A funny thing happens when you stop asking innovation to deliver short-term results: it delivers short-term results.
When I (as an innovator) would be attached to execution (read: sales and marketing), things would sometimes get… weird. My ability to have an honest conversation with prospects got compromised. When I did get honest feedback, sharing it with product and/or product marketing would be met with the question, “Do you think maybe the feedback you got was because you weren’t positioning things right?”—an odd question, since positioning hampers innovation. Most importantly, I couldn’t partner with SDRs, because my compensation was in conflict: me, the SDR, and sales person all with a slice of the deal? It was too many hands in the till, and it always broke; I’d become a de facto SDR… which is not a role that is compatible with innovation.
On the other hand, when innovation existed outside of sales, goodness happened. I’d get to ask direct and difficult questions of clients, prospects, and industry analysts, too. I could play SME for anyone on the sales team—including SDRs—because my role and comp structure made me “safe” for both the sales team and the prospect to engage with. Since I’d hear about problems with competitors’ products, new tools entering the market, and other game-changing industry evolutions, I could help shape both the product roadmap and also the go to market strategy. And my conference appearances, prospect dinners, and other travel would be viewed as investments in product and market research as opposed to sales events that required short-term ROI.
The irony was, by being visible in the market asking questions, engaging clients and prospects in meaningful discussions, and supporting the industry at large, I’d end up having a much bigger impact on sales than when the structure called for me to actually be part of sales!
I was reminded of this the other day on a call with Cecile Alper-Leroux (who has an innovation job, and who gets this deeply). As I reflected back on my own experiences, I could see where success happened much more easily when I was on a team that separated innovation from execution. Even at Brand Amper, with only two of us, we split these roles. I called them “rough carpentry” and “fine carpentry,” and we fought hard to keep the roles distinct; our biggest wins inevitably came when we successfully held the line.
I understand the appeal of mapping innovation to sales & marketing. They’re both market facing roles, and the skills an innovator uses—mixing analytics with storytelling—are a marketer’s skills. But the roles have very different cadences (execution follows budget cycles; innovation follows investment cycles), relationships (sales is about regular touches; innovation is about fewer, deeper touches), and priorities (sales, when pressed, should “shoot first and ask questions later”—though I mean that only as a metaphor for taking calculated risks in pursuit of results, and not literally how sales calls should be structured—that would be a disaster; whereas innovation should take more of a “measure twice, cut once” approach, since changes to product are not easily undone once implemented.)
Keeping innovation out of marketing and sales might be a tough sell internally, but it’s well worth it, both in the long run, and in the short run, too.