In my last post, I took up the topic of measurement with the core questions of ‘how should brokers be measured AND how do clients assign brokers value?’  In it I suggested three inter-related areas that I believe should be used as a good starting point: 1. Strategic Value; 2. Innovation; and 3. Relevancy. 

Briefly, strategic value means that customers see you and define their relationship with you as more than simply the price/product paradigm. Now I’d like to share some thoughts on the second area – innovation.

Innovation takes many forms, such as an innovative product or service. When thinking about innovation we often reference technology companies like Apple and Google. Their clients surely define them as innovative, and most likely buy their products because of it. 

What if our customers bought from us like we buy from Apple or Google? More importantly, what if clients bought from us because of our relentless focus on innovation?

By focusing on innovation, companies can create considerable competitive advantage and, after all, competitive advantage in any marketplace is what it’s all about.  Sounds easy, but it turns out innovation is too often a ‘cool buzz word’ and not a core business strategy. Why not?

Innovation is easy to talk about, hard to implement.  At one of my recent presentations I gave on sales innovation, one of the attendees asked me if they could “take my team back to the office with them to help them implement.” Yes, we’ve all been at conferences or seminars before and thought “wow that is a great innovative idea…now if only I could implement it at my business.” It turns out implementing innovation, or making it a core business strategy, is as much about What to implement as it is about How to implement.

I would also argue that innovation is process-driven, not product-driven.  Everyone knows about Apple’s ability to keep new products (e.g. iPad) in near secrecy prior to product launch.  Once the product is introduced to market, most folks focus all of their time and attention debating the new product or gizmo, how it works, what they like, dislike, and importantly when will Apple release version two! However, what is often not discussed is (an Apple intends to keep it this way) the process of innovation. The analysis here is that although consumers like us focus on the end result – the product – businesses like Apple are focusing (or should be) on the innovation process. 

Despite these considerable challenges, if we agree that innovation creates competitive advantage in the marketplace we must invest time innovating. For benefits shops to not only survive but thrive, we need to make innovation a core business strategy and not a ‘cool buzz word’. 

Lacher, CIC, leads the Employee Benefits and Consulting divisions of Lacher & Associates, a second-generation firm located outside Philadelphia. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkLacher and @Lacherinsurance.

 

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