We Don’t Get Innovation | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

Posted On February 10, 2014

The lack of innovation from service providers is a constant and mournful refrain echoing around the industry. This plaintive and mournful dirge reminds me of Sisyphus, who was cursed to endlessly roll a boulder up a hill, only to watch it tumble back down, never achieving satisfaction. Likewise, the unending efforts of service providers to provide innovation to their customers seem similarly futile, resulting in the same frustrating lack of satisfaction for either provider or customer.

Why are these efforts doomed?

Service providers and their customers have different goals. Providers invest in initiatives that drive growth or improve profitability for the provider. Customers want lower cost, increased productivity and more functionality. These goals seldom align and the parties often work at cross purposes.

What do we do about it? 

The answer is that the customer must take the responsibility for defining the innovation agenda. The customer must outline what will be impactful and make a difference in its business and then share that agenda with the service provider. Whatever the issue is — reducing receivables, stock-outs in retail, more productivity, faster time to market — the customer must illuminate and define the target for the provider.

What if the provider is reluctant to pursue the innovation agenda?

Our experience is that providers often are willing to fund innovation and work across the customer’s agenda when it’s clear that it will make a difference to the customer. In these situations, the exercises in innovation lead to higher customer satisfaction and also lead to an extended contract or changing the relationship in mutually beneficial ways for both parties.

But a provider may be reluctant to pursue some aspects on an innovation agenda. An example is driving increased productivity in the provider’s organization. In a world of (P) Price x (Q) Quantity = Revenue, the provider wants to keep Q as high as possible, and productivity issues bring quality down.

From the provider’s perspective, there are two categories of innovation:

  1. Those that the provider wants to pursue and naturally aligns with (the opportunities that give new revenue opportunities or better industry insight)
  2. Those that the provider likely won’t want to pursue (things that negatively affect its commercial environment, especially its productivity).

To avoid continuously pushing your innovation boulder uphill, keep the provider’s perspective in mind. If your innovation agenda focuses on category #1, you can expect a rewarding discussion around the areas where you and the provider are aligned. But you will need to take a much more active role in driving the category #2 initiatives that are not aligned with the provider’s interests.


Photo credit: Kristina Alexanderson

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