To Make The Most Of Innovation, Find The Right Inflection Points

Getting innovation right means identifying or creating inflection points that will drive you toward success. Catch a positive inflection point and you can ride it like a wave into a better future. Get caught in a negative inflection point and your business can tank faster than you can say "wipeout." I’ve had a seat in boardrooms where both are happening. Let me tell you what I’ve learned—starting with choosing the right target for innovation.

When I say inflection point I’m talking about a change in the status of your organization with respect to the market. Inflection points can be negative, a drop in market success, or positive, increasing success in the marketplace.

Recognizing and leveraging inflection points can make a real contribution to any of four strategic targets:
1.Growing your base
2.Getting a bigger buy
3.Improving loyalty
4.Moving up market
Which of the following targets best fits your current situation? Let’s take a look at each.

1. Growing Your Base: Does the market contain buyers who want what you have to offer, but aren’t buying from you? Then you have room to grow your base. Find or create an inflection point that will make new customers aware of the value you deliver.

This strategy depends on five factors, any one of which can significantly limit or enhance your development of new customers. Together they create synergies that enhance each other’s capacity to grow your base. The five are:
A.Current customer satisfaction
B.Desire for your offering
C.Your reputation as a provider
D.Your value proposition
E.Effective outreach

Current customer satisfaction describes how content today’s customers are with you. The higher their satisfaction, the easier you’ll find it to build the base. Satisfied customers become evangelists, provide positive reviews, and refer people to your business.

Desire for your offering is an indicator of the potential pull for your products and services; it tells you how much the market wants what you have and therefore how likely it is to embrace your offering.

Your reputation as a provider contributes significantly to the trust the market puts in your ability, which in turn accelerates acceptance.

Your value proposition must be something you can deliver on. If the other factors are in your favor, customers will give you a try and then it’s up to you to provide the goods. This is what makes your offering credible.

Effective outreach means that you are getting the attention of the people who matter; i.e., you are in front of your target audience delivering messages they want to hear in media they prefer.

Bring these five factors together and you have the makings of a solid growth effort. Focus your innovation effort on leveraging any one factor and you will soon be selling to new buyers. Bring these five factors together and you have the makings of significant growth in your customer base.

2. Getting a Bigger Buy: Do you have current customers who also purchase from your competition? Harness an inflection point to gain share at your competitors’ expense.

To do this you must understand what motivates your customers, how they make the choice between you and your competitors. If you only focus on what makes you unique but fail to take into account your customers’ criteria for choosing who they buy from, you miss the actual competition zone—the place where the battle for your customers’ hearts and minds is won or lost.

Once you understand how they make their buy decision, you are in a position to compete for their buy… and if you win, you get a bigger buy, a larger portion of their spend.

3. Improving Loyalty: One of the biggest market challenges in recent decades was the 2008 economic downturn. Many leaders found holding onto their client base exceptionally hard. Many organizations were suffering from one of three unfortunate circumstances:
A.Offerings were no longer competitive;
B.Customer care had failed to affirm a connection between the buying relationship and growth, hope, opportunity and value; and
C.Customers were responding to their own dire situations by slashing expenses indiscriminately.

Creating an inflection point in this economic environment can reorient customers’ mindset from surviving to thriving. Concentrate your innovation on special products and services to address each of these needs and reposition yourself as the competitive, future-oriented and loyal provider during difficult times.

For example, if customers believe that by sticking with you they will be able to get through the downturn successfully, their loyalty increases. They become more willing to tolerate challenges as they are buoyed by the hope of a better future.

4. Moving Up Market: If you’re not first, you’re following first. There’s a legitimate niche in being second in a category, as the legendary success of Avis ("we try harder") against #1 rental-car company Hertz proved.

But to move up-market, you absolutely must be first in something. Businesses that fail to establish that crucial element of competitive differentiation find themselves competing on price—and that’s a path down-market toward commoditization. Apply your best innovation effort to finding your "first." Then find or create an inflection point that focuses attention on your competitive advantage, and you’ll ride it toward a premium market position.

Consider which of these four targets is most critical for you as you choose where to put your innovation resources. Or perhaps it is more appropriate to combine two or more of the four targets to drive your market growth. Either way, knowing exactly what you hope to achieve through your innovation efforts will stack the cards in favor of your success when it is time to go to market. Knowing your objective, which target is most important, is key.

Seth Kahan is a change specialist who has consulted with CEOs and senior managers at over 60 organizations including World Bank, Shell, Peace Corps, and 30+ associations. This is an excerpt from Seth Kahan’s forthcoming book, Getting Innovation Right: How Leaders Create Inflection Points that Drive Success in the Marketplace to be published by Jossey-Bass in early 2013.

[Image: Flickr user Nathan Rupert]

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