Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Culture Based Adoption - Driving Change from the inside or the outside

As a person who has worked on the front end of the business my entire career I have often been curious about how to make bringing new opportunities to life something that have repeatable principles. And over time working inside large organizations (CPG companies) and now working outside at a small innovation organization (social media SAAS startup), I am starting to think through how we can create a simple principle to think through the most complex of changes.

I call this concept CULTURE BASED ADOPTION. What is it? Culture based adoption is the simple principle that getting people to do something new is actually a "2-step dance". The first step in the dance is usually based on getting someone to use something new whether it be a product or a service. If you think about this first step it is a scalable principle. From a business perspective it could be the interaction between your company's product or service and the customer/consumer that interacts with it. So whether you are a SAAS company selling a tool or a CPG company launching a new product concept, we must all get our end-user to understand how and why they should use it. The second step in this process involves the culture part. To explain this best, it is probably better to focus on the corporate side of things. The simple point here is once you get someone to understand how and why they must use this new product/service you must then ask yourself will this involve a culture change that could be rejected by the "others" involved?

A great example comes from the adoption of social media tools/services that are flooding the marketplace. As I work with NetBase solutions, we have a new way to mine social media through understanding the language of the web. This interface give its users the opportunity to interact with consumers anytime anywhere from the comfort of their desk. And essentially for a single price they have the freedom to not only talk to them anytime, but to also perform the same research on brands they never in their right mind would spend money on. Here is the problem with step one. Even when someone really gets this new interface and way of interacting with consumers, they still must decide whether they even like to use tools at all. Think about it...a way to do market research on nearly any subject at about 10% of the cost of their current method of operation. And many users will say, I don't have time. Instead they will not use a tool and simply take more time and money to have someone else do it for them. This is a micro version of the two step dance. First, I need to learn something new and second I personally have to change my way of doing things. And while it may be more efficient and less costly, there is real push back because of the "other work" or the "the way we do business". But what happens when they do want to learn something new and become a champion?

This is where the real second step of the Culture Based Adoption comes into play. While many people may understand this new tool's value, they may shy away from it because we are now asking a company who never even would consider a new data source like social media to be valuable. This is where the champion DNA meets the road. Knowing and being willing to fight your culture to bring new value to it starts with an awareness that your organization is throwing away money by doing it the old way. And from the sale side, it is imperative to understand this because it is not simply enough to wonder why things are going smoothly. You must ask yourself if your offering or idea falls into the concept of culture based adoption. That is learning to do something different and then changing the behavior of others to make it real and continue.

So how do I adjust?

Be Aware: You must analyze your idea/offering to say this...is it hard to use and will it require people to do it differently? If the answer is yes and yes you need to think through a process to help them see why?

Collaborate: While all innovations may be valuable in your mind, you must also realize that only through others can you affect change. Great innovators are born with no budget, authority or people. If you can drive change without these things then you can "innovate in space" and bring change when you need to. I have learned time and time again, if you can be patient and bring others along to your way of thinking then they will own it and help you make it real.

Build Trust: In a sales cycle, many people make the mistake of thinking that selling innovation involves making others believe that everything is perfect and there is no issue. I think this is wrong. Selling the hardest innovation requires a huge measure of trust between you and your clients whoever they are. If you use strong expectation management and negotiate fairly (in terms of what you will commit to doing) you can go far. In addition, sometimes showing your warts and acknowledging the problems will help you bring people closer to what you want to accomplish.

Bring Fortitude to the Party: Delivering innovation is not for the those who can't withstand the heat. My good friend told me that innovation is not a team sport but a contact sport. Be aware of where the contact is coming from and be ready to defend your position to make it happen.

In the end, driving new usage behavior and changing the culture of your customer/consumer is something that is hard, but the biggest breakthroughs in the world are never that easy...make it happen

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