How to Innovate: A Blueprint for Your Business

Sep 16, 2021 | Listen

Knowing how to innovate is essential to the success of your growing company, especially in today’s highly competitive and volatile business environment.

Customers – and decision-makers – are now better informed and have higher expectations, making it that much more challenging to grow a business. To stay relevant and stand out, preferably while your profitability increases, innovation is key.

So how should you, as a business owner, innovate? Where do you start? Where do you focus your efforts? And how do you make it happen?

Michael Haynes, a business growth specialist and founder of Listen, Innovate, and Grow, and I talk about specific and practical steps to take to successfully innovate and affect positive change in your growing business.

Timestamps for this week’s episode

  • 1:55 What is innovation and why is it important for a small and growing business?

  • 2:47 How does innovation differ in B2B and in B2C?

  • 6:40 How a business can innovate when they don’t know how to start.

  • 10:18 How would you do market research and your listening in the context of innovation?

  • 15:23 Is there a difference in how you do research/listening if you are a B2B targeting smaller vs. bigger businesses?

  • 20:45 How do you fit the innovation process into your company’s strategic planning? Is there a specific process to move into that innovation type of thinking? Do you listen on a regular basis or is it scheduled e.g. annually?

  • 26:55 The shift of B2B buyers formerly getting insights/information/data from one source of authority to now consulting/asking their peers and members of their network.

  • 29:55 Are there tactics that work well universally or does it depend on the industry as well as the company?

  • 34:00 Why does collaboration and co-creating content with clients and partners work so well?

  • 35:57 In the B2B market, does education come first and selling second?

  • 39:20 What does organizational innovation look like, particularly in a growing business space?

  • 43:42 What does process innovation -within the company – look like?

  • 47:40 Are there any common misconceptions and mistakes when going on this innovation process/journey?

  • 50:20 Change as an obstacle: the importance of change management in a growing business.

What is innovation and why is it important for a small and growing business?

Innovation, for all businesses, but particularly in the context of small and medium businesses, is about making new introductions, and/or improvements to your business. They can be things that are new to your industry that you’re adopting within your company. However, innovation also includes implementing new approaches and strategies that you’re adopting from industries other than your own and their markets as well.

The underlying driver in determining what areas you want to be innovating is in response to your industry, customer, and buyer needs.

How does innovation differ in B2B and in B2C?

There’s really no difference in innovation, whether you are running a B2B, business-to-business company, or a B2C or business-to-customer organization. What is important to note is that whatever business you are in, there are five kinds of innovation that you should consider to grow your business and maintain relevance in the market.

These are:

  • Product innovation, which includes new product offerings, current product line improvements, and product extensions.
  • Service innovation like implementing service improvements and added customer support, as well as providing additional service offerings such as training, market research, advisory, and consulting services.
  • Organizational innovation, can lead to synergies between you and companies that offer complementary services in the form of joint ventures, strategic alliances, partnerships, collaborations, and co-creation to meet that broader customer need.
  • Process innovation, where you’re looking at what kinds of new processes and systems you can be implementing into your organization.
  • Marketing innovation concerns itself with new marketing strategies and tactics that you can apply to build and grow your business.

“Everything is driven by data. Everything is driven by listening, what are we hearing, from the industry, from our customers, from the decision-makers. Is everything insight & data-driven? Absolutely.” – Michael Haynes

How a business can innovate when they don’t know how to start.

The first step is to LISTEN – and to listen on three specific levels:

  1. Listen to yourself as the CEO & business owner.

Think about your company goals, evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, identify who your core clients and customers are, and review the products and services you provide.

2. Listen to your industry and market news, and monitor industry events and trends.

Understand the industry verticals that you’re currently serving to see what might be on the horizon and to discover where you need to be focusing on within your business.

3. Listen to your customers

Gain an in-depth understanding of the needs and expectations of your current customers and strategic accounts.

Listening will provide the clarity you need to figure out where to focus your innovation efforts in order to acquire new and retain old clients and grow your business.

It's all about make sure you're providing the kind of tools that decision-makers use, and you're visible where your buyers seek information.

How does market research and listening work when learning how to innovate?

Listening to your customers includes understanding their priorities, needs, and expectations as an organization. There are various ways to do this:

  • Visit company websites

Their About section will talk about the team, the organization, where you can see the organizational charts, you can get an understanding of the rules and titles of the decision-makers you need to be approaching. Check for any other uploaded assets, including annual reports and planning presentations, which will help you understand what are the needs, priorities, and objectives of that organization.

  • Check LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a great source for understanding customers at an organizational level via business pages. You can then click through to employees and get insights into those decision-makers in terms of their priorities, what perspective they are coming from and how they approach things.

  • Engage with decision-makers directly

Where possible, you really want to have discussions with those decision-makers directly via in-depth interviews or one-on-one discussions with those executive-level buyers. You can also hold strategic customer client workshops with some of your current clients to gain, exchange, and share information on what’s going on.

“Business decision makers are really looking for that roadmap on how they can take and move their businesses forward. And that’s particularly needed at this time where there are a lot of businesses that are focused on growth, but how to focus on growth in times of volatility and uncertainty.” – Michael Haynes

Why does collaboration and co-creating content with clients and partners work so well?

Co-creating content with your current and prospective clients and partners works well because it’s a win-win in terms of the following:

1. Building

  • the brands involved
  • relationships
  • reach
  • credibility

2. Gaining more insight into what motivates your co-collaborators and how they work.

3. Providing more value to (and educating) your prospective customers via live, real, tangible grassroots examples of your challenges, experiences, and how you addressed issues.

4. Demonstrating relevance to your clients and prospects.

It is very important that you make sure that your middle-level staff, frontline staff those who are dong the doing, that they give input and buy into innovation. They often can give you a lot of that granular detailed heads up of what's required. (How to innovate)

Are there any common misconceptions and mistakes when learning how to innovate?

Beyond strategic planning is action planning, because your strategies and your prioritization need to be turned into actual actions. So it’s vital that you get input from those who will be in charge of implementing and doing; from frontline to mid-level staff.

They can provide the nitty-gritty details of what needs to be done and bring to light any pitfalls, roadblocks, other regulatory requirements, and technical issues that might come up.

These details can really have an impact on whether innovation is or is not feasible and if implementation timelines are realistic.

Getting Started on How to Innovate

  • Business innovation is so much more than coming up with new products and services for the market. It includes new processes (like leaning out your business), new collaborations and partnerships and so much more.
  • There are five types of innovation you should consider for your growing business: Product, Service, Organizational, Process, & Marketing innovation
  • The first step in business innovation is to listen – to yourself as the CEO, to your industry, and to your customers.
  • Use a variety of methods when performing market research and conducting your listening such as visiting company websites, leveraging on LinkedIn’s strengths, and engaging with decision-makers directly.
  • Look into co-creating content with clients and partners to benefit from its “win-win” advantages.
  • Don’t disregard the valuable input from your staff who will be implementing any of your planned innovations.


Read More

About guest – Michael Haynes

Founder and Principal Consultant

Listen, Innovate, and Grow

Michael Haynes is the founder and principal consultant of Listen, Innovate, and Grow, which empowers CEOs of service-based SMEs with buyer-driven strategies and action plans to acquire and retain business (B2B) clients and drive business growth.



Michael’s book “Listen, Innovate, Grow”

About host – Kathy Svetina

Kathy Svetina is a Fractional CFO for growing small businesses with $10M+ in annual revenue.

Clients hire her when they’re unsure about what’s going on in their finances, are stressed out by making financial decisions, or need to structure their finances to keep up with their growth.

She solves their nagging money mysteries and builds a financial structure with a tailored financial strategy. That way they can grow in a financially healthy and sustainable way.

Kathy is based in Chicago, IL and works with clients all over the US.

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