Eminent management guru Peter Drucker argued that a business needs to do two things well to be successful: it needs to innovate and it needs to find a market. Nothing has changed. Businesses need to be clear and precise about their customer group.
Indeed, having assessed hundreds of business in Africa, Asia and elsewhere, I have seen that the better a business can define its customers, then the easier it becomes to reach them. It is also important to remember that customers buy ‘benefits’ rather than ‘features’. You might sell hybrid chicks, for example, but the customer is buying chickens that grow fatter and faster, or chickens that taste better, or chickens that produce more eggs. You might have developed a new product to test for diabetes, but the benefit to the customer is their early warning and the chance to do something about it.
So you need to be clear and precise about the benefits that your customers are seeking. Once you start to think about benefits, then you will quickly start to think about customer needs that have not yet been fulfilled or perhaps could be fulfilled more effectively. This is the point at which you need to start innovating: can you identify some different features or can you deliver features in a different way to confer the benefits that you perceive are wanted by your customers?
This is the point at which many businesses start to struggle. They already have a market and they are already delivering a product or a service. They are focused on doing that well so that they retain their customers and don’t have the time to look over the horizon. Even if they do lift their head and spot a need, they may well not have the time or the resource to be able to explore whether that is a good idea or to undertake any further work that may be required to turn that idea into a new product or service.
Innovation is not just about products and services, it can also be about processes: can you save money by changing the way in which you make or distribute your product or deliver your service? But this too takes effort. You have to decide whether to carry on the way you are, or be disruptive with the possibility but never the guarantee that the changes will make a difference.
One way round this dilemma is to look for a partner. Many businesses form partnerships. They can range from the very simple (a marketing arrangement for example) to full blown joint ventures. But they all have one thing in common: a desire to work together on the basis that partnerships bring more resource, more expertise, more experience and thus lower risk. That is the raison d’être for Connect to Grow.
Connect will link businesses with an established market in sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia and who are looking for innovations (South Asian/African Enterprises) with businesses from India who already have a proven innovation and who are looking for new markets (Indian Enterprises).
Africa is a relatively small market in global terms, but it is growing more quickly than the rest of the world. Business Insider UK forecasts that of the 13 fastest growing economies, some six will be in sub-Saharan Africa. The list includes Ethiopia, Mozambique, Tanzania and Rwanda, but curiously does not include Kenya, which Bloomberg thinks will be the world’s third fastest growing economy in 2015 and Nigeria the sixth. The Business Insider list also includes Myanmar and, of course, India. It makes sense therefore for businesses to think about investing more in sub-Saharan Africa. WEF’s Africa Competitiveness Report tells us that African countries, in particular, need to engage in much more innovation if they are to continue to grow their economies.
India has a well-deserved reputation for innovating, especially in areas that serve the base of the pyramid, and thus can deliver two goals: profitable business and social benefit. Businesses in developed countries are also constantly innovating, but their innovations tend to be higher tech and thus less well suited to transfer to developing countries. Indian innovations are more likely to be appropriate to transfer with limited further development required.
Bringing businesses together is thus a way of helping all parties to grow more quickly that would otherwise have been the case with less risk. Connect to Grow can help businesses by making introductions, providing advice and guidance, and in some cases providing grants to allow potential partners to travel, meet and to implement pilot projects.
Connect to Grow is newly launched and is seeking enterprises to register their interest. Indian enterprises and enterprises in South Asia or in Sub-Saharan Africa are invited to register. Connect to Grow is funded by the UK’s Department for International Development. We aim to help enterprises find partners and build partnerships in 2016, and will support the new partnership, if necessary, through pilot development into 2017.
David Irwin is the Team Leader for the Connect programme. The Practitioner Hub is the Knowledge Partner for the programme.
This blog was a part of the September 2015 series on collaboration for innovation. Click here to read more analysis, guidance and case studies from around the globe on partnership working.