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Idea Management in B2B companies

Ideas are of course a necessary part of successful innovation. Even if having ideas is not sufficient for innovation. It is mostly just a minor fraction of the overall innovation process. Idea Management is one option, to handle ideas within this context. But how about idea management in B2B?

Introduction to Idea Management

In a B2B company, the ability to innovate, move fast, and remain agile is often the key to success. If your company isn’t moving fast enough and bringing fresh, new ideas into the mitch, it could fall behind its competitors and be left in the dust. However, innovation doesn’t just happen. It requires planning, strategy, and encouragement from top-level executives all the way down to individual employees. As it is they who are tasked with coming up with ideas for new products or services, not the management team. This can lead to a lot of wasted time and effort on everyone’s part. At least if there isn’t a system in place for managing and prioritizing ideas properly. 

While ideas and their expression are great for innovation in theory, how exactly can a company enact this practice and inspire critical thinking? Luckily, for companies out there looking to have better ideas, several approaches have been tested in the past. Idea management is but one of them. Typically supported by idea managemet software. Here’s how it works:

What is idea management?

The term idea management is an organizational method detailing the process of collecting, prioritizing, and deciding, which ideas to act on. Especially in B2C, it is a key component of innovation and can help companies stay competitive by encouraging employees to share their ideas.

It starts with an open-door policy where anyone can submit their suggestions. Employees should also be encouraged to discuss their ideas in meetings so they don’t feel discouraged from sharing them. A good suggestion system will allow key stakeholders to evaluate ideas. Sometimes user get a vote, too. Furthermore, managers are enabled to track which suggestions were implemented successfully or not so that future efforts can be more focused.

Innovation Team during Brainstorming as a symbol for idea management - TOM SPIKE

What are the benefits of idea management?

Idea management can help us to:

  • Encourage employees to generate ideas and think of new ways to improve business processes
  • Organize, prioritize, and act on these ideas in a way that’s in line with company and department goals
  • Measure the progress of ideation efforts
  • Identify gaps in daily business that require improvement if they’re not being filled by the current business model or internal processes

Professional idea management can also help to visualize where employee suggestions are coming from. If the office is larger than one floor, different departments tpically work through their own ideas separately and generate different kinds of suggestions. If relevant, this helps to filter and focus on those groups specifically when planning to implement solutions from employee-generated solutions in a very specific scope of topics.

Importance of idea management software

One of the top ways companies implement idea management is through software. Off-the-shelf or purpose-built to streamline and organize the process. Idea management software is a valuable tool for companies eager to collect new ideas and encourage idea sharing. It helps us to manage existing ideas and improve employee engagement of the company. Idea management software helps in the following ways, such as:

  • Managing all the ideas in one place: We can store, organize and manage all the ideas by using a clearly structured idea management system.
  • Improve productivity with time-saving features: Advanced idea management systems will have features to support time management so tasks like categorization or evaluation are carried out efficiently. Of course, they ideally are easy to use and make it simple for people to work together. Reduzing the pain of organizing things properly or keeping track of what needs doing next. With lots of ideas, this could mean saving hours each day by using such a properly managed approach!

Idea management is a systematic way to store, prioritize, and act on the best ideas a team generates. The software enables you to track the progress of your ideas from idea generation through implementation and measurement.

In addition to helping manage your own ideas, it also helps manage from elsewhere in the company, or even customer-generated suggestions or requests  e.g., an improvement suggestion from an end user or from just anyone outside the orgaionzation (see Open Innovation).

Ideenentwickler kleben Post-its als Symbol für Ideenmanagement - TOM SPIKE

Limitation of employee suggestions and brainstorming

Great ideas are often a group effort. Merely asking for employee suggestions and brainstorming is therefore limited in terms of idea quality. Employees should be able to submit their ideas with ease, and even anonymity if they’re worried about retribution from management or colleagues. But the expectations must not be to high.

Employee suggestions work pretty well in continuous improvement where an experienced employee comes up with a nice little workaround to make repetitive tasks more quick and more easy. This is because employees know what they are doing. They know about limitations, hassles and barriers in daily business. And they can come up pretty quickly with better solutions. If we let them. For example by means of a suggestion box where people can leave their ideas on form or just a piece of paper.

But typically, employees are not participating in the daily business of their customers. So those obvious ideas to improve daily life will not come as easy when we want to create innoative products or service for the portfolio of our company. Collecting existing ideas and unstructured brainstorming is quite weak in this case. More dedicated and target-oriented approaches are required for groundbreaking innovations. Of course, there are always exceptions, but that’s not what you want to bet all your money on.

Innovation in action

Some of the most successful companies in the world have implemented idea management tools. Typically after they have become successful, so we should not mix up correlation and causality. But it is still interesting to look at them.

Zappos, for example, has a system called Idea Street that allows employees to submit ideas and vote on them. Amazon uses Zappos’s method to allow their employees to submit feedback on products and services.

Google uses an internal platform called Google Ideas, which allows employees anywhere in the world to share ideas about new products or features they would like to see added to their website. Employees can also create polls so other people can vote on what feature they want most (like a suggestion box).

Equally important, IBM has used IdeaJam since 2006 as part of their Innovation Jam event every year where employees come together at different locations around the world and share ideas through an online platform. This enables all engineers within IBM to get involved with sharing their ideas about how best to improve company processes or develop new products and services for clients worldwide! Apple also makes use of this same kind of tool on their own internal website called Blue Sky Innovation Hub where anyone from anywhere could post suggestions related to any topic important enough for them such as sustainability

There are many successful companies from which to learn where empathy is leveraged and innovation stems from consumer insights.

Innovation and idea mangement in B2B companies

In B2B companies, innovation is different than in B2C companies. One of the reasons is, the limited number of consumers those companies actually have contact with. If you are a fast-food restaurant, you can easily take ideas from the quintessential burger consumer, what to put on the bun for a change. Everyone got an idea if you just ask them. If you are instead a stell milling company, relevant ideas are much harder to get. John Doe driving a car which is made from steel, will not be easily able to tell the steel mill about their future milling plant.

So, idea mangement is harder for B2B companies. The good thing is, competitors will face the same challenges, so they race slower. Still, it is vital for many business to sustain success and innovation will help to stay ahead of the competition, increase sales, and improve customer satisfaction—all three of which are essential goals for any business looking to grow its market share or revenue over time. In an ever changing market, it’s important to keep up and one means might be idea management.

As skimming existing ideas is not a recipe for success, other approaches are established in B2B.

Ideation challenges in idea management

 Clearly defining a technical or business challenge is the first step. Quite different from general collection of ideas. Once, a customer problem is clearly validated as a real potential for future innovation, ideas on how to solve this challenge are collected. The challenge is then to be well formulated and published. Either within the organization or even to the public. Idea management platform such as Innocentive or Jovoto help to tap into vast numbers of ideators, who could potentially come up with some proper solutions.

Ideation challenges are therefore different in terms of the following concepts:

  • well-defined scope for expected range of ideas
  • clear target-audience, internal or external
  • limited time to collect ideas

Collected ideas could solve the challenge or not. Either way, the company will tackle the challenge. If not by using incoming ideas, then by targeted innovation workshop such as the Patent Booster. So there rarely are dead ends as a validated customer problem really needs to be solved. Otherwise, the competition will solve it.

Conclusion

While ideas in businesses are just everywhere, especially in a saturated market, only the best ideas can stand out. Idea management could help to motivate employees to share ideas, think critically and grow an understanding which kinds of ideas could be disruptive for the company and industry. In its entirety, idea management has various tools, techniques, and strategies that can be used to adapt and stand out in the market. This is true for B2C and B2B. Although B2B idea management needs some more focussed approaches than just skimming existing ideas, such as dedicated ideation challenges. TOM SPIKE helps B2B companies to successfully create ideas and innovation in any case. Even if idea management in most cases is not our proposed strategy. Get in touch with us today to disucss, if idea management is the right track for you and how to actually create innovation so your enterprise can thrive!

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