Innovation isn’t a magic potion accessible by an elite few. Innovation is a learned practice and way of looking at things – products, processes, customers, ideas and solutions.
By shaking us out of our comfort zones it can transform customer experience, employee engagement and business outcomes.
B2B organisations pride themselves on delivering innovative solutions to customer challenges, but they can be less confident when it comes to capacity for internal innovation.
Where innovation exists, it tends to be squirrelled away in an R & D portfolio – left to the proverbial ‘mad scientists’, while the rest of the business busies themselves with daily, noisy distractions.
It pays to have a portion of your organisation incubating the ‘new’, but 21st-century success demands innovation come out of the closet and into all aspects of organisational life.
Here are some tips to help B2B organisations gear up for impactful, profitable innovation:
Innovation starts with a culture check
A common mistake of organisations working to introduce more innovation is to create a ‘big bang’ launch of an innovation program without laying the foundation for success first.
If your organisational culture is dysfunctional or unaligned, invest in diagnosing key problems first, and start working on solutions. Talk with internal leaders about what you hope to achieve by introducing innovative practices, and sound out their ideas and concerns.
When you’re ready to unveil your vision and plan, make sure the steps are iterative. Get your internal influencers and connectors on board early, and allow their enthusiasm to build out your innovation narrative, one step at a time.
If your culture is risk-averse and reprimands experimentation or ‘off book’ activities, innovation will never become normalised. How can your procedures, reward systems, governance and structures support innovation from the inside-out?
Align with organisational strategy
Your innovation strategy, methods and tactics must align with your overall business strategy. How will innovation practices help you grow your business, maintain customer relevance and isolate primed areas of opportunity?
If innovation is siloed from the reason your people get up each day and how you measure success, it will remain an abstract with no tangible positive impact. Generate innovation initiatives and practices around strategic objectives. Consider how existing processes and systems support or block, innovation. Is automation freeing team members for creative work? How can technology scale creativity and effectiveness?
Reframe yourself as B2B2C
Distance from your customer’s customer can isolate thinking and ideation, and its the way B2B is historically hardwired.
Smart B2B leaders are thinking beyond this view, honing an understanding of their customer’s relationship to their customer community.
They’re unlocking new perspectives, insights, intelligence – arming them to more deftly steer customer success over time.
Innovation master Clayton Christensen speaks to the importance of this longitudinal view:
“Instead of asking what their company does best today, managers should ask, what do we need to master today, and what will we need to master in the future, in order to excel on the trajectory of improvement that customers will define as important?”
You’ll be timely and relevant if you’re helping your customer do the same. Stepping up to own this also helps your shape the needs of your market. Melbourne-based innovation practice Inventium dubs this ‘Projective Customer Competence’.
Innovate to your strengths
The pressure to innovate can see organisations wade in over their head, focusing on areas outside their core competencies in an effort to think ‘bigger’ and more laterally.
But ‘outside the box’ works best if you’re already creating the most innovative boxes in town.
Instead, study the problems you’re solving for your customers (and their customers) and the barriers to consumption on those journeys.
Invite and empower a ‘blue sky’ approach to reducing and removing those barriers, and engage teams to collaboratively build on the results. You’re still thinking big, but that thinking is targeted.
Consider how to engage partners in your innovation mission. Assemble subject matter specialists to augment each other’s work. Diffuse risk and share reward.
Innovation is an incremental journey, but it’s becoming essential to thriving in a fluid and accelerated market. No matter what you do, disruption is tilting at you, and the best antidote is to make innovation a habit.
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