Canberra Strategic Marketing is a proven example of how dedication to providing good, reliable service to an established customer base can pay off handsomely.
Ron Ashpole was a telecommunications manager before he decided a small-town consultancy owned by a friend had "loads of potential" and bought his way into Canberra Strategic Marketing. At the time, the company, known to friends and acronym lovers as CSM, was run single-handedly by its founder, a SOCOG executive and ACT marketplace connoisseur Steve Doszpot. His original intention was to make CSM a successful . . . hmm . . . introduction agency. But two years and several strategic company introductions to the Canberra marketplace later, Doszpot's sharp business antennae picked up on the change that was sweeping through the corporate world. Doszpot assumed that the rapid computerisation of the Australian workplace would create a need for a printing solutions specialist, so he steered the CSM ship straight into the Sea of Dots and Inches. Needless to say, CSM has had no reason to look back since.
"We now consider ourselves to be a document management company," Ashpole says of the company's direction. "We provide services in document management such as determining best methods for customers to produce their documents, implementing a solution which includes software and hardware to manage the environment in which they produce their documents, providing them with hardware and consumables," he explains.
It was the combination of choosing a very narrow area of specialisation and years of "reputation nurturing" that has made CSM an example of a can-do reseller par excellence.
To start with, they are a small (30 people) operation that is by anyone's definition more successful than quite a few bigger and stronger players in their area of expertise, which is providing and servicing printing solutions to corporate and government markets.
Last year the company became a bit of an instant IT channel star when it scooped a major printing solution deal with the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) under the outsourcing umbrella of the US giant EDS. This strategic alliance will see CSM get its piece of a $100 million solution and service contract over the next five years.
And then, there's CSM's status as "preferred government supplier" and a few deals in the pipeline, all of which is making quite a few people green with envy. However, Ashpole doesn't buy the little green men act, pointing out the company has had to put a lot of hard work into getting where it is today. "We had to develop a high level of expertise in our specialist field, which means that anything we sell, we service - and we have to do it well."
Remarking that it took CSM almost 10 years to build its "good name", Ashpole identifies the decision to get into the outsourcing arena as the turning point that propelled CSM onto the stage of very successful.
"Around two years ago, we realised that the government marketplace was shrinking due to outsourcing and we made a conscious and strategic decision to become a part of that government outsourcing, rather than get squeezed out of the market altogether," he reveals.
So how did they manage the transformation from "a government market player" to their most impressive role to date - that of the "EDS outsourcing star"?
"We had to do two things. Firstly, we had to strategically position ourselves with outsourcing companies; and then we had to add value to the equipment we supplied. I really think the issue for us was that we were able to convince the outsourcing companies that we were able to do this - that is, deliver what we do best as part of an outsourcing contract."
Surely this doesn't mean that the sailing has been all plain ever since, we ask? "Oh, but it has, it's always been easy," protests Ashpole, playfully reciting the preferred marketing line and masterfully covering up his real intentions until the eruption of "you don't really believe this, do you?"
"I guess all small companies have been through hard times getting to where they are, and we are certainly no exception," he offers on a more serious note. "But we did a good job proving to our customers we could be a good partner for them and that we can deliver both during the tendering phase and a contract phase.
"And because we're a smaller company we can concentrate our resources and efforts in servicing our customers well and I think that's a key issue." Yet, despite being so successful, CSM has no immediate plans to expand its presence beyond Canberra, the place where most of their business is.
"Expansion is a possibility, but we would prefer to lock in our existing contracts before we decide to expand significantly," Ashpole says with his trademark conscientious approach to meeting the needs of CSM's customers. "Our philosophy has always been that this game is really about providing good service so that you can differentiate yourself and this is what we try to do and be good at."