather than listing the services, illustrates with examples to show the range of activities. A financial services company with a presence in 10 – 12 countries was setting up operations in India in 2009. It approached CMO Axis for lead generation, but ended up hiring the company for sales and marketing support as well. Since then, CMO Axis has been responsible for generating US $200,000 in deposits every month. In another case, CMO Axis provides pre-sales support, right from researching a client, providing inputs for solution support and creating proposals for an IT company.

CMO Axis has also partnered with a large organisation in its corporate social responsibility initiative for environmental sustainability. It required them to contact 100 schools and colleges, invite projects, register them and then submit the proposals to the client for selecting the best for funding. It was a year-long project that ended recently. CMO Axis shortlisted 100 of the 800 entries it received. The second edition will commence shortly.

CMO Axis opts for long-term engagements, which typically last a year. In the last couple of years, the company has had the satisfaction of having contracts extended and repeat its customers. The company also accepts work on project basis and just concluded beta of CMO-One, which will be a pay-per-use model. “Here, companies can select the tasks they would like us to perform and work out the overall cost. We would do it as a project for them,” shares Harith. He expects this initiative to generate much interest and also lead to more long-term engagements if clients are satisfied.

Establishing scale

Since its business strategy applies anywhere, the company already has offices in other cities such as Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. The team strength has grown from four to 100 since inception. The company hopes to become 500-member strong this financial year with annual revenue of Rs. 20 crore, which is a four to five fold growth. It will develop two teams – one to handle long-term engagements and the other for CMO-One, as it requires a different kind of expertise. The middle and senior management are the crux of the organisation and Harith adds that it has been attracting good talent from the industries because of the potential it offers. “Many believe that the silo-based approach cannot last long and hence, come to us. We have been able to retain people at this level, which shows that we are on the right path,” he adds.

CMO Axis’ also has plans of going international. “We will hire locally, since marketing services require an understanding of local conditions,” says Harith. To begin with, the U.S. and the Middle East are being considered for expansion. “We will need funds soon. Only then we will be able to grow the way we want to and take risks,” he adds. With a target of Rs. 100 crore in the next three to four years, the company is looking not just for financial partners, but strategic partners who will be able to guide it on the path of growth.

Concept in Brief:

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) rarely have the resources to hire the required talent or outsource to established agencies. With 25 million SMEs, these organisations need an able partner who can oversee the function of marketing. Also, marketing managers of large organisations find that they have to deal with different partners for different tasks related to marketing. CMO Axis aims to fill this gap by offering a complete range of marketing solutions and owning the projects to help ease the pressure on marketing teams. Depending on its clients’ capabilities, it supplements or substitutes marketing teams. The company is self-sufficient in terms of cash flow. It is targeting a five-fold growth this year. But to go to the next level, it will look for strategic partners who will not only fuel its growth to achieve the target of Rs. 100 crore in three to four years time, but also provide guidance on the path it should undertake.

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