Business Innovation: How to Spot Market Opportunities
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To win the race for game-changing advances, focus on searching for problems, not solutions

It’s an all-too-familiar scenario. Your company has been steadily building its customer base, enhancing its products and services, and increasing its revenue and market share. Then from out of nowhere, a competitor unleashes an innovation so striking—and, in hindsight, so obvious—that it challenges your gains and your prospects. For small business owners who are gunning for growth, it inspires the most frustrating question of all: “Why didn’t we think of that?”

The answer, says Cris Beswick, may be that you need to fine-tune the way you look for those game-changing innovations. A strategic advisor on innovation, he is co-author (with Jo Geraghty and Derek Bishop) of Building a Culture of Innovation: A Practical Framework for Placing Innovation at the Core of Your Business.

Beswick advises that companies can raise their innovation quotient by increasing their intelligence, collaborative capacity, and adaptability. The process begins with “understanding the world better,” he says. “It’s about how do we teach our whole organization to be able to spot market opportunities, spot trends that are emerging, spot gaps.”

Make it a team project

Businesses enjoy a competitive advantage in this regard. “Organizations that are smaller and more intimate, that have closer relationships with their customers, will spot those opportunities through conversation with customers,” he says. “We can no longer innovate for people. We have to innovate with them.”

The trick is knowing which conversations to flag. As the company’s owner, you may be having high-level discussions with customers about their strategy and future direction. But that’s not always the best place to look for opportunity. To seek openings for innovation, ask your returns department about the feedback it receives. Ask your help desk or customer service employees about the challenges and frustrations brought to them.

Those departments “should feed straight into the innovation process,” Beswick says. “They show the business where things aren’t working,” which “gives you the ability to unearth much deeper, more powerful problems or unearth opportunities much faster than anyone else.”

The power of partnership

Once you have identified an opportunity for innovation, consider how much collaboration and adaptability will be needed to bring it to market quickly. Depending on your targets and capabilities, that may mean finding outside partners who can bring to the project expertise and resources that would take too long to develop internally.

Here, again, businesses can capitalize on a competitive advantage: they’re more nimble than their big-business counterparts and so can act more immediately when opportunities arise. The more adaptable and agile the organization, the better equipped it will be to deliver that product or solution to the market before anyone else.

“That’s where collaborating with other companies helps drive real adaptability, because it gives you instant speed,” Beswick says. “Rather than trying to scale your business, which might take months of investment in infrastructure and people, building a strategic partnership gives you that pace and that speed so you can get to market fast.”

Engage your entire organization in customer communication and collaborative problem-solving, then bring in the outside resources necessary to be as responsive as possible as quickly as possible. By taking this approach, your business can become more adept at identifying and acting on opportunities for innovation that drives growth.

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This information is general in nature and is provided for educational purposes only. Regions makes no representations as to the accuracy, completeness, timeliness, suitability, or validity of any information presented. Information provided should not be relied on or interpreted as accounting, financial planning, investment, legal, or tax advice. Regions encourages you to consult a professional for advice applicable to your specific situation.