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5 Innovative Ways to Inspire Customer Loyalty

Getting customers — and keeping them — is the name of the game in e-commerce.

“The e-commerce market is crowded and noisy, and brands need to do everything they can to differentiate themselves from the pack,” said Eric Hansen, CTO of

“Loyalty programs do just that, giving a brand the edge they need to stay a step ahead of their competitors,” he told CRM Buyer.

1. Think Beyond Rewards and Points

Inspiring loyalty to your brand and your products is a vital part of e-commerce, but the best loyalty programs go beyond offering rewards and points.

Building true, lasting customer loyalty involves incentivizing customers to spend time at your site and, most importantly, to return.

“A loyalty program can really be anything that inspires a customer to keep coming back,” explained Hansen. “With that in mind, brands would do well to broaden their thinking when they consider inspiring loyalty. The traditional loyalty programs that offer perks like loyalty points and free shipping are great, but they are by no means the only perks brands can offer customers.”

For instance, thinking beyond the usual loyalty offerings could mean offering a branded app to draw customers in — and keep them coming back.

“Offering a branded app that centralizes the customer experience can be a fantastic way of not only streamlining the customer experience, but also establishing a trusted customer touchpoint,” said Hansen. “Brands can use this trust to offer targeted upsells and promotions, allowing fast and easy purchasing of favorite products.”

2. Offer a Personalized Experience

One of the most important steps that e-commerce businesses can take toward building a loyal customer base is to cater to those customers’ desire for attention, care and understanding.

“A loyalty program is all about bringing value to customers through offerings that feel tailor-made,” said
Como SVP Yair Holtzer, head of Como USA.

“To do so, retailers need to leverage the data they gain from their customers’ online behavior to communicate with them in a personalized way,” he told CRM Buyer. “That personalization involves relevant product recommendations, contextual content, customized messages and more.”

Personalization can create a deep sense of loyalty. Customers want to be understood, and they appreciate the time and effort they can save if a retailer knows the kinds of products and services they’re looking for.

“A personalized customer experience is one of the most powerful perks out there,” said SiteSpect’s Hansen. “Presenting customers the products they want every time they visit the site — as well as providing helpful, targeted suggestions and promotions — will inspire loyalty.”

3. Be Data-Savvy

Collecting and interpreting data about customers’ past purchases and behaviors is a central component of tailoring their experience when they’re on your site.

“Reward frequent shoppers by collecting data on their past purchases, preferences and recently browsed items,” said Hansen. “If a customer rarely has to search for the product they want and they feel like the company knows them well, they will be less likely to go elsewhere for their needs.”

Gathering and interpreting data is a way of getting to know your customers, and that data can, in turn, enhance their shopping experience and potentially inspire them to buy more.

“Start by categorizing your customers into segments, giving each customer tags based on their shopping behavior — such as purchased items, total spend per visit, frequency, etc., or personal information,” suggested Holtzer.

“I recommend using these tags to group customers into around three or four different tiers,” he continued. “Each tier should have its own rewards program based on a specific ratio of points earned to amount spent, as well as personalized offers. This tier-based approach helps you convert low spenders into major customers, by presenting them with enticing deals that are based off of their personal preferences and behavior.”

4. Provide Good Content

The more helpful, complete and engaging the content is on an e-commerce site, the more likely customers are to shop there — and to return.

Including in-depth product listings, downloadable manuals, comparison guides, and well-produced videos might not look like a traditional loyalty program, but providing strong content can be an effective strategy in the process of building trust between a business and its customers.

“When companies have good content on their site, it inspires loyalty,” observed Kenji Gjovig, VP of partnerships and business development for Content Analytics.

“Good content will help a buyer make a good decision,” he told CRM Buyer. Customers can shop many different places, so it’s important to increase the stickiness of a customer within your own ecosystem.”

5. Incorporate Social Components

Enhancing the social experience of shopping is another way to build a sense of loyalty and belonging, along with attracting new customers.

“Today’s customers place a huge premium on a sense of belonging, and loyalty programs that nurture that desire have had a lot of success of late,” said Hansen.

Customers are social, after all, and they often appreciate seeing their social lives mirrored in their shopping experience.

“Loyalty programs that focus on incorporating social components, allowing a shopper and their friends to interact on a brand’s site, can help to create new value for a loyalty program by enabling consumers to not just see recommendations based on their past purchases, but also based on friend’s preferences or picks,” said Hansen. “This showcases that the brand understands how today’s shopper browses online instead of in a mall.”

In fact, some promotions work best when they have a social component, and they ultimately can inspire loyalty in a whole network of customers.

“Capitalizing on social data, these same companies can also take the time to understand promotions that may work better for a group rather than individuals,” explained Hansen.

“For example, sharing a deal that if a consumer and three of her friends buy winter boots they all get 25 percent off could help to drive sales of boots and incentivize a group to direct their boot needs to that particular brand,” he said.

In the end, it’s vital that businesses remember that loyalty is all about developing a connection with their customers.

“Going way beyond rewards and points, a loyalty program makes customers feel appreciated and connected to the brand,” said Como’s Holtzer. “This method transitions consumers from shoppers to loyal customers who consistently return.”
end enn 5 Innovative Ways to Inspire Customer Loyalty

Vivian%20Wagner 5 Innovative Ways to Inspire Customer LoyaltyVivian Wagner has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. Her main areas of focus are technology, business, CRM, e-commerce, privacy, security, arts, culture and diversity. She has extensive experience reporting on business and technology for a variety
of outlets, including The Atlantic, The Establishment and O, The Oprah Magazine. She holds a PhD in English with a specialty in modern American literature and culture. She received a first-place feature reporting award from the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists.
Email Vivian.

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CRM Buyer

Bringing the Innovative Mindset to Wholesale Distribution

websitelogo Bringing the Innovative Mindset to Wholesale Distribution

Guest Post by Dirk Beveridge, Founder, UnleashWD

As multiple trends accelerate the pace of change, distributors must maintain a continuous focus on innovation. We find ourselves in a VUCA environment – the velocity, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity that distributors are facing today are putting significant pressure on leaders. Take for example the recent strategic decision by Amazon to acquire Whole Foods. This singular decision has caused massive ripple effects throughout boardrooms across the country.

As Graybar CEO Kathy Mazzarella told me on an Innovate For The Future episode, Creating the Vision To Disrupt Yourself, “the forces and challenges that are facing us today, we’ve never seen before.” In other words, the rules of business are being changed in real-time. Consider:

  • Digital transformation – data and analytics, the industrial internet and the internet of things are putting digital at the center of the new customer experience, while augmented reality, information modeling, and more are overwhelming many.
  • Demographic trends and their disruptive forces regarding human capital and workforce planning. Our ability to attract and retain employees with the digital skills the digital world will require not to mention the workplace skills gap in the trades are impacting our businesses.
  • Enhanced and non-traditional competition. Mergers and acquisitions and non-traditional competitors like Amazon continue to change the competitive landscape.
  • Alternative channels - Research by tED Magazine and RW Baird showed that 69 percent of manufacturers believe that within five years there will be a significant increase in their using ecommerce to sell directly to the end user.
  • Commoditization – The products we represent and the services we provide are all being commoditized. Distributors are finding that their relevance can no longer be primarily defined as getting the right product, to the right customer, at the right place and time. These capabilities have become table stakes rather than differentiators and as one distributor told me that if it comes down to that, “there are already companies that can do that better over the Internet.

And in this disruptive environment, our research shows 85 percent of distributors believe they need to reinvent their business before someone else does.

The Opportunity With An Innovative Mindset

Yet, I believe there is amazing potential and importance with wholesale distribution. Today there are plenty of reasons to be excited when it comes to wholesale distribution. There are somewhere between 250,000 to 300,000 businesses throughout the distribution industry. These businesses range anywhere from pure entrepreneurial businesses to Fortune 500 businesses. Distribution is a massive $ 5 to 8 trillion industry employing roughly 5.9 million people.

Think about those numbers! The auto industry – which is currently inventing driverless cars – is “only” a $ 900 billion industry, and here we are at 5 to 8 trillion dollars. In fact, wholesale distribution represents 6 percent of the overall U.S. economy. It’s absolutely integral to manufacturing, retail, health care and other sectors of the supply chain.

We can innovate! I mean if an industry that is one fifth our size can invent driverless cars – why can’t we bring new and valued solutions to the market? The answer is – We can! And to do so we need to insure the right mindset throughout our organization.

Everything Begins with Mindset. 

Our research has shown that the pace of change is too slow in distribution. What hasn’t been addressed until now is “Why?” What’s holding back businesses from the needed change, transformation, and innovation?

In short, in the end, companies don’t change, transform, and innovate. People do. Leaders do. Leaders with an innovative mindset.

In 30 years of interviewing and working with leading distributors, I have identified the eight core mindsets of innovators throughout distribution. I’ll be sharing those insights and the ways to assess your current distribution business in a July 27th Innovative Mindset webinar.

Posted on Tue, July 25, 2017
by NetSuite filed under

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The NetSuite Blog

BUILT/ launches innovative omnichannel company on the NetSuite unified cloud commerce platform

og image BUILT/ launches innovative omnichannel company on the NetSuite unified cloud commerce platform

UK business to transform the customer experience for professional builders and tradespeople

SUITEWORLD 2017, LAS VEGAS, Nev.—April 26, 2017—Oracle NetSuite Global Business Unit (GBU), the industry’s leading provider of cloud financials / ERP, HR and omnichannel commerce software suites and a wholly-owned subsidiary of Oracle, today announced that BUILT/, a new company supported by a leading UK based organization in the sector, has selected NetSuite’s unified cloud commerce platform to support its omnichannel B2B business.

Officially unveiled today at SuiteWorld, BUILT/ aims to make it quicker and easier for professional builders to source materials for their projects, placing a greater focus on providing a superior brand experience with a digital-first approach designed around the customer. Offering both online and brick-and-mortar channels, BUILT/ will run its entire business on the NetSuite unified cloud commerce platform including ecommerce, point-of-sale, order and inventory management, CRM and financials. With NetSuite, BUILT/ will have a flexible, scalable platform that can help manage the business through every stage of its growth.

“We wanted a single, flexible platform that avoided silos of information and had the flexibility to change as the business evolved,” said Nick Thomas, CEO of BUILT/. “When evaluating options, it was clear that only NetSuite would be able to support our approach of ‘start small, grow fast’.”

Meeting the needs of small and midsize builders who source materials on a project-by-project basis, BUILT/’s mobile-optimized webstore, powered by NetSuite SuiteCommerce Advanced, will allow materials to be sourced more easily and builders will be able to order materials and have them shipped to the project site or collected in store.

Further unifying the online and in-store experience, a project product list can be created online. The customer can visit a local store and have a sales associate access their saved project list utilizing the NetSuite SuiteCommerce InStore point-of-sale (POS) system and work with them to finalize the list and complete the purchase in store. Products that a builder finds in store, but is not ready to purchase, can be added to their ecommerce cart or list and transacted later online or during another store visit.

With SuiteCommerce Advanced and SuiteCommerce InStore, which are natively unified with NetSuite’s order and inventory management system, real-time product availability can be shown online. Store associates will have visibility into inventory anywhere in the business, enabling them to fulfill orders from any inventory location be it a store, distribution center or even drop ship from a supplier.

“Our mission is to make the entire purchasing experience as painless and efficient as possible. Greater convenience and ease of doing business rank among our customers’ top priorities. With NetSuite, we intend to ensure we support these customer expectations,” said Thomas.

NetSuite’s unified commerce platform will deliver the following benefits to BUILT/:

  • More than online purchasing. In addition to providing a great online purchasing experience with SuiteCommerce Advanced, builders can set up an online account that will allow them to get their purchase history, check their account balance, pay invoices online and more.
  • Modern POS system. With full POS capabilities for conducting complex transactions, SuiteCommerce InStore also enables store associates to better engage with customers by empowering them with full access to customer, order and inventory information.
  • Single customer view. All customer information is captured in a single repository, providing a 360-degree view of all customer activity, including purchases, returns, exchanges, store visits, service requests and marketing campaigns.
  • Built-in business intelligence. BUILT/ will have real-time access to its business performance across customer, order and inventory data for better decision making, and advanced reporting to provide detailed financial reports to its parent company.
  • Streamlined IT with low cost and complexity. NetSuite’s proven, secure cloud solution eliminates the hassles of managing, maintaining and upgrading business applications while allowing the company to quickly and easily set up new outlets as the company grows.
  • A scalable platform that can grow with the company. NetSuite provides a highly scalable platform for growth, with the ability to quickly and easily add functionality as BUILT/ opens new stores and expands across the UK.

About Oracle NetSuite Global Business Unit
Oracle NetSuite Global Business Unit pioneered the Cloud Computing revolution in 1998, establishing the world’s first company dedicated to delivering business applications over the internet. Today, Oracle NetSuite Global Business Unit provides a suite of cloud-based financials / Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), HR and omnichannel commerce software that runs the business of companies in more than 100 countries. For more information, please visit http://www.netsuite.com.

Follow Oracle NetSuite Global Business Unit’s Cloud blog, Facebook page and @NetSuite Twitter handle for real-time updates.

About Oracle
Oracle offers a comprehensive and fully integrated stack of cloud applications and platform services. For more information about Oracle (NYSE:ORCL), visit www.oracle.com.

Oracle and Java are registered trademarks of Oracle and/or its affiliates. Other names may be trademarks of their respective owners.

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An Interview With Chip Bell, Author Of Kaleidoscope: Delivering Innovative Service That Sparkles

kaleidoscope An Interview With Chip Bell, Author Of Kaleidoscope: Delivering Innovative Service That Sparkles

We recently had the opportunity to talk to author Chip R. Bell about his most recent book, Kaleidoscope: Delivering Innovative Service that Sparkles, which explores the nature and value of innovative service. Mr. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker and the author of several national bestselling books, including Take Their Breath Away, Managing Knock Your Socks off Service, Managers as Mentors, The 9½ Principles of Innovative Service, and Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service.

S & S: What sparked your interest in helping businesses improve their customer service?

CB: It all started years ago with reading a book (Marketing For Business Growth, by Ted Levitt): “No one buys a product, they buy an expectation of benefits and a solution to a problem. We don’t buy a ¼ inch drill bit to frame and hang on our living room wall; we want a ¼ inch hole.”

I was the director of organization development and training for a large bank. I asked to be a part of a small task force to help craft the long-range retail strategy for the bank. I was hooked on how organizations could create a more wholesome work environment while adding value to customers through providing a better service experience. The number-one impact on customer relations is employee relations.

Innovative service

S & S: This is your third book on innovative service. How does this book take the concept forward?

CB: Innovative service – what I call value-unique as opposed to value-added – can give birth to whimsy and cute. There is nothing wrong with adding clever flourishes to a customer’s experience. But what if the goal was to have a more profound impact on the customer? What creates the experiences customers remember for the rest of their lives, not just until the end of the week? My book, Kaleidoscope, is more about the character of innovative service.

It is about seriously sparkly service that is remarkable. Seriously has a double meaning. It can mean “super sparkly” that makes customers go “wow—that was delightful.” It can also mean “profoundly sparkly” that makes customers go “whoa—that was unexpected.” Disney World makes you go “wow;” Cirque du Soleil makes you go “whoa.” Remarkable means service so impactful customers remark about it—a story they are eager to share. This book is about “whoa” more than “wow!”


S & S: Your book is an extended metaphor comparing a kaleidoscope with innovative customer service. What prompted the comparison?

CB: There are two aspects about a kaleidoscope that make it a fitting metaphor for the content of this new book. Kaleidoscopes engage the viewer in collectively creating visual charm; innovative service engages customers to collectively (customer with service provider) create great experiences. The other aspect is that the gems or glass pieces (my granddaughters call them “jewels”) inside the business end of the kaleidoscope never change. We do not open up the kaleidoscope and change the jewels. The jewels are the core (call it the character) of the kaleidoscope that, when reflected in the three mirrors inside the cylinder,create the magic. Innovative service is grounded in a core set of values—like enchantment, trust, grace, alliance, etc. I chose nine core jewels of innovative service to make up the nine chapters of the book.

Value unique

S & S: You mention the ever-shifting patterns seen in a kaleidoscope are equivalent to value-unique service. What is the benefit of value-unique service over value-added service?

CB: Great question. Value-added service is taking what customers expect and adding more. It is the airline upgrading a frequent flyer to first class. It is comping a dessert if the meal at a restaurant is not perfect. There are two challenges with value-added. First, it can elevate the expectations of customers. “Last time you upgraded me to the concierge level of the hotel, can I get an upgrade again?” Second, continually one-upping the last experience can get pricey…ultimately you run out of room.

Value-unique is not adding more, it is creating unique, simple, unexpected experiences. While there is an obvious limit to generosity, there is no limit to ingenuity. The key is to provide front-line employees with the support and trust to break old patterns and find new ways to deliver unique. Customers love service surprise, just like the free prize inside the Cracker Jack box that was financially worthless but emotionally priceless. Simple, unexpected, yet appropriate is the key to creating customer advocates who are eager to tell or tweet their great story to friends and colleagues.

S & S: What is the most innovative kaleidoscopic customer experience you’ve ever enjoyed?

CB: I will give you three! Since I travel every week, many of my experiences are related to events on the road. The Hotel Monaco puts a goldfish in my room. The housekeeper takes care of it. Their only request is that I give my goldfish a name. So, when I return to the hotel for another stay, the front desk clerk asks me “Would you like Trixie to come up and spend the night with you again?” Their bathrobes are not boring white, but rather leopard and zebra print! There is a yoga mat in the closet. Not only are they pet-friendly, they have a concierge dog in the lobby greeting arriving guests. It is this kind of innovative thinking that makes their hotel experience unique.

After a scrumptious meal at the Restaurant R’Evolution in the Royal Sonesta hotel in New Orleans, you might be too stuffed for dessert. So the waiter places a large, colorful Peruvian jewelry box on your table. Inside each drawer or behind each tiny door is a miniature pastry, petit four, or delicate sweet. That’s thinking out of the box!

The highly contemporary new Pacific Rim Fairmont Hotel in downtown Vancouver puts antique retro-toys (a kaleidoscope, yoyo, or slinky) on your guest room’s industrial-strength desk. The contrast between super-modern and super-nostalgic creates an enchanting memory.

Organizational change

S & S: You mention in your book that innovative service has to come from within, from your core beliefs. How can service industry leaders apply these concepts to promote organizational change?

CB: Actually, I have had the wonderful opportunity to work with organizations famous for innovative service, not just good customer service. When I examine the traits common to leaders in these organizations, there are amazing similarities. They spend their time with front-line employees, not in meetings all the time. As Bill Marriott said in a meeting I attended, “Being there is not to make employees happier; it is to make leaders smarter.” You can pretend to care, but you can’t pretend to be there.

Innovative service leaders know their front line is not only the ambassador of the organization; they are vital scouts with real-time insight into what matters to customers. Innovative service leaders are noticeably curious, highly inclusive, and humble. Their default is to trust their employees. Consequently, they are transparent and open. They demonstrate the highest level of integrity and are always eager to “do the right thing.” They are quick to affirm and assume the best in both employees and customers.

Core beliefs

S & S: What are the core beliefs that drive value-unique, innovative service?

CB: They include:

  • The pursuit of joy, not just the drive to make money
  • The willingness to take risks and experiment
  • Service to others as a vital cause, not just a necessary task
  • A devotion to the customer and the zeal to make every customer feel valued
  • Service laced with clear and present integrity and wholesomeness
  • A strong alliance-building orientation that treats colleagues as partners
  • A focus on a long-term relationship, not a short-term transaction
  • A change-driven recognition that today’s fad is tomorrow’s antique

What’s next?

S & S: What’s next from Chip Bell? Any new books in the works?

CB: I am confident when another book shows up, I will write it down. For me, books and articles are gifts that have been entrusted to me. I treasure my role as a transcriber and work to never take that special privilege for granted. My primary work now is promoting the new book. Additionally, I have a new keynote on Kaleidoscope and I’m having fun delivering it to audiences each week! Finally, I deeply appreciate your support of my work.

For more on how to create an unforgettable customer experience, see The Secrets Of Profoundly Remarkable Customer Service.


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SAP BusinessObjects Cloud boasts new innovative analytics enhancements

TTlogo 379x201 SAP BusinessObjects Cloud boasts new innovative analytics enhancements

SAP BusinessObjects Cloud is getting an innovative wave of new analytics enhancements. These include enhancements for the cloud and on-premises versions of BusinessObjects, integration of SAP Digital Boardroom and the Microsoft Surface Hub, and the SAP BusinessObjects Roambi mobile analytics application.

The new features were announced at SAP TechEd, held Nov. 7 to 11 in Barcelona.

The most significant enhancements are in BusinessObjects Cloud, a cloud-first platform that allows analytics users to discover, visualize, plan, and predict, according to Nic Smith, SAP global vice president of product marketing for cloud analytics. The new features center on data wrangling, machine learning and new big data sources.

“The new data wrangling enhancements are mostly around things like error detection, recommending actions to users, profiling the data to pinpoint issues so that users can easily prepare and model their data,” Smith said. “They can do it on their local data sources as well as new big data sources, such as  Google BigQuery, Amazon Redshift, and Spark SQL, which are some of the new data sources we’re adding into the mix.”

Underneath the hood, BusinessObjects Cloud has new machine learning capabilities that use sophisticated algorithms to provide end users with suggested visualizations and suggested ways to transform their data, Smith explained.

“For example, you might ask ‘What are the key influencing factors of my cost of goods sold?’ or ‘What are the influencers for my top-performing products or my products most at risk?'” Smith said. “So there’s further progress here on the machine learning capabilities and the smart and prescriptive aspects of analytics coming into the cloud.”

B. Braun Melsungen AG is one company that’s taking advantage of SAP BusinessObjects Cloud’s enhanced analytic capabilities, Smith said. The medical services company, headquartered in Hessen, Germany, is using BusinessObjects Cloud for self-service analytics to gain insight into the products it makes, such as scalpels. “They bring data together from an enormous amount of places and factors, including things like the level of metal that’s in the water used to clean the equipment,” Smith said.

“SAP BusinessObjects Cloud enables us to work very efficiently with on-the-fly analysis, which is optimized to meet the needs of the business and develop new services that we were simply not able to build before,” said Soeren Jens Lauinger, director of sales and service innovation for Aesculap Inc., a division of B. Braun Melsungen AG, in a statement. “By offering these to the hospitals, we aim to become an even better partner for our customers.”

SAP Digital Boardroom comes to the Surface

SAP Digital Boardroom, an application built on BusinessObjects Cloud, is now supported for Microsoft Surface Hub devices, Smith said. Digital Boardroom provides executives with the ability to generate real-time analysis and instant machine-generated insight and predictions, as well as simulations to predict the impact of decisions. The Microsoft Surface support provides an interactive content display and collaboration capabilities on the device.

Digital Boardroom also now includes prebuilt content and applications for a variety of industries, such as consumer goods, chemicals, engineering, construction, and public sector, and lines-of-business, including HR, finance and marketing. The apps have been created by SAP and partners, including PwC, Smith said. 

“PwC has built their own analytic application for growth performance analytics, so we’re seeing the ecosystem starting to use the technology and build their own analytic applications,” he said.

The PwC Fit for Growth Performance Analytics (FFGPA) app for Digital Boardroom provides access to real-time information that gives users an outside-in look at how the company is performing against its competition, using data from 2,000 private and public companies with public debt across 130 industry segments.

Roambi around the world

The SAP BusinessObjects Roambi Analytics mobile app is now available in 25 countries around the world. Roambi technology was acquired by SAP in February 2016, and the service had previously been available in North America only. Roambi is mobile cloud-based analytics software that delivers detailed visualizations on mobile devices. “Roambi takes analytics beyond the firewall with use cases primarily around executives and sales and marketing,” Smith said.

The shoe retailer Aldo, for example, is using Roambi analytics to deliver metrics on store performance directly to store managers on their mobile devices, Smith said. “They can improve things like inventory levels, stock, and store promotions,” he said. “They have a specifically designed UI that’s not only intuitive for the user, but is an enhanced user experience on the mobile device.”

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How to Be Innovative After Years of Same-Old

Here’s the reality: being innovative is hard. After doing many of the same things for years and years, it can be difficult to get out of the cycle of normalcy and embrace change. But if you’re willing to put in the effort and utilize various resources, there’s no doubt that you’ll be able to get back to the innovative spirit that started your company in the first place. Let’s take a look at a number of tactics that will help push creativity and ingenuity where it’s urgently needed.

Bring in New Minds

Build upon the team that you already have, or make some hiring changes. In many cases, the reason that companies get stuck in the same-old methodology is because the people perpetuating it have been working there for years. After working for the same company and doing the same job for so long, it can be difficult to see innovation and new solutions. This doesn’t mean fire them (unless you find good reason to), but rather incorporate new minds as well.

Bring in individuals that rely on innovation and building new ideas more than just doing the same-old. These new workers often challenge the processes that are in place, see problems and potential solutions in an entirely different way, and provide their own unique insights.

Rely on Technology

If you’re looking to make drastic changes to your business, consider investing in new technology. Software tools such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) provide businesses with technology designed to create efficiency and bolster productivity. Implementing these new software packages, if your business is in the right position to do so, can have a profound impact on business processes, employee work-levels, and more, giving you just the right amount of fuel to reenergize your business and get back to thinking like an innovator.

Encourage Risk-Taking

In order to be innovative, you have to take some risks. Make room in your budget for new project development opportunities, or for projects that may or may not work. Providing your employees with the power to take some risks and try out new ideas can be empowering and rewarding. Give your employees the ability to speak freely and openly about any problems or ideas that they have. The trust that you build through this open line of communication will be paramount when you’re trying to encourage inventiveness and originality.

Without allowing risk-taking, you’ll be setting yourself up for more of the same-old. Take chances, empower employees to seek new ways of thinking, and you’re bound to rewarded with innovative findings.

Evaluate and Revise

Tired of doing things the same way for such a long time? Evaluate what’s currently working, then take a look at what could be changed. If you’ve gotten this far and your company is doing well, there’s no reason to completely change your business for the sake of change. Save and cherish the processes that are working great for your business, and seek out the pain points that need to be addressed.

If you can’t find pain points, then consider revising areas that you could do without. In many cases, there really aren’t any major issues within a company, they’ve just gotten to a point where they’re lacking innovative employees or thought-processes. Constantly revise and assess to ensure that you’re pushing the envelope in terms of what innovative new products and services you provide.

Open Communication Lines

Communication is key. Your management team should feel comfortable speaking with you regarding innovative new ideas and bold endeavors. Foster an environment where employees are encouraged and empowered to speak their minds and share thoughts outside of the norm. With a healthy, communicative environment, you’ll have a much better shot at getting out of the same-old mentality that so many businesses get caught up in.

Once you’ve established open lines of communication across the board, build your own team of innovators and thinkers. Stay open to new ideas, validate opinions, and do your best to collaborate with this team. It will help shake things up by surrounding yourself with individuals who think about things differently than you do.

Depend on What You Know

At the end of the day, you’ll need to rely on what you already know. What you’ve done to build and maintain your business has likely been working for years, and that should be acknowledged and respected. There’s a lot that you’re already doing that you probably don’t consider innovative, and that’s ok. There’s nothing wrong with consistent successes. It’s when a company starts to lack in fresh, bold ideas and inventiveness that the problems really start to occur.

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OnContact CRM

Smart city technology could spark innovative projects

TTlogo 379x201 Smart city technology could spark innovative projects

Smart city projects, powered by devices connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) and advanced analytics tools, have the potential to fundamentally change the way municipal governments function. But for initiatives to be successful, cities will need to address issues such as data accessibility and privacy and security.

Speaking at the 2016 IoT Data Analytics & Visualization conference, Palo Alto, Calif., CIO Jonathan Reichental said smart city technology enabled by the IoT could help government officials improve everything from traffic management to climate change resilience.

“The Internet of Things is going to play a really big role in creating the cities of the future,” he said.

For example, Reichental is applying smart city technology to Palo Alto’s transportation needs. The city is putting sensors in traffic lights that can tell when cars are starting to back up at an intersection. The sensors send this data back to a cloud data store, where it runs through an algorithm that decides when the lights should change. Eventually, the city wants to push the data analysis to the edge at the sensor itself, embedding algorithms that compute on data as it is generated.

If we don’t change the game, if we don’t reinvent how cities operate, we’re all in trouble. Jonathan ReichentalCIO for the City of Palto Alto, Calif.

Reichental said the city also is in the early stages of thinking about how to put sensors in water systems to identify leaky pipes. He said a relatively large percentage of water is lost in this way, which is particularly troubling as California confronts a historic drought. He said as climate change worsens in the years ahead, addressing these issues through smart city projects will become even more important.

“If we don’t change the game, if we don’t reinvent how cities operate, we’re all in trouble,” Reichental said.

Unleashing data leads to innovation

Muncipal governments are among the largest collectors of data in the U.S. Providing private citizens and businesses with access to this data could lead to quicker innovation than if cities try to develop their own smart city technology, according to Eyal Amir, CEO and chief data officer at parking finder app developer Parknav.

“At the end, it boils down to how many hands can access the data, and can [cities] provide that data in easy-to-consume forms,” Amir said during a discussion panel at the conference, which was held in Palo Alto.

He said that cities, despite the mountains of data they collect, have limited resources to analyze this data to develop new insights about the city and to develop applications that leverage these insights. He advocated opening up city data to private developers who have far greater resources. He noted that the cities of Seattle and Chicago have set up online portals, giving people outside of government access to government databases. And the federal government’s Data.gov site provides access to public databases. But Amir would like to see more of this.

“There are places where the private sector can step in,” Amir said. “Cities need to be ready to receive this help.”

Privacy, security critical to public support

As governments liberate the data they hold, though, they need to think about protecting the data from both a privacy and security standpoint. Connecting more devices to the Internet to monitor activities in public spaces could give cities tremendous intelligence into what’s happening, but the potential for abusing this data is also considerable.

“It’s important for people to feel that they’re not being spied upon,” said Barend Botha, founder of the research firm IoTDataViz.

Botha agreed with Amir that there’s great potential in opening up data sets to the public and applying smart city technology. But he said residents won’t get on board with projects if they feel like data about them is being abused or if it intrudes on personal areas of life. He said the best way to build support for smart city and IoT projects is to develop a set of privacy standards and to involve citizens in a project’s early stages.

If cities get these issues right, the payoff could be significant. Reichental said he believes smart city technologies eventually will become a trillion dollar industry as sensors are placed in more and more objects and the need for tools to analyze data coming from objects increases. Cities will benefit from this, he thinks, by streamlining processes and becoming more efficient.

“The Internet of Things in a city context will probably be bigger than the Internet was,” Reichental said.  

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Disruption That Scales: 3 Steps to Keeping Your Small Business Innovative

 Disruption That Scales: 3 Steps to Keeping Your Small Business Innovative“One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries.” –A. A. Milne

Many people in entrepreneurial and startup circles would agree with the Pooh author. There’s a huge push for today’s small businesses to be relentlessly innovating and disrupting their industries — and rightfully so. Technology and connectivity give small businesses tremendous power to be more agile and inventive than their predecessors.

But innovative disruption has to scale. Even Facebook knows this, as the social network changed its corporate mantra in 2014 from “Move Fast and Break Things” to “Move Fast with Stable Infra.”

As you aim to move your company forward quickly with stable infrastructure — whatever that looks like for your small business — consider these steps to ensure that you speed responsibly. 

1. Mind the present while looking to the future

The success of your business rests not only on how you perform today, but also how you’re ringing the cash register tomorrow and far beyond. You can’t prioritize one over the other: the present and the future are equally important. Take time to understand where your industry is headed and to anticipate customers’ future needs. If you’re not staying ahead of the curve, you can be sure your competitors are.

In our rapidly advancing world, becoming obsolete is only a few iterations away — but leading the industry is just as close. Like early computer scientist Alan Kay said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

 Disruption That Scales: 3 Steps to Keeping Your Small Business Innovative

2. Have designated rule-breaking sessions

For most small businesses, it’s not practical to question every single process and practice every day. You likely have methods in place that keep your customers happy and processes running, and that’s a good thing. That’s how you keep the lights on.

But every once in a while, invite feedback on how to reinvent the way a traditional problem is solved. You can call it a rule-breaking session or an audit for disruption. Always reward employees for finding new and better ways of doing things. Build a culture where creative innovation is rewarded, and you’ll be amazed at the results.

3. Let data be your guide

When inspiration strikes and you’re faced with a fork in the road — do you try the potentially brilliant new idea or stick with what’s worked in the past? — rely on data to make the call. You may not have analytics to prove anything definitive, but it’s likely that you can lean on some data-based roadmap to guide your thought process.

For example, you might consult data about your industry as a whole. What’s been trending over the past year or three years? Should that factor into your decision? You can also create your own data to solve highly specific problems, like getting feedback on a new product or website design by hosting a focus group (either in person or digitally).

Sometimes the data will be unclear and you’ll be forced to make a judgment call. Other times, you may feel that you’re fresh out of big ideas. Even in these challenging moments, the goal should be to disrupt and innovate in scalable and repeatable ways. If you’ve improved products and systems from this time last year and customers are coming back for more, you’re already off to a great start.

Inspired to make 2015 the best year yet for your business? Download our free e-book for more useful tips.

 Disruption That Scales: 3 Steps to Keeping Your Small Business Innovative

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