If your growth has stalled, encouraging innovation on the front line will make all the difference.
This past week, our team was working with members of a family-owned manufacturing business who had watched their product sales shrink over the past 10 years. Highly motivated to keep sales up as their core profitable products started to lose traction, they took whatever work they could find. As a result, margins suffered and the business finally found itself in distress.
When asked how their competitors were doing, the head of sales responded, “Well … our competitors have this great temporary product that they lease for tons of money; I wish we had thought of that one.”
Our response: “How often do you talk to your sales network, and how much time do you spend on the job site?”
Product innovation is the lifeblood of all growth companies, but surprisingly many management teams forget the innovative process and culture that built their original business. An innovation culture leads to growth, jobs, and even envy from your competitors.
If your innovation engine has stalled, here are three basic actions you can take to to get back on the right track:
1. Get cozy with your customers.
Spend time with current and prospective customers during their shopping experience. Ask lots of questions, and learn to listen to their frustrations. Every challenge during the sales process is also an opportunity to build a better business.
2. Empower your team to take action.
Make sure all of your employees feel empowered and are incentivized to bring interesting insights to the table. Being a great business leader requires the ability to recognize others’ strong ideas and foster them.
3. Execute your ideas fast, revise them often.
While we may all believe that our ideas are unique, competitive markets usually do a good job of creating new and innovative ideas, sometimes in multiples. Learning by doing, hitting the market quickly, and revising the product with customer input will help to push the creative process and keep you a step ahead of more conservative competition.
Embracing these three concepts will help you to more effectively translate customers’ needs into new capabilities, products and services. Employees will feel empowered, customers will see new value in your business, and accelerated business growth might just follow.
KARL STARK AND BILL STEWART are managing directors and co-founders of Avondale, a strategic advisory firm focused on growing companies. Avondale, based in Chicago, is a high-growth company itself and is a two-time Inc. 500 honoree. @karlstark