Everyone thinks she is a writer, actor, chef, or “fill-in-the-blank.” We learn to write in school. As children, we play roles. And since we all like to eat, owning a restaurant is a popular fantasy. So it's natural for people to think that they can do other people's jobs.

Many people in a company seem to have an opinion on how Marketing should be doing their job.

What CEO wouldn't like to see employees throwing ideas into the ring? If an idea results in many people buying the product, the company profits and stockholders and employees are happier.

Unfortunately, not everyone in the marketing department is happier. They're on the receiving end of those ideas, like when the telemarketer calls you in the middle of your family dinner. It doesn't matter if the telemarketer is selling something you can use; the annoying interruption puts you in a bad mood.

It's entirely possible that an idea or two from people in other departments could be a gold mine, while the other 20 are time wasters. How do you handle interruptions from others who believe they have a great marketing idea?

If interruptions are not a problem for you, or it's a welcome break from your day, perhaps you have another job for the SWOT Team to attack. Pose your dilemma to our readers and you will receive a free copy of our book, A Marketer's Guide to e-Newsletter Publishing.

Let's check in with the previous dilemma: C. Lee's company has a product ready to meet its market, but there is no road map to help show how to get there. Drive on down to see what directions your colleagues have provided.

Team up and share your experiences!

This Issue's Dilemma

SWOT Category: Internal Weakness

Stop, in the name of an employee's brilliant idea!

It has always amazed me that most people in a company think they are experts at marketing. Accounting does not seem to have that problem. Neither does our manufacturing organization. No one would think of walking into our corporate attorney's office and giving her advice on how to do her job.

But when it comes to marketing, just about every employee has an opinion. From the CEO down to the person in the mailroom, they are eager to share it. This interruption usually starts with someone appearing at my cubicle saying, “Excuse me, do you have a minute? I have an idea that might be useful.” I don't think this is unique to my company. I suspect that most MarketingProfs Today readers can identify with this intrusion.

It seems to be getting worse especially as we become more successful.

How do we change things around or handle this situation? I long for the days when I could do my job without interruptions.

—Diane K., Product Manager

Previous Dilemma

SWOT Category: Internal Weakness

How can we bring our innovation to market? Is there a road map?

We are an emerging company composed of a small team of engineers who have developed what we think is important technology for small and medium-sized business.

Being engineers, we understand the importance of creating a blueprint and using a systematic approach to turn otherwise complex situations into processes that repeatedly deliver consistent results.

I'm hoping that SWOT Team members can share their entrepreneurial wisdom and point us in the right direction with a tried, tested and true formula for bringing innovations to market.

—C. Lee, Founder and CTO

Summary of Advice Received

Without knowing where we're heading, we wind up going in circles or nowhere in the journey. Teams can sit down and brainstorm the heck out of each other, but the process doesn't necessarily bring about the most creative and innovative plan possible. Sometimes we have to swallow our pride, and stop to ask for directions.

C. Lee, a few of your colleagues have shared their own road maps for you to study. Because one road map doesn't fit all companies, a combination of several might work great for you.

Many people believe specializing in one area is the answer. Having too many destinations (or too many target audiences) makes it difficult to ensure a quality journey and to focus on one destination. Once you know where you are going, it is necessary to speak the client's language—and at the same time to plan your route according to your organization's goals.

Most good plans are simple. Those who responded to this dilemma suggested following these steps to innovation:

  1. Is it a good idea? 
  2. If so, specialize in a target market, and… 
  3. Speak the market's language. 
  4. Customize the plan according to your organization.

1. Is it a good idea?

Recall the late '90s, when innovation was everywhere. Creative ideas don't always translate into good business decisions. Before getting caught up in an idea itself, Cheryl Carr Johnson, director of marketing for Martin Pringle, starts with a reality check then works through homework and feedback:

When coaching teams in marketing, the first thing I do is the reality check or the punting of the “build a better mousetrap and they will come theory,” which is the emotional connection creators have to their idea/product. Let go of the love you have for the idea/product (temporarily) and place a marketing/sales hat on. Easy to say, hard to do!

Next, due diligence and do your homework. Is there a market? Who are they? What do they buy? How do they buy? Learn as much as you can about that market. This can be done by industry or individuals. Most companies do not do this. In a hurry to get to market, they spend their time/money on creating big splashy promotions to bring the idea/product to market. That is why the majority of business startups fail or have disappointing sales. The greatest idea/product will fail without buyers/customers, so sink your efforts into a customer-centered strategy.

2. Specialize in a target market

When our attention is split among several things, we don't do as good a job as when we're focused on one thing. That means, therefore, picking one or two things and knowing as much as possible about them so clients deem you an expert.

Bob Holland, president of Holland & Holland, Inc., shares what he has learned in 15 years. To compete on the innovation playing field means stop playing the role of generalist and become a specialist:

A big metro agency that wins a big contract can afford to assign an entire creative team to that one account, something we cannot do. By choosing one marketplace, we became equal or better than the big guys. We got to know our chosen marketplace really well. We joined its trade associations and attended seminars. We hired people with creative minds who had been insiders and thus brought their knowledge and experience on board with us. We read the weekly and monthly trade publications. We attended the big international shows where we bent the ears of everyone we could buttonhole. We presented seminars on marketing topics to the industry.

At the same time, we kept up on the latest developments in the field. It's only by immersing yourself in a sea of information and relationships, all pointed toward the purpose of doing great marketing, that we could achieve hundreds of top-quality innovative ideas for our clients. You can't have a large-scale innovative idea if you can't see the past, present and future of the process it is meant to serve.

Read Geoffrey Moore's Crossing the Chasm, suggests Jim Kindley, partner at Overbrook Center for Product Innovation. Jim says the book's concept is about the importance of failing somewhere in order to succeed:

You need to define a clear target market, probably a very small one, and go make your product work with that market. Be prepared to fail a lot (in the small market) and learn a lot. Iteration is very important in shaping your product and your ultimate marketing of it.

According to Jason Jordan, principal of Go to Market Partners, there are three critical steps to taking a new technology to market: define your target market tightly, craft a clear value proposition and identify the right marketing/sales channels. He explains the importance of defining your target market tightly:

If you have limited marketing resources, make sure your target market is not too broad. Find the segments of the SMB that will most benefit from your technology, have the least direct competition, and can afford to purchase your product. Prioritize them so that you enter the most fertile segment first without spreading your resources too thin.

Jason sums it up well:

There is obviously a lot of work underlying these three strategic issues. If you choose the right customer segments, present them with compelling value propositions and reach them through efficient/effective channels, then you will have the fundamentals in place for a successful product launch.

3. Speak the market's language

When we are immersed in our product or service, we neglect to remember that the customer may not know about it as much as we do. That's why the customer comes to us in the first place. A reader says one of the biggest mistakes people make when presenting a new idea or process is assuming that the client thinks the way we think.

The reader suggests breaking the problem into manageable and sequential chunks. Also, consider using charts, diagrams, and flow charts, which are appealing to people who think visually:

Good questions to ask in this situation: Who is my audience? Are you selling your innovation to an operations guy who probably thinks like an engineer or to a CEO who probably is a generalist? Have elements in your presentation that appeal to different learning modes.

An idea could be amazing, but it's worthless if you can't communicate well or in an honest manner. The reader reminds us of the importance of relationships and communications to build on those relationships.

According to a COO, speaking in tongues doesn't work:

The key is to communicate in client's language, not yours. Also, you need to know how your innovation is going to impact the client's business as a whole even if your innovation is targeted in one area. Business owners like dealing with people who are not blind to the interrelationship of all business activities.

4. Customize the plan according to your organization

A few colleagues share their road maps, but it's ultimately up to you to decide which road map fits in with your organization's goals. One SWOT Team member makes a valid point: he needs to know where you are and where you're going before providing a road map. His company breaks the innovation journey into four key stages—generate, evaluate, develop, and deliver:

The generate stage includes the key input of insight, that is, what unmet consumer or customer need have you uncovered? Only when you can identify that (and assure yourselves that it's a big enough opportunity to go for) should you generate concepts that deliver a relevant benefit against the insight. Insight is the origin on your road map. If you already have a smart and important technology, then it sounds like you are selling and not marketing or starting the journey from the wrong place. In our experience, many clever innovations are technologies chasing a market and have less than a one-in-ten chance of success. Likewise, great ideas are worthless until they support an invoice.

Tim Nicol, joint managing director at MIH (Make Innovation Happen) Centre, Ltd., recommends that clients take their understanding of technology and define the limited number of platforms where they have a competitive advantage. He suggests marrying these platforms to broad customer trends for idea generation that combines technology and consumer input at the earliest stage:

From there on, we are on a familiar route: Idea generation, internal evaluation, concept development, consumer evaluation and development input, star concept development, prototype, market test, manufacture, launch, and our final destination, invoice. It's easy when you start from insight.

Another consideration is to hire a product manager. Suzy Teele, managing director of Aceda LLC, has worked with engineers who struggled with marketing and selling their innovation. Suzy says a good product manager knows what it takes to bring a product to market and make it successful, a helpful thing to a company made up of mostly engineers:

Well, there is no magic formula to ensure the success of any innovation. However, there is a widely used practice called Stage-Gate that many product managers use to ensure that the idea has the best chance to succeed. There are a number of sources on the Internet that can educate you about Stage-Gate, but the basic premise is you go through a number of steps to determine how promising your product idea is, and then go through another series of steps to bring it to market. At each step, or stage, there is a yes/no gate. If the product idea hasn't met the criteria to be a “yes,” you either try again or give up. Another great source of information is the PDMA, an organization that focuses exclusively on product development and management.

Suzy is right in saying there's no magic formula. Based on what we have heard from you, it sounds like the important thing is to plan, evaluate the market and customer, develop (in this case, adjustments to the product may be necessary) and deliver.

Too often, we're in a hurry to reach our destination and therefore get a speeding ticket—or worse, get into an accident. When running a marathon, a runner plans and prepares for it rather than just showing up and darting out of the starting gate.

Thanks for the excellent directions, SWOT Team! We won't get lost.

Like creating processes, a road map for bringing innovations to market is better created on your own with parts taken from others, as no one should have to reinvent the wheel. The challenge is finding the puzzle pieces that best fit your organization's model.

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Hank Stroll (Hank@InternetVIZ.com) is publisher at InternetVIZ, a custom publisher of 24 B2B e-newsletters reaching 490,000 business executives.