This is the fourth article in the series “Innovation Without Adoption Is Simply an Academic Exercise.”
Once members of a target audience are persuaded that an innovation has value to them, the next step is to move on to the decision stage in the adoption process. This stage is where they make the conscious decision to either adopt or reject the innovation. A key driver of that decision is the ability for them to get their hands on the innovation and clearly understand how it fits with their needs and sensitivities.
Keep in mind that our focus here is on adoption in a business-to-business (B2B) setting, which differs from adoption in a business-to-consumer (B2C) setting. The biggest differentiator is that it’s rare for any one person to make the adoption decision in a B2B environment. There may be layers of approval needed, and you almost always need other team members or trading partners to make use of the innovation to realize its value.
There are several approaches to providing demonstrations that can help facilitate decision-making. The most common example is a vendor’s showroom, where everyone can experience the innovation in operation. Unfortunately, that sterile environment is often not representative of a mixed environment where there are many other factors.
One approach that typically yields the greatest adoption rate is a trial program, where the innovation can be tried by the target audience in its environment. Experiencing the innovation in this way helps the team better understand benefits and drawbacks. The problem is that this often is not feasible if the trial incurs heavy costs or requires significant adjustment of existing facilities or processes.
The next best approach is to see the innovation used in an environment that closely mirrors that of the target audience. A close match in facilities, processes and skills results in a greater likelihood of driving a decision. However, those environments are typically a live operation, and repeated visits can place an undue burden on the organization that has already embraced the innovation.
A more promising venue may be the regional and national initiatives that provide a mixed lab-like setting, where different environments can be readily demonstrated. For instance, FourFront of Colorado has centers with diverse technologies and programs that allow manufacturers to see and learn about various innovations working together. The ability to dynamically reconfigure these facilities to more closely match the audience’s environment is instrumental in providing a meaningful hands-on experience.
In all of these situations, personal guides are crucial to ensure that the experience is positive and likely to lead to a decision. Those guides must have a sound understanding of the innovations being presented and deep experience in the audience’s industry. They also must speak the same language as the audience.
Since adoption of B2B innovations typically requires a team, this means that there may need to be a guide for each role. One guide may speak to the operator’s role, while another speaks to the role of the CFO. Providing effective and targeted voices increases the likelihood of driving the audience toward a decision. Even better is if the guide is known and respected by the audience.
Doing all of these things well becomes very important when the audience is faced with negative influences. At the very least, there are likely to be competitors raising questions about your innovation’s viability. At worst, I’ve seen team members sabotage an initiative for a variety of personal reasons.
The social issues in adoption cannot be ignored, as they can derail the best of intentions. For instance, a number of manufacturing processes use sulfuric acid. The mist from this acid can cause a host of medical issues, including eating away at tooth enamel. Despite this very visible effect, it often was challenging for one of my clients to get new employees to wear protective masks due to peer pressure from the “old-timers.”
So what is the deciding factor in whether the target audience adopts or rejects an innovation? It’s simple – the perceived value of the innovation must be greater than the effort, cost and risks. I’ll explain more about that in the continuation of this article.
Chris Peters is the CEO of The Lucrum Group, an Annapolis-based consultancy focused on enabling the advanced manufacturing enterprise. Chris has developed manufacturing supply chain hubs in more than 20 industries worldwide. Much of that success was based on the ability to drive and accelerate adoption. His work has been documented in several books and in publications ranging from The Wall Street Journal to BusinessWeek and IndustryWeek.