Where Frugal Innovation Can Improve Your Sales

So I listened recently on a flight to a long podcast from Navi Radjou.

I mention it wasn’t a wonderfully entertaining experience with a heavy heart.

As Cecil Rhodes famously mused, to be an Englishman is to win the lottery of life.

I say this part in jest. Yet it does rile me that the most prolific innovators in the history of mankind are derided by the rest of the world. From China, Russia and the New World, petulant teenage histrionics are emitted that steadfastly refuse to join in the communal endeavour of Isaac Newton and ‘stand on the shoulders of giants’.

And jugaad is yet another manifestation of this.

Which is painful. Because its central message is so terrific.

Jugaad is the Hindi word for when invention comes without money thrown at it.

A totally noble concept. One, let’s not forget, that was the norm at the time of The Industrial Revolution. In fact, being practically a Brummie, my own studies recall tales of the Lunar Society and how rich benefactors actually got in the way of creation.

His example upfront is marvellous. A poor Indian villager makes a clay fridge. The mitticool (where mitti means earth) was developed from scratch in the aftermath of earthquake havoc. It doesn’t need power and sells in vast numbers for around $40. A cool story.

Jugaad is defined by Navi as “frugal innovation“. In part to help his American audience, he also talks of MacGyver-ism. If you don’t know the 80s tv show, it’s meant to evoke the ability to conjure some amazing gadgetry from just gaffer tap and discarded odds and ends. All in matter of minutes. The Englishman in me can’t help thinking of Blue Peter, with its shoeboxes and sticky back plastic. People older than me might well evoke Heath Robinson (as in, absurdly complex, makeshift contraptions).

Other words exist. He mentions a Kenyan, Brazilian and even Mandarin equivalent.

Navi believes it is time for the emerging economies to show the new way.

And in part, he has really hit upon something worthy.

Despite his slightly anti-Western lens, big ticket innovation is giving RnD a bad name.

Perhaps even more stark in the week that India sent a rocket to Mars at a price an incredible one-thirtieth of NASA’s current $2½bn trip there. (Although it’s worth bearing in mind two things, the American mission is way more ambitious, and remember Beagle 2? Yes, it crashed on landing but the British project reached Mars at the same cost of India’s current flight).

I sense he is right to say that corporate innovation fails so much because it has become over-systemised.

The latest list of the world’s most ingenious companies suggest the best spend two-and-a-half times more on research and development than is average. That’s 5% of revenue against just 2%.

The annual Thomson Reuters survey also dealt UK plc another blow to both pride and future potential. Its assessment being that, yet again, not one British firm was considered a top global innovator this year. Not a single drug firm, F1 race car team, nor any digital or entertainment creator. Ouch. (At least my compatriots fare better in the Fast Co‘s yearly list, although it has well more than just a top 100 and you do have to dig fairly deep to find the odd Brit…).

I once studied The Management Of Innovation as a b-school module. Lecturers there also drew the linear relationship between R&D spend and ongoing success.

Yet in Sales where’s our innovation benches? Who on earth wants to use a live deal for a lab experiment? Which kind of salesperson would adopt something new and unproven with a quota at stake?

Perhaps frugal innovation thinking – a variant of which may well be the delightful Rory Sutherland’s ‘sweat the small stuff’ approach – can be applied to Sales after all.

You can start with what isn’t working.

I’m not talking about what may be broken beyond your immediate control, like pricing, functionality or service.

What about inside your own process?

What are you doing that you have a feeling should, yet doesn’t, cause the prospect to jump out their seat and scream, ‘sign me up’?

Is there a supposedly booming cannon of a bullet that sounds to potential buyer ears more like a damp squib?

Does something that used to work wonders, appear to be less fruitful with time?

You might not magic a cheap electric-free fridge out of thin air, but you surely can fix something for the better without needing to put a request for funds into management that would only get rejected regardless anyway.

Start simple.

Your opening first meeting chat. That corporate presentation. Your lovingly typed up documentation. The Prop. References used. The support staff you wheel in and the reasons they’re introduced. Your key clientside contacts. The typical approach to their Finance. Contract (pre-) paperwork. The time lags between contact. Your understanding of the problems faced, and your resolution.

Hidden away in any of these (and more) is a frugal fix that may well have huge positive impact on your selling success…

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