To innovate in a way that helps customers and drives sales, companies should identify and focus on a smaller number of big ideas that are “culturally cool, technology elegant and offer a perceived fair business model,” innovation consultant Larry Keeley, pictured above, says.

To build a business with innovation, think of what targeted customers are trying to do and make it easier for them to do it at a fair price, advised Larry Keeley, co-founder and president of Doblin, a consulting firm that helps businesses devise and carry innovative growth strategies. Doblin is part of the Deloitte global consulting organization.

LarryKeeley-DoblinGroup

Larry Keeley, president, Doblin

“Modern innovation is more about the elegant integration of well-known things than the invention of new things,” Keeley said in a keynote address at B2B Next 2019 in Chicago. One common mistake people make in striving for innovation, he added, is thinking that they just need to develop some new technology application. But in a world where there are already many more apps than people can use, innovative companies need to lure customers by providing real value and making themselves the easiest supplier for their customers to conduct business with, Keeley said.

Subcontractors and cement deliveries

Keeley gave several examples of companies and entrepreneurs who have done just that.

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The Zurich American Insurance Co., he noted, realized there was an opportunity to make it easier for general construction contractors to provide subcontractor insurance to cover job site risks. “Everyone was going blind filling out paperwork for subcontractors,” Keeley said. Zurich came up with its online Subguard service, which is designed to eliminate paper forms while helping contractors manage projects on-time and on-budget.

Cemex, an international cement manufacturer and distributor headquartered in Mexico, needed to develop a way to help its cement-mixing trucks avoid traffic jams and to prevent its cement from hardening and arriving too late to customers’ job sites. It developed an algorithm-based application designed to manage the traffic patterns of its trucks to guarantee a 10-minute delivery window.

Innovative breakthroughs often come as a result of entrepreneurs addressing common problems and searching for a solution, Keeley said. He noted how Rich Barton developed three fast-growth companies all with the same playbook of figuring out a new way to handle a common frustration. To make it easier to search among and book travel options, he developed the Expedia.com travel services site. When he wanted an easier way to determine the best price for buying or selling a home, he developed the Zillow.com real estate site. And when he saw a need for job applicants to get a good preview of what it’d be like to work at a particular company, he developed Glassdoor.com, where employees and job seekers anonymously post reviews of employers and information about salaries and other employment matters.

Dancing to your own tune

“This is at the heart of how B2B leaders need to think,” Keeley said. Rather than just “dancing to the tune” of other companies that have become industry leaders, “you have the power to operate with innovation” and bring new value to a market.

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He suggested companies striving to innovate to gather the talents of people with skills in business processes, engineering and product design to sort through innovative ideas and identify ones that are “culturally cool, technologically elegant and offer a perceived fair business model.”

“A rule of thumb for all types of innovation,” he said, “is to get a smaller number of bigger ideas.”

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