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Bringing Sales and Innovation Together

Product & Sales, Together Forever

Sales and innovation tend to be viewed as separate entities yet, depending on the size of the company, there might be more links than initially one might think. Startups might benefit from a melding of different departments, yet as companies grow their teams they might move into more established silo roles. So just how can we lessen the disconnect between product-facing teams, such as innovation and product development, with customer-facing teams, such as marketing and sales? According to research from BCG, the dynamic might also shift and depend upon just what type of innovation is being focused on—incremental, step by step innovation or more disruptive business model and digital service innovation.

According to BCG’s “How Leaders Bring Product and Sales Teams Together,” leadership can be key. Leaders can see the “requisite links between their technology and product development teams and their customer-facing teams to excel at three increasingly important types of innovation.” BCG notes that this includes disruptive product innovation—being first to find valuable use cases for a new technology. Second comes digital service innovation—adding digital service or subscription revenue to existing high-performing product- or hardware-driven business models. Third is business model innovation—radically innovating the core value streams of a business to deliver value to new customer groups or find new ways to monetize or deliver products or services.

So just what are some tactics that can help forge the relationship between innovation and sales? BCG lists a few directions:

  1. Build a One-Team Mentality. Cross-functional teams are a hallmark of many innovation leaders.
  2. Align Incentives with Matching Metrics. Matching metrics are said to address both sides of the innovation equation: R&D and business teams. Business unit leaders are incentivized on product vitality (the share of sales from products launched in the past three years) while R&D leaders and engineers are incentivized on new sales generated by the patented products or technologies they develop.
  3. Establish Clear Lines of Communication, Mandates, and Accountability. Clear accountability and communication are essential ingredients of effective innovation systems.
  4. Shift the Status Quo and Celebrate Success. Companies are finding lots of ways to shake things up and look at opportunities through new sets of eyes. This shift is often initially challenging for everyone involved, but once the new language is embedded across the organization, it creates the space necessary for more disruptive product and business model innovation.

For Sale—Sold!

In “Measuring Innovation Performance,” All Things Innovation looked at how the performance of innovation needs to be measured over time. Innovation can be a key component to drive a company’s sales success and performance, in both short-term and long-term initiatives. Yet many executives grapple with just how to measure innovation effectively. It can be challenging to find the best metrics to track, how to evaluate the impact of innovation and how to align it with strategic goals. However, there can be some common metrics to build a foundation and support the innovation framework, as well as different measurements that can be applied to different stages of the innovation process.

Looking forward to FEI 2024? The conference, which will be held June 10 to 12, will feature a session called “From Idea To GTM: Innovation & Sales Uniting For Growth,” presented by Michele Sandoval, Director of Innovation, and Steve Wallace, National Sales Director, both E&J Gallo Winery. Innovation people and salespeople usually speak different languages. They’re usually informed by seemingly divergent goals. Having said that, in the spirits industry, that alliance isn’t unusual. This session showcases how very easily innovation and sales can achieve impressive organizational returns. Beyond that, you’ll be able to take back tried and true principles of tying together front-end and back-end innovation for end-to-end results. Register for FEI 2024 here.

Sharing Synergies

Sales and innovation can work together in various ways to drive business growth and success. We asked ChatGPT to identify some of the top strategies to foster collaboration between sales and innovation teams:

  1. Cross-Functional Collaboration: Encourage regular communication and collaboration between sales and innovation teams. Facilitate meetings, workshops, or brainstorming sessions to bring these teams together.
  2. Feedback Loop: Establish a feedback loop between sales and innovation. Sales teams can provide valuable insights into customer needs, pain points, and market trends, which can inform the innovation process.
  3. Shared Goals: Align the goals of both teams to ensure they are working towards a common objective. This can foster a sense of shared responsibility for the company’s success.
  4. Innovation Training for Sales Teams: Provide sales teams with training on new products, features, or technologies. This equips them with the knowledge to effectively communicate these innovations to customers.
  5. Customer-Centric Approach: Ensure that innovation efforts are driven by a deep understanding of customer needs. Sales teams, being in direct contact with customers, can play a crucial role in conveying these needs to the innovation teams.
  6. Pilot Programs: Implement pilot programs or beta tests that involve collaboration between sales and innovation. This allows both teams to gather real-world feedback and iterate on solutions.
  7. Innovation Incentives: Create incentives for the sales team to promote and sell new innovations. This can include commission structures, bonuses, or recognition for successful adoption of innovative products.
  8. Regular Updates: Keep the sales team informed about ongoing and upcoming innovation projects. Regular updates help them stay ahead of the curve and anticipate customer inquiries.
  9. Innovation Champions: Identify individuals within the sales team who are passionate about innovation. These “innovation champions” can bridge the gap between the two departments and encourage collaboration.
  10. Data Sharing: Enable seamless sharing of data between sales and innovation teams. Access to customer feedback, sales data, and market trends can significantly enhance the innovation process.

Boosting Productivity

By fostering a culture of collaboration, communication, and mutual understanding, sales and innovation teams can work synergistically and productively to drive business success and stay ahead in the market. There may be many paths forward depending upon the organization. As BCG notes, “Executives have a varied toolkit at their disposal, starting with tried-and-true organizational or governance measures and extending into initiatives such as incentive design, systematic relationship building, and culture change.” Of course, one hopes that ideally, companies can extend and nurture both sales and innovation for a long and fruitful partnership.

Video courtesy of Winning By Design


  • Matt Kramer

    Matthew Kramer is the Digital Editor for All Things Insights & All Things Innovation. He has over 20 years of experience working in publishing and media companies, on a variety of business-to-business publications, websites and trade shows.


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