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Innovation is great, but how do you do it?

By: Justin Vanhartingsveldt, Co-President & Co-Founder, SalesEvolve

Merriam-Webster defines innovation as “a new idea, method or device” and “the introduction of something new”.  If you were to ask a person, “what is innovation?”, you will likely hear a wide variety of answers. Some will side on the “invention” side of the definition. Others will define innovation loosely upon taking an existing idea and making it better.

Most company’s innovation cycles typically focus on taking an existing concept and making it better. Coming up with a truly new idea and making it a reality can be significantly more difficult, take more time and involve more risk. However, if your idea is a winner, well-executed, and has financial backing, inventing something new can be a game changer for your business.

While the focus of this blog is primarily positioned on new products or services provided by businesses, we must recognize that innovation isn’t always what you directly sell to your customers. Innovation comes in all forms—more efficient production methods, a better way to work with clients or an evolved product or service. Likewise, customers can often experience the results of innovation through better prices, a higher quality product or solution, or an improved customer experience.

“How do you innovate?” is such a strange question 

If someone were to ask “how do you innovate?”, it’s likely the question will spawn a subsequent question—such as “what do you mean?”. The act of innovation is infinitely large and there can be no one way to answer it. However, we can examine what spawns innovation and potential sources of innovation. Additionally, we can examine how companies can take innovative ideas and transition them into meaningful change. Of course, there will be many ideas and discussions that will not make it into this blog. But let’s cover some higher-level topics.

Why innovate?

In our world, if your company isn’t innovating, it’s stagnating or falling behind. Some companies can get away with a lack of innovation longer than others. But eventually, someone will come up with a service, product or company that is better than yours. If you aren’t innovating, you will some day encounter a new competitive threat and you may find yourself in a position of chasing the market instead of leading it.

It’s not uncommon for SalesEvolve to be exposed to businesses who have put off innovating for very good and logical reasons. For example, if a business missed its sales targets, it’s tempted to reduce expenditures. Consequently, money ear marked to innovation is often the first to get chopped. It takes money, time, effort and dedication to innovate. With resources being constantly stretched for many companies, it’s not surprising why companies struggle to innovate.

Whatever your reason for not placing focus upon innovation within your business, it still doesn’t absolve the need to keep moving forward. Your existing customers do not care about your good reasons for not investing into your company in this way. Furthermore, your competition will use every opportunity to get in-front of your company and take away your market share. 

What drives innovation?

Typically human behavior, environmental change, difficult times and challenges often push companies into innovating. Frustrated customers are a good example of this. In general, companies want to please the audience they serve. If there are areas where businesses are failing their audience, they will work hard to correct the issue. Otherwise they risk losing a broad swath of business. Similarly, business environment challenges also push companies to innovate. Our recent pandemic, for example, will push many organizations to adopt new technologies or adapt their product or services to accommodate a changing world. While change can be the driver of innovation, the companies that listen to their audience and pay attention to their ever-changing environment will emerge as the innovative leaders.

Tips to be an innovative company

The answer to “How do I innovate?” requires answers that are highly specific to your organization. Companies like SalesEvolve are happy to work with you to develop and execute innovation plans for your company. But if you are reading this blog for some ideas, we’d like to provide five suggestions to get you started:

#1 – Listen to your customers

Make it a company wide mission to have a strong feedback and validation program. Solicit feedback and suggestions from your clients about their experience, what you can do to make your solutions better, and where they need future help in their business. When this is done routinely, you will be in tune with their needs. But you must listen to this feedback and sometimes what you will receive may be difficult to hear.

Our suggestion is to 1) log feedback by subject matter, 2) quantify the types of requests you are receiving, 3) prioritize change based upon where your clients will receive the most impact, 4) schedule these changes into your development cycle, and 5) communicate with clients that you have received their feedback, and that help is on the way.

#2 – Pay attention to your market & competition

Often your competition and the direction of the market will give you exactly the information you are looking for. Stay on top of emerging technologies, what industry analysts are talking about and what your competition is doing. Focus your innovation efforts not only to be current today, but to lead the market tomorrow.

#3 – Listen to your staff

Your people are in the trenches. As such, they are often closest to your customers. They also work with your products and within your company on a daily basis. If you listen, you will be surprised by the good ideas your staff provide.

#4 – Set aside a budget

As mentioned earlier, innovation requires money, time and dedication. Carving out a specific budget that’s dedicated to product or service development or supporting staff as they seek to develop new solutions, is an effective way to show yourself that you are serious about innovation. When you deliberately set aside money you are far more likely to devote the resources and time.

#5 – Create a task force

You need staff who dedicate time to innovation. Many organizations have “skunkworks” teams whose role is to come up with new and innovative ideas for the business. Give them time and resources to be creative and do your best to not influence their creativity. However, it is wise to have a project leader for this team. It is also important to expose the group to the feedback coming from your staff, customers, and marketplaces.

If your team is struggling with stagnation or a lack of innovation, our team at SalesEvolve would certainly be interested in speaking with you. Sales is an organizational effort and our goal is to help businesses increase their revenues through holistic, organizationally oriented solutions that are developed specific to their needs. Our services support a number of areas, and we can help you to develop and execute innovation plans for your company. Reach out to us to get the conversation started.