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Selling Innovation – The Spark

This is part of an ongoing series based on the highly rated book Selling Innovation, a guide to structuring a complete start-up revenue capture process.  The book is based on a day-long workshop held at the MIT Enterprise Forum in partnership with Microsoft.  Sections of each chapter will be shared here on The Startup Growth Blog.  Download the complete eBook, blog readers get a special 25% discount with code JA49Y.  

The Spark

Every innovation is born from a spark of creativity.  The spark can be for an entirely new product concept, refinement of an existing product, or radical re-design of a something that is already in the market.  The spark can come from years of experience in a particular industry, a dramatic personal experience, or just creative brilliance.  The one place a spark of innovation cannot come from is a vacuum.

  • “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”  ― US President Calvin Coolidge

Innovation is a process, a collection of concepts fused together over time, refined and refined again until the optimal set of features delivers just the right value to a customer at a price they are willing and able to pay and which makes profit for the seller.

Serial innovators know that the first spark of innovation, while compelling at the moment, seldom reflects the final product that successfully penetrates the market.  Bringing an innovation to market takes time, focus, resources, and persistence.

There are many great inventors in the world today, but only a few great innovators.

Insight and Innovation

There is a difference between an innovation and an invention, however.  An invention is a new technological breakthrough.  An innovation is a better way of doing something, a way to break or disrupt a current paradigm.  It can be a technological break-through, a process improvement, or a new object.  But no matter how clever, if it sits on the shelf or gets studied by a very small group of people it may be more of an invention than an innovation.

If you are going to become a successful innovator you must first start by identifying a high-value problem, and then build a solution that solves it.

There is no shortage of would-be entrepreneurs who believe they have created a new and unique invention.  No one needs a better mousetrap, but everyone needs a better way to solve the problem.  If you built the most effective mousetrap in the world but  found that sales of cats had virtually eradicated the household mouse problem, what is the value of your innovation?

When you‘re ready to start designing an innovation, you want to think about the larger market, so you can assess its impact in the next larger context than the one you are currently playing in.  This is the framework you will need to explain your innovation to others and eventually to sell the innovation in the market.  It enables a person reviewing your innovation to evaluate it with some familiar points of reference.  It helps your prospective buyer grasp how your innovation will solve their problem.

Understanding the context of your innovation is also important to the future selling process because it is the first indicator of optimal target market, level of receptivity, and frame of reference among potential users.  If you create a totally new, different, unique innovation that has never come before there is no frame of reference users can draw upon to make a buy decision.  While the iPhone was a disruptive innovation in the mobile phone and software industry it didn’t compare to the disruption caused by the introduction of the telephone into the consumer market in the early 1900’s.  Likewise, a Prius is an innovative new type of hybrid vehicle, but it’s still a car that takes you from point A to point B.

As you move from creation to sales, the context in which you created your innovation will be critical to convincing investors, customers, and even prospective employees of the value of the innovation and buy into your vision.

How you sell your product or service will be impacted by the foundation of your innovation.  Some products are borne from years of experience in a specific industry that yields a keen insight into a need in the market for a new or better way of doing things.  Other products come from blue-sky thinking; from an inspiration into what people might want, use, or enjoy that is radically different from anything they have experienced before.

How do you know when your initial spark is more of an invention or an innovation?  When innovations are born from a specific market need, descriptions tend to be value statements that reference the problem being solved.  Efforts to sell an invention often focus on descriptions of features and function of the product.

  • What are the changes in market dynamics that your innovation addresses?

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Written by Ken Smith

Entrepreneur, Innovator, Author

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