Innovation can be considered as “a change in the thought-process for doing something” or “the useful application of new inventions or discoveries”.
It may refer to changes in thinking, products, processes, or businesses. In many fields, including business, something must be substantially different to be considered innovative. In these terms innovation should ideally deliver increased value, be that in terms of the product to the customer or in the returns to your company. Generally, the goal of innovation is to create positive change, to make someone or something better than the competition or at least better than the previous commercial offering.
“Innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship… the act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth.”
“There are only two things important in business, innovation and marketing”. This is a statement attributed to the business guru and multi-millionaire Michael Gerber. Whether Gerber was quoting from his mentors or whether it can be attributed to him directly is a moot point but it is the content of the comment that should be given consideration.
I personally take it to mean the following; that innovation can be created and applied in many ways. Consider innovation to be any way in which you provide something unique or in a unique manner, and that this unique manner can effectively be you and your staff or your processes and systems as much as your product. In fact, your entire business USP (unique selling/service proposition) requires something to make it unique so being innovative with your resources can be a critical differentiator to your business. Innovation is not to be solely considered as a new product; it can and must be applied to all of your business activities and resources.
Innovation is often associated with pioneers and in business these pioneering entrepreneurs often lead the way for us all. Innovative entrepreneurs are often seen as market and business leaders that blaze the trail for development. Innovation, however, is not just their domain. We can all be innovators in our own field; in our own businesses. A new technique, a streamlined process, a better method of communicating with our customers, improved measurement and motivation techniques all qualify as being innovative.
The concept is clearly not new; it is in fact fundamental and critical to sustainable success. All too frequently, in my experience, entrepreneurs and business owners spend time, money and effort in following proven methods. The ‘safe‘ option, so to speak, but in order to be a leader within your market, innovation needs to be embraced, encouraged and deployed. Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity and not a threat.
Innovation is not just about product and marketing. If you cannot support your sale, you are unlikely to make many more. Support of your sales activities is more critical than typically given credit for and responsible for more lost clients than I care to recall so being innovative with the resources that lie behind the sale can be just as effective as innovative products. If you are not in a position to be cutting-edge and innovative with the product that you provide, then consider where innovation and the use of technology can give you and edge in the following areas;
Technical support and staff training
* Are they trained to the latest product requirements?
* Are they aligned correctly to the sales function?
* Are they rewarded effectively and similarly to encourage teamworking?
* Are they available for direct contact by your clients?
* Are they available to pass on their expertise to incoming recruits?
* Are you sufficiently staffed to deal with order volume?
* Can these staff process orders effectively without the involvement of 3rd parties?
* Do they understand the financial and contractual restrictions of the product/service?
* Are they aware of any financial restraints on the client?
* Do they have access to resources (installation, project management, service) to complete the sales transaction?
* Can they see/manage the stock?
* Can they order on suppliers?
* Are your systems fully automated and integrated?
* Are there gaps between process and systems?
* Are there duplicate activities?
* Are roles and responsibilities clearly defined and understood?
* Are your documents manually generated or system generated?
* Do the correct people get the correct information at the correct time?
* Are your systems just effective or efficient?
* Does everyone in the sale process know the financial status of the client?
* Are there sufficient controls to ensure shipment is managed in line with credit facilities?
* Are your authorisation protocols in harmony with your lead times?
* Is your supplier payment terms supportive of your customer payment terms?
* Do you know the actual profit per job/client/region/division?
The above are clearly just a small sample of areas that could differentiate your business; areas whereby your being innovative in the support of your product and to your customer could deliver you that winning edge.
Being innovative in all areas of your business requires imagination, qualified feedback and management, especially if you are to avoid being another of the short-term good idea companies that drift into costly extinction. I am not advocating drowning in the minutiae of day-to-day mundane activities, simply suggesting that if you don’t know enough about how your business is being delivered, then how can you expect to manage your customers. Decisions that are made at a detached higher-level have far less chance of delivering success than decisions made in possession of all the facts so get as much as possible information from your staff and systems.
There is a final point to make, however, with respects to the above, and that is this; ensure that your information is collected consistently and automatically. Do not make the collation of data take up more time and effort than the benefits it is likely to deliver. In short, make sure that your systems collect and collate for you.
At the end of the day, you and your staff are potentially the greatest innovative element within your business. Ideas, and therefore innovation, come from people.