Four Simple Key Steps To Innovating

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” – Alan Kay

When we are not on the Appalachian roads with Digital Builders, a creative agency and non-profit cooperative, we are reflecting on my travels, projects, pitstops and coffee shops. Many of our team have been fortunate to have had the opportunities to play the start up game on the field many times, beginning careers in Silicon Valley. We’re writing a series of articles to bring you some real and interesting stories that can quickly give you a basis and tools to start your own strategic planning for growth!

Step one, INTERPRET (assess) yourself and your opportunity and then Step two, INNOVATE around the foundational (the bedrock!) data you’ve discovered – a recap:

  • What are you trying to accomplish? Are you solving a problem or enabling something positive?
  • What can you do that is difficult for others to duplicate?
  • What are the growth areas/gaps to exploit?
  • Who are our competitors? Remember, the best competitors are the ones YOU choose!
  • Where are you going (VISION) and how are you going to get there? (MISSION)
  • Do I have my stakeholders interests in mind as well?
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There are 4 main innovation variables to explore/visit when you are driving innovation in the INNOVATE stage. Stakeholders, inventors, founders all must consider what weighted rules—both quantitative and qualitative —can be leveraged during the INNOVATE stage to drive product strategy.

  1. Marketplace. Market needs, wants, gaps which would reveal opportunities to incubate, grow, or expand customer base with market penetration campaigns that reach the untapped market.
  2. Breakthrough. Achieve differentiation with a fresh, inaugural, out-of-industry idea. Is your solution something that most would never have thought of?
  3. Vision. To develop marketing strategy and ensure long-term success, you must outline your marketing vision. What is the goal? Is it quality of life? What is the value your product/service offers?
  4. Possibility. Can your team deliver on the vision, develop a ground -breaking tool, and capitalize on the market gap? What is needed to make this happen?

Leaders responsible for innovation must remain curious and open to input from various sources (people, data, and primary/secondary research). They must filter through use of the weighted rules above to determine the following: Ideation of intellectual property and selection of the right technology for successful deployment.

Create YOUR OWN Road

One particular product strategy I recall is a time when we were looking at a technology gap analysis that was rather negative for us and not particularly an opportunity to exploit. We didn’t have the plug and play network health reporting solutions that generated dashboard graphs and charts for management like the leading sellers had. It was clear there was a significant gap between us and the competition. We had home-grown software “tools” that we’d sort of stitched together in an attempt to display an integrated solution. The tools worked really well, however, and were highly customizable which built a lot of goodwill with enterprise network engineers because it put analysis and reporting power in their hands.

The IT department’s staff prided themselves on certifications and technological know-how and were skilled at using many tools to get the job done. In their world, one box or one application that “did it all” was suspect. They liked being the only ones that knew how to use so many types of solutions, and the more technical and accurate the analysis tool was then the better since that sustained job for the group.

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During these times there was a growing resentment in the bulk of the IT and network engineering ranks to some of the all-in-one self-learning software solutions that generated nice reports for management. Staffers saw some of these solutions and automation as a threat to jobs. Also we were learning that the plug-in-play easy button products were generating a huge follow-on procurement of professional services.

We saw an opportunity to capitalize on this culture and developing events in a way that would embrace our strengths and

give us a sizable niche market where be believed we had the chance to jump on and “own.” So we aligned our value propositions more around the value we brought to the jobs that had to be done (JTBD) in IT and described the personas we’d sell to and created sales enablement focused on solving technical use cases.

Our sales people would tell the customer, “tools are tools but NOBODY knows your network better than YOU do!” We won our share of sales opportunities by selling mid-level up and not top-down. If you have to grind it out that way then you have to do what you have to do. We knew IT and engineering staff couldn’t necessarily MAKE a deal, but we knew they could BREAK one … with their influence through their pilot assessments and business cases.

Sell the TRUTH

I’ve always found that it’s best to learn and be honest about yourself, your team, your limitations – challenges – born gifts, your goals and dreams, and then optimize the alignment of all of that knowledge with your marketplace. What is complex doesn’t have to be complicated, and strategy doesn’t have to be painful if you dive into it openly and honestly.

Sometimes you have to make pigs fly to put food on the table!

The way in which you eventually sell your product or service or market your division or pitch your new company is most often set in the early stages of strategic marketing and product development, as in my 7i stage 2 model, INNOVATE. And fortunately for us in my story, all of our sales people were really sales engineers (technical sales) and implementation specialists and so they aligned well with the technical buyers and technical influencers.

In order to achieve your business vision and marketing goals, think about cultivating a macro and micro view of your journey—both a vision and realistic stock of how your company will deliver products to customers and the role your sales people will play in driving solutions to market. In addition to dreaming up a great idea, you’ll also want to consider the benefits of its launch and form solutions that will perhaps not just disrupt the market but create a new market …your own space to sell in.


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