The B2B marketers guide to internal innovation
Posted on 4th April 2018 by Robert McLeod
"B2B marketing can be a difficult area to innovate in. With risk averse stakeholders everywhere, how can you build a team and a case for taking your innovations forward?"
Innovation is a term often misunderstood. Confused with simple adoption of the latest technology or creating something ‘new’, and often limited to product or service development.
But invention is less often than so the route to success. Most innovations fail through a lack of customer need, poorly scoped commercial impact, or even lack of interest or understanding from internal stakeholders.
Fundamentally, businesses exist for two reasons. The first is to solve a problem for its customers – without this, the business never would have got off the ground in the first place. Secondly, a business exists to solve new problems for its customers in the future – otherwise, the business will cease to have a purpose.
Is B2B marketing stuck in the mud?
As companies start to win in their markets and come to rely on income streams, it’s natural to protect that position.
But asking the question, “what do we need to do to remain in our current position today”, leads businesses into protection mode. As a result, established companies become entrenched in their systems, processes and cultures it can become difficult to innovate.
And while it’s important to serve your existing customers, the market is always changing. A strong market position makes it difficult to answer the question; “what do we need to do to remain relevant and profitable in the future”. Unless you’re looking to exit the market, it’s vital you find the answer to that question.
Paving the way for your businesses future
No market ever stayed the same. UPS started with two teenagers with bicycles hand delivering telegrams to people without telephones. To become the global logistics company it is today post-telegram, it must have embarked on an awful lot of innovation. And if two teenagers with a bicycle can do it, you can too.
The challenge for businesses, is how to change their systems, processes and cultures to maintain their current income streams, adapt, and find new ones without leaving their customers or market position behind.
Everyone likes to be the smartest kid in the room and own their space, but to remain the smartest kid in the room you need to do your homework. Your comfort zone is your worst enemy, and innovation is the crucial piece in the puzzle of your future competitive advantage.
So what really is innovation?
In a business context, innovation can broadly be defined as something new that improves the outlook for a company. It could be a new offering, like an online delivery system, a new process or partnership, such as outsourcing your mass printing requirements, or a new strategy which communicates your proposition to a different group of customers.
In that definition, there is one key word; improve. And to improve something you first need to understand improvement is gradual at every stage – from generating the ideas which will have a positive impact, to selecting them, implementing them, and then having them adopted, none of it will happen overnight. When you consider that, you come to understand improvement needs to be forward looking, because ‘now’ will be gone tomorrow.
And considering the realities of implementing innovations – stakeholder alignment, employee engagement, pulling together a strategic plan to get the whole of the business behind the innovation, suddenly innovation is scary, and encourages decision-makers to stand still when they need to stand out.
Steve Jobs once said; “innovation distinguishes a leader from a follower”. What’s important for businesses is they create and keep customers. You can’t do either without marketing and innovation. You need to get on the front foot – you can’t passively allow it to happen around you and expect to be profitable, and remain relevant in your market.
People and culture – the key to successful innovation
In all of this, there is one crucial piece; the resources needed to be innovative. Nothing ever innovated itself – only time and the right people will solve the creativity gap.
By adopting an innovative culture, you can create;
– Acceptance of new ideas
– Fast learning and change
– Team cohesion
– Real evidenced business impact
– Promotion for those involved
– Excitement and buzz around the innovation
This gives the team a sense of ownership and real purpose, so they take the reins with a mindset to strive to be better to create competitive advantage for your company.
And if everyone is working together, the positivity outweighs the sense of fear around getting things wrong. If everyone is focused on solving the same customer problem, everyone will be in a position to learn from the experience and improve the innovation until it works.
And in a time when marketers are increasingly asked to lead the way, success of innovations will come alongside proven marketing relevance and evidence of impact.
How do I create innovative strategies and go-to-market plans?
We’ve created a 5 step plan to help you create marketing strategies and campaigns that stand out and make your company famous.
- Hire a passionate team of great thinkers, and give them the time to fulfil their remit. Let them lead the way, and encourage fast movement. Accept that failure is only so if you let an initiative fail without learning from it.
- Understand your customers and the market situation, business processes and where your company derives its value. How do your services fit into this? Where is your competitive advantage, and what can you do that your competitors can’t – is this a strength to expand or a weakness to diversify from?
- Focus on the things that are really going to make a difference, and have multiple work-streams which allow time to think. Become a hub for new initiatives, not a one-trick pony.
- Build a solid and honest commercial business case aimed at all senior decision makers. Ensure it is aligned to your businesses objectives and show what it will improve, and how it will improve, with clear KPIs and data or evidence based expectations. Show the risk of doing nothing.
- Shift the narrative. Tell a compelling story that will transport your business from the knife-edge of the here-and-now to the blue skies of the future. Empower stakeholders to be a part of that journey.
Your business strategy needs to be a growth strategy based on innovation with marketing at the centre. Innovation is difficult for all businesses, but if you can hire the right team and make a real change, you can stand out from your competitors in a way that makes waves in your industry.