Innovation isn’t anything new

Over the past couple of years there’s been an increasing amount of talk about innovation.

That’s not because there hasn’t been innovation before (obviously there has been), but because businesses have made the finite cuts they can to operational expenditure post G.F.C, they are now having to grow their profits through actual investment.

But what should a company invest in?

This question is why the big conversations about innovation have come to the forefront across all business channels recently.

In fact, I would go as far to say that ‘innovation’ has become such an important word in business, that those labelled as ‘innovators’ have now got a celebrity level following on social media similar to pop stars e.g. Elon Musk, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.

Such innovators in their respective fields certainly deserve credit for their new ways of solving problems, but I feel that businesses have got a little too focused in looking for the next ‘big, sexy’ thing to disrupt their industries tomorrow and are missing out on the opportunities under their noses today.

This is where Sales (and you in particular) come in.

I’ve spoken before, on how in order for companies to grow sales in today’s market, they have to add real value to their customers.

They have to offer a solution to a problem that sometimes, the customer themselves isn’t even aware of.

Whilst our colleagues in Marketing (hopefully with our input) are developing the shiny, new product or service to solve tomorrow’s problem.

It’s the sales person’s responsibility to identify today’s problem and deliver an appropriate solution to it; after all, that is what we are actually getting paid for (not just for ticking management KPI boxes).

To obtain real value for your company and your customers, a sales person also has to be innovative in their thinking, which means staying ahead of your competitors and even your customers.

How?

Firstly, it is important to understand that ‘innovation’ isn’t actually an exclusive word used by entrepreneurs and marketers.  You too are allowed to think innovatively, it just means thinking ‘solution’ as opposed to ‘sale’.

Secondly, it’s important to remember that innovation is anything that adds increased value to your customer.  You don’t have to think about whether it’s going to get you on the front cover of Time magazine.

Lastly, listen for a problem; as innovation isn’t just about building a new product or service.  Innovation can also be in the application of an existing product or service to a new industry.  The time it’s spent in your company’s catalogue is irrelevant to a customer.

I am confident that if you truly see the solution the product or service you are selling offers and what problem it fixed for your existing customers, you will find an alternative application for it in other areas or industries too.

Let me give you a couple of my own personal examples of what I see as innovative thinking in Sales;

1) Product

Whilst working for an FMCG company that supplied a Foodservice retailer, I noted that our historic growth had been driven by them opening new sites, as opposed to us actually adding any real value.

The main product we supplied was a key food ingredient that arrived at the customer’s site in a bulk format and then had to be manually processed into a crumbled form by a staff member for around 20 minutes.

This bulk product was regularly suffering from supply issues and this was also negatively impacting our relationship with the customer.

Although we had a pre-crumbled format, which had a more reliable supply chain, this had never been offered to the customer, because the ‘like for like’ per kilo cost was higher and our relationship had not developed beyond a transactional one.

After building a trusted advisor relationship with the customer over a few months, I suggested swapping supply from the bulk format to the crumbled format.

I demonstrated that the small increase in cost ‘per kilo’ was massively offset by the reduction in labour cost savings and the improved supply levels.

The customer agreed and additional value was obtained by the customer and my company.

2) Service

One of my most recent clients provide a service solution to the Professional services industry and have found themselves on a bit of a plateau in the past 18 months when it comes to growth.

RevUp were engaged to help get the revenue line heading back in the right direction.

After an initial review, it was clear that the problem that my client provides a solution for was not limited to the Professional services industry and is in fact a wider business issue of balancing the needs of productivity improvement in a service environment, with the individuals maintenance of their own personal wellbeing.

RevUp have successfully offered this solution to other industries and they are currently reaping the rewards of this innovative approach to a problem they had thought was unique to them.

These two examples aren’t there to try and demonstrate to you how innovative I am, but instead, they are there to show you how innovative we can all be, if we think about what problems our customers have, rather than what problems we have.   

Many thanks for reading and if you liked what you read, please feel free to share your voice by leaving a comment, or even just a like.

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