Even though there are no guaranteed ways for bringing your innovation to the market, it’s best to follow a selection of tried-and-tested methods that can greatly increase your chance for success. Whether you’re launching a product or service or improving a process, the key steps in developing market-driven ideas are fundamentally alike.
Look at the added value
Most entrepreneurs will tell you that the best business ideas do three things: solve a problem, answer a need, and fill a gap in the market. However, your idea could also improve upon an existing process, reduce waste, or enable your employees to become more productive.
To determine whether your idea has the potential to be successful, you need to ask yourself these questions:
- How original is my idea from what’s already out there?
- What is my distinguishing feature and how will I stand apart from my competition?
- What value does it bring to my customer at the end of the line?
Get employee ideas and buy-in
Innovative ideas don’t always happen at the top but can also come from your employees. If you want your business's creativity and focus on improvement to be of a high standard, then it’s a good decision to get direct feedback and ideas from your employees.
Encourage all your employees to generate innovative ideas about your company through regular brainstorming sessions or forums and reward them for their contributions. It’s important to remember that you need to be selective - not every idea will see a return on investment of time or money so it’s up to you to decide which ones are the best.
Take time to narrow down the suggestions and determine which are worthy of your company’s resources. There has to be some sort of payoff from this idea such as improved customer service, increased revenues, or long-term growth.
Your employees can provide valuable input not only in the development of the idea but also in the application of it. After all, they’re usually the ones who are involved in making these ideas work in the long run.
Be sure to communicate your innovation improvements systematically and make sure that your employees understand the ultimate objectives. For example, to implement an innovative manufacturing process, your employees need to understand the bigger picture of how one process will have an impact on overall productivity.
Use customers to develop your innovations
A good strategy involves getting your customers involved in the design of your product or service. This is an alternative to formal market research and is known as Customer-Focused Innovation (CFI). It’s a lower-costing and highly-effective marketing technique that better aligns client needs to your product or service - thus creating a two-way exchange of information.
A common method of CFI is the round-table discussion or focus group where a business gathers several clients to discuss what the product or service might be and the problems it could solve. You could conduct a follow-up discussion to prototype your product or service to confirm that you’re on the right track or to see if there are changes to be made.
Get external help
Another idea to consider is to bring in external help to assess the viability of your ideas and to confirm that your objectives are clear. Assessing both the pros and cons will help you establish a clear strategy and objectives. You need to look at areas such as:
- Operational efficiency: Waste reduction and management, productivity improvement analysis, quality management
- Product research: New product modelling, competitive product studies, pricing
- Business research: Short-/long-range forecasts, business trends, profit/value analysis
- Sales and market research: Market potential, market share analysis, location studies, sales analysis, test markets, distribution channels, value vs. cost studies, sales incentive impact studies
- Advertising research: Local conditions, effectiveness studies, competitive advertising
Draw up a clear business plan
Your business plan needs to convince investors or lenders to help finance your venture. It should include your mission, objectives, strategies, sales forecasts, and your unique selling point (USP).
Your USP determines why your potential customers should buy from you instead of your competitors. This could be that yours is the best product or service in the market, the lowest priced or highest quality, the most innovative, or that you provide the best after-sales service or any other factor that influences customer buying behaviour.
This can also apply to improve your processes or areas such as operational efficiency. So make sure that your business plan provides a clear map of how your company will operate going forward. Your investor must have the confidence in your innovation - they need to believe that it will lead to improved profits or productivity.
You need to clearly outline how the initiative will be rolled out, which must include measurable targets and milestones. This is essential so that employees and investors can see the progress along the way. Your innovation team leader can report how the project is evolving and conduct any necessary meetings along the way.
It may take some time to see if your investment is paying off so it’s important to have a way of monitoring progress. For example, if you’re launching a new product or service, then you may see a positive impact on your sales figures.
An improvement in the production process can be measured by production input or customer satisfaction. As a follow-up to your innovation project, you can even conduct surveys or focus groups with all stakeholders involved to gain their valuable input.