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Our leader’s Linkedin article about questions to ask prospecting business consultant is one of the biggest hits. Today we want to answer the question how do you evaluate which is the right agency to help your organization excel in innovation? We give you our best tips on selecting and evaluating the right innovation agency.

It is crucial for any business owner to be able to evaluate potential innovation agencies, before partnering up. The innovation budgets increasing year on year, but it doesn’t mean that you can put the money down the drain, right?

Before we dive into the details let’s take a look at the main criteria for evaluating an innovation agency.

What does an innovation agency do?

Innovation agencies typically provide a mix of the following services:

Strategic consulting – answering the question of how to define and position innovation in an organization. It helps set an innovation mission, translating it into objectives and creating a supporting management framework.

Business design – building and validating new products as well as business models. It contains the ideation and the first prototypes.

Coaching/training – helping uplevel innovation skills across the organization. This is usually training on design thinking or brainstorming.

Open innovation – supporting organizations in collaborating with external partners. It may include universities, start-ups and established technology providers.

Let’s go deeper

Here are the most important criteria to help you evaluate your next innovation agency. As always our advice goes beyond the generic knowledge.

  1. The profile

Make sure you know what kind of competencies you are looking to add to your organization. Depending on the type of products and services you are looking for, you will need different profiles:

  • Strategy consultants with a business background who understand how to navigate the corporate landscape.
  • Hands-on entrepreneurs – people that have worked in fast-paced environments such as start-ups, combined with intrapreneurs that have a background in corporate innovation. This will allow you to bridge the gap between a great idea and an implemented one!
  • Coaching/training: experts with a background in learning and development, who understand that innovation training is not an isolated event, but a long-term learning journey.
  • Open innovation – profiles that have experience with open innovation from the start-up, ideally these profiles also have a technical background, allowing them to better assess potential partnerships coming out of the open innovation programs.
  1. Offer

Innovation is a popular buzzword… It’s being used in many different contexts, causing confusion around the actual meaning. That makes it even more challenging to select the right innovation consultancy. Additionally, every consultancy has its own way of naming things. So while talking with them make sure that at least the term „innovation” means for them same thing. Ask for use cases, to get an idea of approaches and wording. Moreover find out where in the innovation process the provider has the most experience, and see if it aligns with your needs. Make sure that their offer is a future-oriented and long-term game. Bonus, if they don’t support your closest competitors. 😉

  1. Flexibility

Define clear deliverables but make sure the flexibility is included in their approach. Working in innovation means dealing with ambiguity, always. If you run your own business, you know how many things can change. Sometimes you have this idea to implement but things happen, the situation is different so your actions should change too.

Do they know what are the realities of working on the project – do they know that the requirements often change during the work and their service should be designed in such a way that you can make corrections. Plus, make sure you know what happens when you send those changes to your innovation agency. Do you need to pay extra?

They should also evaluate your capabilities – does your company have the necessary resources, is it possible to achieve the goal at the given time?

  1. Market understanding

Think about evaluating an innovation agency that has certain market knowledge. The market context and a strong network are imperative to success. This is especially true if you are looking to add a hands-on person. Select an innovation consultancy that understands your industry, but do not expect deep expertise in certain market categories. No matter what niche you are in, some market categories are complementary to yours and knowledge about them may be priceless.

5. Wide understanding

An innovation partner with a broad knowledge of industries will be able to bring a lot of fresh ideas from non-obvious areas into your innovation initiatives. It can’t be someone who will just analyse what your competitors do. The innovation agency must go beyond the common ideas, and associations. The knowledge from other industries translated to your can be a true game-changer. Additionally look for a global perspective to see what can be the next big thing in your country.

6. Way of working​

Look for an innovation consultancy that has a flexible, hands-on, and collaborative way of working. If they get angry when you keep asking questions – run. Also, make sure to align the internal process and rules with the experience and approach of your future innovation partner.

Be sure about having a dedicated account manager – someone you can contact at any time. The knowledge about the rules of contact, and the possibility of making changes and requests also matter.

If you talk about training for your team make sure the level of knowledge and training format is accurate.

The reliable assessment of the real needs of your company is essential – do you need training, maybe consultation is enough?

Mutual benefits, trust, respect and strong informed opinions are something you should look for.

  1. The outcomes

Look for an innovation agency that wants to understand what you expect and how the ideas will impact your business. All the methodologies and experience, no matter how big, are useless without ultimately making a planned impact with your initiatives.

The impact can take different shapes and forms. Some ideas bring business impact, other customer impact or social impact. I’m sure you have company goals defined, business model ready and you want the ideas to be aligned with these, right?

These criteria are not exhaustive. But it is a great source of inspiration when you are evaluating innovation agencies.

If you look for an innovation agency providing true value add rather than a generic service, offering a winning approach – work in your best interest at all times, leave an email address below. We will contact you to discuss your big challenge and find your way to innovate.

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    Patrycja Franczak

    Author Patrycja Franczak

    She runs company where she cooperates with many fashion companies helping them to strategically define, move toward and manage the future amid the challenges of uncertainty and change - to improve business performance and manage change.

    More posts by Patrycja Franczak

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