Hunters of innovation

What’s your company’s most successful innovation this year? Hopefully, as the survey and polling features become available on the ng Connect website, you will soon be able to post your response and see what other people say.

How would you answer this question? Would you look at major announcements, press releases or industry awards?

As a results oriented person I am interested in the outcome of innovation: not the novelty of an idea, process, device or solution, nor the process of bringing the latter to market, but its actual adoption by real customers.

So I am usually looking at sales. What were the new revenue sources this year? Have we sold new products or feature sets? Have we sold existing products to new customers and new markets? Or have we drastically increased sales of an existing product to existing customers?
All of these are results of an innovation process – explicit or not – whether it is a technology innovation, a business model innovation (e.g. changing a pricing structure) or a transformation of the supply chain.

Your biggest innovation may not make the headlines, let alone be visible to the outside, but it certainly affects the way your company goes about its business. And chances are that a big piece of your success can be attributed to a part of your organization commonly overlooked when discussing innovation: sales.

One of the goals of innovation is to transform or create new customer experiences. Sales people are thus naturally at the forefront. It is their involvement, active support, and preferably, personal endorsement that can turn a promising concept into a brilliant market innovation.

One of my best professional experiences to date was the fruit of such a close collaboration with a sales team. It started as a “stretched” response to a customer RFP for voice over broadband equipment (think ADSL access) and ended with the introduction of the first Managed Communication Solution for small businesses, combining IP-PBX, access, communications and single-point-of-contact customer support. This was big for us: it meant breaking into a crowded U.S. market with a product – so far only sold in Europe – with one of the leading service providers in the country.

It was not easy. Without the dedication and relentless effort of one sales person, fighting every battle and every obstacle – both internally and with the customer – it just would not have happened, no matter how great the idea, how effective the solution and how good the service proposed. We succeeded at selling more than a product, we succeeded at selling innovation and teamed up with the customer to execute. I still feel today that, beyond the numbers, this sales team did not get all the credit it deserved for this project.

In my previous post I talked about market trials and commercialization of innovative service concepts as being the next focus areas of ng Connect’s work. We recognize the importance and value of partnering with sales people of all the companies involved in specific solutions very early in the process.

In fact, we are already deeply engaged with sales on a number of ongoing projects, including helping major customers run innovation platforms and technology labs. This past year we have delivered more leads and customer engagement opportunities than ever before and we have also been called on more than before to create customer value through new concepts or business models.

In 2015, as we will add new market segments to our focus areas, such as retail, financial services or web scale, we will continue to look for companies seeking to transform their customer experience and that provide great technology, content or services. But we will also be looking for great sales people with the audacious mindset and drive it takes to sell innovation.

As we near the year end, let me wish all of you bountiful sales and orders for the remaining days and a very happy holiday season. Looking forward to seeing you next year in ng Connect.

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