Using Mobile Apps to Transform Business Processes

Although mobile applications are commonplace today, most consumers think “personal use” when they think of apps. We all understand that there is an app for our favorite social media site or a card game app we can kill time with while waiting, but in what other ways can apps be leveraged, and who can benefit from them?

As our need for just-in-time information flourishes, our reliance on traditional technological processes has decreased significantly. The shift from personal computers to mobile devices has picked up now more than ever. It is difficult to determine whether stationary computers will vanish into obscurity; however, there is no doubt that mobile devices are here to stay. Our reliance on these ingenious pieces of technology is overwhelming. Tremendous time and energy are saved through the use of a mobile device, as we can access information anywhere with ease.

The expansion of new types of tasks that are carried out using mobile devices has arrived. Smartphones can solve nearly every need of their users, from providing detailed directions anywhere around the globe to enabling access to the cloud at all times. We take these benefits for granted as the opportunities provided by our devices become more and more integrated into our everyday lives.

The information that we seek is not freely floating on our devices. Mobile applications are the key to the success of these devices, as they provide a gateway to our needs as consumers. Whether it’s the weather forecast, the highest-rated local coffee shop, a traffic report, or a stock market update, it’s an app that provides the answer.

At just over one hundred billion, the number of app downloads around the world to date is astonishing. And this number is expected to grow even further in the coming years.

Although mobile applications are commonplace today, most consumers think “personal use” when they think of apps. We all understand that there is an app for our favorite social media site or a card game app we can kill time with while waiting, but in what other ways can apps be leveraged, and who can benefit from them?

The answer is businesses.

I have seen businesses of nearly every size begin to see the potential behind creating an app for customers. Retailers can now move even further online to adjust their business model to the changing times. Transportation services have created apps that convenience users by helping them navigate routes and times, all while providing pricing. Some financial institutions allow their customers to scan and digitally deposit checks from their smartphones. These applications are beneficial; however, they are far from the only practical mobile business apps.

Mobile applications for business processes are now more prominent when it comes to how businesses run from day to day. Applications created specifically for the operational side of an organization have gained traction. The benefits of employing an app for use on a mobile device to transform a business process begin with the very reason we use apps in the first place: convenience.

For example, instead of handwriting notes on data or inventory while out of the office, an application that allows data to be entered on the spot by typing or talking removes an otherwise lengthy process. That saved time can then be better spent visiting clients and prospective customers, providing convenience in an otherwise tedious operation.

Another example of a mobile app for a business’s internal use is one that facilitates mobile sales. For deals that close quickly or unexpectedly, organizations can have contracts signed electronically, no matter where a meeting may have taken them. Presentations and data can be displayed at a moment’s notice if needed, as well. Data on previous deals made with a customer can be easily accessed while heading to meet with him or her.

Mobile apps can streamline processes, including supply chain, purchasing, distribution, or maintenance processes, so that a business can run as productively as possible. With information available on demand via mobile device from one accessible location, organizations tend to increase productivity and identify areas that need further improvement, which can reduce cost inefficiencies while increasing revenue.

Communication and collaboration are improved through mobile apps for business processes, as employees begin to more clearly understand roles and discuss the discrepancies highlighted by the application. Employees instantaneously become more productive, as time is saved through the assistance that mobile applications provide.

Business applications can be purchased and modified by organizations, or designed from scratch to fit the unique needs of a business. By creating a mobile app tailored to its business, an organization gains a competitive edge from having something unique in its industry. There are dozens of businesses that specialize in creating mobile apps to fit the unique needs of their customers.

The ways in which mobile applications can be used is seemingly endless, and right now, mobile apps for business processes represent a growing Hard Trend that every organization should address, as such apps can streamline internal processes. If productivity and effectiveness are your long-term goals, ask yourself how you can use mobility to improve every business process.

Innovation leads to disruption, not being disrupted. Learn more with my bestselling book The Anticipatory Organization. I have a special offer for you.

Pick up your copy today at www.TheAOBook.com

Trends for Every Salesperson

Every profession goes through changes, especially sales. A certain sales technique may have worked in the past, but that doesn’t mean it’ll work today. To be a top-performing salesperson today and in the future, you must continuously adapt to both market and social conditions.

There are several new business trends taking place—all of which affect salespeople in every industry. Understand what the trends are and how to maximize them so you can maintain a successful sales career.

YOUR PAST SUCCESS WILL HOLD YOU BACK.

People who are in sales long-term tend to be successful. However, success is your worst enemy. Being at the top and doing well means you’re just trying to keep up and meet demand. You’re not looking at future opportunities because you’re busy reaping the rewards of current ones. The old saying “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” should be reworked today to state, “If it works, it’s obsolete.” If you just bought the latest device, odds are that the newer, better version is already in existence and about to be released to the public. We must evolve to stay ahead of rapid obsolescence in business.

TECHNOLOGY-DRIVEN CHANGE WILL DRAMATICALLY ACCELERATE.  

While it’s human nature to protect the status quo, you have to understand that technology is changing the future, customers’ behavior, and your company’s reality. If you don’t change, you’ll be out of a job. As a salesperson, you need to embrace change wholeheartedly rather than resist and hold tight to the past. Spend some time thinking about where these impactful changes are headed. Change causes uncertainty in customers’ minds, so you bring certainty to them when you display confidence in change.

TIME IS INCREASING IN VALUE.

Time is becoming more important to people, because we have an aging demographic of Baby Boomers in the United States. Time gets more valuable as you get older because you have less of it. The world is more complex, with much more for people to do with their time. With so much going on, everyone is increasingly strapped for time. As a salesperson, make your customers feel that talking to you is actually saving them time. The list of time wasters is virtually endless, and these hurt your sales and profits. Prove that you’re a time saver and people will choose you over the competition.

WE’VE SHIFTED FROM THE INFORMATION AGE TO THE COMMUNICATION AGE.

Many salespeople rely on static marketing tools like company websites, flyers, and sales letters. These methods are a one-way interface. The better way is to have your sales messages be dynamic. For example, you could have a contest that encourages people to go to your site and enter. Instead of just telling people to buy your snack product, you can encourage customers to go online and vote for the next new flavor, getting them involved. The key is to generate communication, engagement, and involvement through your sales and marketing efforts. Don’t just hand out information; you want to listen, speak, and create dialogue to capture your prospects’ interest.

SOLUTIONS TO PRESENT PROBLEMS ARE BECOMING OBSOLETE FASTER.

Almost every salesperson has been told to be proactive by taking positive action. Unfortunately, you must wait and see to know if a certain action is positive. Instead, be pre-active to future known events. You need to look at your customer segment and identify what types of events you are certain they will experience, and focus your actions on what will be happening rather than on what is happening. Being pre-active also means that you change the way people think. When you put out a new product, it takes a while to catch on because you’re not actively changing the way people think about how the product can be used. Constantly educate your customers on the value you and your products or services offer.

THE VALUE YOU BRING TODAY IS FORGOTTEN FASTER.

Sell the future benefit of what you do. Most salespeople sell the current benefits to customers who already know what they are. Your goal as a salesperson should be to establish a long-term, problem-solving relationship with customers, not a short-term transaction. Your most profitable customer is a repeat customer, so help them realize the long-term benefit of your partnership. Show them how the products and services you offer will evolve with their needs by selling the evolution of your products and services. Sit down with your fellow salespeople to create a list of future benefits that you have for your customers, and then get an idea of where the product and service developers are heading to think of future benefits preemptively.

SALES SUCCESS FOR THE FUTURE

The more you understand and adapt to today’s current business trends, the better your sales will be—today and in the future.

Are you anticipating future trends in your sales career? If you want to learn more about the changes that are ahead and how to turn them into an advantage by becoming anticipatory, pick up a copy of my latest book, The Anticipatory Organization.

Pick up your copy today at www.TheAOBook.com

5 Sales Strategies Not Found in How-to Books

How do you break through to the next level of sales and become an anticipatory salesperson? Here are six strategies you won’t find in most how-to sales books.

As a salesperson, you’re trained to ask customers what they want in terms of your product offerings. That’s wise advice but it’s incomplete. If you only ask customers what they want and then give it to them, you’re missing the biggest opportunity that has ever come in front of you – the chance to sell innovation.

Technology allows us to do things that were once thought impossible. While it is important for salespeople to ask customers what they want and then deliver on it, all that will do is keep you in the game – not ahead of it.

Chances are your competitors are asking customers the same questions, they’re getting the same answers, and they’re providing the same solutions.

So how do you break through to the next level of sales and become an anticipatory salesperson? Below are six strategies you won’t find in most how-to sales books.

1. Follow the Golden Rule of Sales

The Golden Rule of Sales is to give people the ability to do something they currently can’t do but would want to do if they knew it was possible. In other words, the Golden Rule is to help your customers be anticipatory. It’s called the Golden Rule because it’s much more profitable than simply giving clients what they ask for.

The key is that you have to look a little bit further into your customers’ predictable needs based on where they’re going. Only then you can see unmet needs and new opportunities.

2. Get Comfortable Around Technology  

One stumbling block in selling technology can be that the end user is awkward with new types of technology and related products. But another stumbling block could be that you, as the salesperson, are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the tech-driven solution you could be selling.

This is where the value of a time travel audit, one of the core components of my Anticipatory Organization Model, can prove essential.

3. Practice Anticipatory Selling

Anticipatory selling offers enormous opportunity for those who recognize that the very nature of sales is shifting and, further, that there are strategies to leverage that change.

One key strategy of anticipatory selling boils down to something I call a pre-mortem. Unlike a postmortem, which is an examination after the fact, a pre-mortem is focused on anticipating objections, problems and issues before they occur – and, from there, presolving them before the sales process even begins.

4. Raise the Bar on Trust  

You need to shift from being a vendor to being a trusted advisor. A vendor simply supplies a product. A trusted advisor supplies true advantage.

When you seek that higher ground and become a trusted advisor, your clients trust you more.

Remember that the future is all about relationships. Relationships are all about trust, and you gain trust by earning it. So never teach people to distrust you by stretching the truth or hiding some pertinent information. To differentiate, you need to raise the bar on trust.

5. Commit to Finding the Customer’s Truest Needs

When you focus on redefining what you already have, you can take your current offering and leverage it to new levels. That’s when you become a sales leader. It’s not because of some fast-talking sales pitch, it’s because of your commitment to your customers and their true needs.

So focus on relationships, trust and truth, and you’ll be able to give your customers tools and solutions they never dreamed possible. As a result, both you and your company will attain new levels of success and realize the profit potential you always knew existed.  

Want more tips for anticipatory selling? Get my book The Anticipatory Organization: Turning Disruption and Change into Opportunity and Advantage, available now at www.TheAOBook.com

Selling Your Ideas Up: How to Overcome Objections and Get Your Ideas Approved

In an era of fiscal and time constraints, is it possible to sell your ideas to company leaders? Yes, but the success depends on how you frame the opportunity.

The first step is to avoid talking about the idea itself. While that may sound strange, it’s the primary sales rule that most people break. You may love your ideas, but the feeling isn’t always mutual. When you’re selling your ideas to others, you shouldn’t focus on your preferences. You must focus on the other person, and here’s how:

  • Understand the pain of the person.

Forget about how excited you are about the idea you want implemented. If you’re going to sell your idea, you have to understand where the other person’s pain is. Maybe they’re dealing with upset stockholders or perhaps sales are down. Do your research and uncover the main challenge they’re presently dealing with.

Once you know the other person’s pain, you can position your idea to sell as a solution to it. Essentially, you have to show the person that there’s a direct payoff to them if they approve your idea. If you know that the CEO’s greatest pain is a lack of communication between departments, then you have to consider your proposal and figure out how it can ease the pain and bring resolve to the situation.

Be sure to state it clearly to avoid guesswork. For example, you could say, “I know you’re dealing with poor internal communications. I’ve come across some things that I believe can help you overcome those challenges so the company can grow.”

Then talk about the new idea in terms of solving the current problem only. Don’t go into all the benefits, functions, features, or costs. Right now, you’re simply getting the decision maker on board with the idea and its problem-solving potential.

  • Solve the predictable problems in advance.

As you have this discussion, you’ll also have to address common objections. Plan for them in advance by figuring out what their objections could be and solve them before the discussion.

For example, if you’re talking to the CEO about your idea and you know budgets are tight, you can deduce that they will say, “This sounds great, but the CFO won’t approve this right now.” However, because you’ve anticipated this objection, you can reply, “I’ve already run this by the CFO because I knew it was important.”

Of course, before going to the CFO, you’ll have identified their greatest pain and presented the idea to solve it. If what you’re proposing is really a solution, and you showed how it benefits the company’s strategic imperatives with a good ROI, you will have a receptive CFO.

The goal is to overcome the potential blocks before they arise.

  • Use the power of certainty to your advantage.

When you’re selling your ideas, the people you’re talking to are thinking risk. Alleviate this fear by remembering that strategies based on uncertainty have high risk, while strategies based on certainty have low risk. Prior to the discussion, ask yourself, “What are the things I’m absolutely certain about regarding this idea? What are the current hard trends? Where is the industry, company, and economy going with or without this solution?”

Make your list the things you’re certain about. For example, mobile devices are quite popular. Is this a trend that you know will continue, or will people eventually trade in their mobile devices for an old flip phone of yesterday? The answer is obvious: people won’t go back. Look at sales trends, customers, the economy, and everything around you. Get clear on what’s a hard trend and what will pass.

Additionally, look at the strategic imperatives of the company and the current plan. Determine if your proposed idea is an accelerator or decelerator of that plan. You want to show how your idea can accelerate the plan and how your solution can help increase sales, innovation, and product development.

Go into your list of certainties by saying, “Here are things I’m certain about in the marketplace and in our company. Based on this certainty, here is why implementing this idea is a low-risk winner.”

An Anticipatory Approach to Selling

It’s important to remind yourself before the meeting that if you haven’t done the groundwork to excite the listener, you’ll lose them. As you’re busy talking about features and benefits, the other person is thinking about costs, risks, and uncertainties. Having a preemptive solution is an anticipatory approach to selling – you’re anticipating the problems, rejections, objections, and concerns so you can overcome them.

Anyone who has worked with C-level executives knows that leaders get excited about many things while carrying the weight of costs, controls, and constraints. Challenge those issues by making what you offer about priority, relevancy, and strategic imperatives to sell your ideas.

Selling, what do you mean ?

Two years ago a start up founder – lets call “A” and I were a having a conversation.

Selling

How is business ?

A. “Our sales are flat. It seems customers take very long time to take a simple decision”.

Why do you say that ?

A. “We have endless meetings – and it is really very frustrating to keep on pitching a powerful value proposition – any fool can see. Yet they dont take decision.”

Little more probing indicated, that they were trying to sell the product B2B2C , B2C, B2B, in short the thinking was that anyone who had a end consumer interface could be a potential. The focus was on last mile instead of the entire value chain.

Limited by resources, many start ups make this mistake of trying everything in spray and pray mode. There was an urgent need to target potential customers based on product -market fit.  Sales resources are expensive and must be deployed after mapping out target segments , and mapping buyer persona’s for improving success probability. A start up can prioritise their efforts by defining a representative  target segment. The following steps should help :-

  1. Define who is your end consumer.
  2. How do they fulfill their need ? How,many touch points must the customer experience to eventually fulfill the need ?
  3. Which touch points are critical in that experience and are currently a time or cost drain ?
  4. Are the dependencies of these touch points systemic or are they insitutionalised ? e.g ., visit to a Pathalogical Lab for diagnostics.
  5. Is the experience ubiquitous ? Any demographic groups more vulnerable than others ?
  6. Based on the above filters you may be able to define your target segment.

While this is important for sales, some degree of experimentation can take place based on strategic business development. This could be based on building strategic alliances and partnerships. Insitutional channels that can seed and nurture the product or service based on complimentary effect. Few days ago a major oil and lubes brand reached out to small automobile workshops for co sponsoring car maintenanance events at subsidised rates. This was win -win for the small auto repair shop and the oil brand.

In order for sales to pick up, it is important to be more customer and market focussed in the initial months. Also budget for sales expenses not as an after thought. Investors like to read degree of commitment, sincerity and openness to change. Selling is nothing but exchange of monetised value. This needs to be explicit.

All the best.

Selling Innovation – The Spark II

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.  

Disruptive vs Incremental Innovation

Truly disruptive innovations do not occur often.  For among other reasons, there are only so many adopters in any given market willing to continually try radically new products and services.  Disruptive Innovations can only target the much smaller early adopter segment of the population, and it requires its users to accommodate the new information or way of doing things into their daily lives.  But while re-shaping the dynamics of a marketplace may seem attractive, many a fortune has been built on incremental innovation.

Incremental innovation is an add-on, value-adder, or after-market creation that has clear application as part of an existing innovation or platform.  It is often easier to sell because adopters need only assimilate a marginally new framework of thinking or doing to find value from the innovation.

There is another key aspect to ‘disruptive innovation’ that all innovators need to keep in mind when the spark of innovation is forming in your mind.  While an innovation may be disruptive to a particular market or industry, the term disruptive is not a value proposition to most people’s ears.  Never before has a user thought their life is too easy and what they really need is to have their safe, familiar patterns of behavior disrupted.

Remember your elementary school days when one kid in the class got sent to the principal’s office because s/he was being ‘disruptive’?  Disruptive is not always good.  In the example from Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen’s the Innovator’s Dilemma, the mini-mills in the steel industry generated great wealth and opportunity for those people who had a vested interest in them.  But there were thousands who worked and gained from traditional mills who were thrown out of job, lost value in their stock portfolio, or otherwise did not benefit from the disruption in the marketplace.  This is not to say that it should not have happened or that innovation is a bad thing.  Rather, especially when selling an innovation into a mature market place, what you are selling may threaten someone else’s job, a way of doing business, or even an entire company.  Resistance to buying may have little or nothing to do with your innovation.

Disruptive innovations are also often first to market, but first-mover status seldom translates into sustained sales advantage.  Few first movers have been able to capture and sustain market share, even ones that were able to scale.  Google was not the first search engine.  Facebook was not the first social networking site.  The iPod was not the first hand-held audio player.  Each evolved from prior iterations of a comparable, but perhaps less sophisticated or less well sold, innovation.

Innovation goes in waves.  As markets mature and successful sellers establish dominant position there are myriad opportunities for disruption – a better way of doing business, a faster tool, a bigger device.  These moments used to occur only every decade or two.  Over the past few decades the cycle has shortened to five or seven years.  And technology now allows innovators to bring solutions to market faster, cheaper, and to a larger audience than ever before.  But if the goal is to become a successful innovator and not a clever inventor, it may be best to wait until the market has told the innovation community exactly which disruptions its willing to live with, much less buy.

As the waves of disruption evolve, innovators can monitor prior efforts to see how certain products with definable features were adopted by customers, and make refinements to better address a now clearer market need.  Eventually, an innovation is layered on top of an existing way of doing business, and integration points emerge among once disparate innovations, which enable new ways of doing things that were once not possible.  Social networks, for example, were once an innovation separate from smart phones, and innovations in each market attracted interest from early adopters and venture capital.  Now, more pictures are taken using the iPhone and posted to Facebook than using any other photographic device.

Scale is also reached at this point of convergence creating larger commercial opportunities.  Incremental innovation becomes easier to identify, quantify, and sell because data exists and can be analyzed to determine the most cost effective path to market, ideal delivery mechanisms, customer service requirements, feature sets, and even price.  Remember, innovation is not invention, and as the old saying goes, ‘pioneers die with arrows in their backs, farmers die rich’.   Being a ‘fast follower’ rather than a disruptor may not be seen as exciting, but it’s a much more reliable path to success paved by giants of commerce.

Is it innovative to be a fast-follower?  Ask Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or Mark Zuckerberg.  Can incremental innovation lead to success?  Consider Dell or Tesla Motors, were they the first with their innovation?

  • Before you launch or pitch your innovation ask who might be upset or disrupted by your innovation?
  • Download the complete Selling Innovation eBook, blog readers get a special 25% discount with code JA49Y.  
  • Or buy the Print Edition on Amazon

Your Customers Aren’t Bots!

While Chat Bots continue impressive development through exhaustive AI endeavors, deep machine learning, etc., they will never replace the power of a real engagement between people. 

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….and they never will be. Your customers are living, breathing, feeling decision makers who sometimes need assistance to make the best purchasing decisions to meet their needs, and at all times, need a way to resolve their dissatisfaction when their experiences fall short of their expectations – and your promises.

Enter the Chat Bot – and sometimes, exit your customer.

While Chat Bots continue impressive development through exhaustive AI endeavors, deep machine learning, etc., they will never replace the power of a real engagement between people.  And, don’t get your underpants in a bundle worrying about personas, and boomers, or millennials, and so on.  It’s just about communications that work for your customers, not communications that work only for you.

So, if your solution (in whichever industry) is designed, launched and marketed brilliantly, you likely won’t lose a customer to the bots-sphere.  If, on the other hand, you’re the ultimate iterator, you will probably lose a few on the way to your desired business zenith.

10 Practices to Retain Your Customer:

  1. Structure your chat bots to respond to technical directions, not sales.
  2. If your bots are supported by real agents, make sure your agents don’t communicate like bots, and that their sentence structure is positive to customers, not negative.
  3. Make sure your design is so clean that no one can tell when your chat bot transfers to an agent – keep those transitions seamless.
  4. Don’t interrupt your customer’s inquiry with a greedy effort to cross sell them.
  5. Offer a way to your customers to elevate their inquiry if your bot design doesn’t resolve their inquiry.
  6. If your elevation protocol is to merely transfer your customer to another bot or agent, you’re missing the point of elevating a customer complaint.
  7. Don’t use phony introductory statements in your bot structure about how you’re going to do your best to resolve your customer’s concerns – it’s insulting – you’re instant messaging while hiding behind the veil of technology.
  8. Display your scoreboard of effectiveness – if you end your chat sessions with customer surveys, have the courage to post the responses – no one believes you care, so it’s just another insult.
  9. Make sure your customers in queue are aware of their wait time – not how many inquirers are in front of them, but how long they’re going to have to wait – in minutes.
  10. If the wait time exceeds your inquirer’s expectation, give them another option.

Most important?  Don’t fool yourself into believing your bot platform is a great solution – it’s not.  It’s a way for you to avoid direct contact with a customer and every customer knows it.  The customer will forgive a brand’s reluctance to a point, but when they need an answer, or a solution, they’re going to support those brands that support them.

Selling Innovation – 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. 

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?

Selling Innovation

This is the first in 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.  

Introduction

By John Harthorne, founder & CEO of MassChallenge

The world needs innovators and entrepreneurs who can sell.

Entrepreneurs are our value creators and problem solvers. Their nimble, high-growth companies create most of the world’s highly innovative technologies and groundbreaking solutions. More often than not, it is a startup that first determines how to extract energy from high altitudes, or from the ocean’s waves, or even human waste. More often than not, it is a startup that first figures out how to teach kids math using basketball or how to build the most intuitive mobile games. They build off-road wheelchairs, grow farms in freight containers, track migraines with cell phones and draw clean water out of slightly humid air. Take any problem in the world, and you can be certain that numerous entrepreneurs are working tirelessly on solving it, and that a few of them will end up revolutionizing a long-established industry.

Startups are also creating jobs. Early-stage ventures are responsible for virtually all net job growth in the United States, as confirmed by The Kauffman Foundation: “Net job growth occurs in the U.S. economy only through startup firms.”  Since 1977, established firms have lost 1 million net jobs per year, while startups in their first year added an average of 3 million jobs in aggregate. This trend has spawned scores of innovation centers and business plan competitions as governments, educators and the private sector world-wide work towards supporting this critical part of local economic development.  We need job growth, we need it now, and startups are the solution.

But launching a startup is difficult. Many innovations never get to make that impact and generate those jobs because too many innovators struggle to find the right resources before running out of time.  To succeed, entrepreneurs need access to advisors, talent, suppliers, lawyers, office space, equipment, funding, and other resources. Most importantly of all, though, startups need customers.

Customers are almost always the single best source of funding and growth. Customers are demanding. They force you to build what they want, rather than investing in the development of a large, complex “science project.” They keep your company alive and focused and, if they like your product, they buy more. Customer money is the cheapest, most productive form of capital on the planet.

Innovation can provide solutions to many of the world’s most challenging problems. Selling that innovation is what reifies the founding vision, establishes the desired impact and initiates serious growth.

The world needs entrepreneurs and innovators, and they must be great at selling their innovation.