Corporate innovation is a tricky game. No matter how much you’ve refined your idea or identified a clear market gap, there’s one universal hurdle to overcome. Whether your company is new to innovation or have been doing it for years, you still have to get your C-Suite to say, “Yes.” to your idea.

Ideas aligned with the core business.

The needs of the core business unit will nearly always supercede innovation, and allocating resources for new projects can be a hard sell. Innovators may feel like they work on an island, but they can’t afford to actually be on an island and pursue ideas that don’t match the goals of the core business unit.

Alex Gonzalez of Creative Growth Ventures LLC said, “Innovators often lose credibility within the enterprise by not working alongside the profit centers of the business. To win executives, they need to build momentum by crafting wins that align with core business objectives.”

When you’re identifying an incredible problem within the organization, it’s important to remember that the solution you develop is always aimed at expanding the footprint of core business. If you’re in the financial vertical, it’s likely that (no matter how good the idea is) if you come up with an idea that could revolutionize the auto service parts industry, it won’t go anywhere. It’s not a part of the enterprise portfolio.

Focusing your idea on other areas within the primary vertical shows you understand the landscape enough that you’ll be able to have more impact, more immediately within that sector when the core business is ready to pursue the idea.

A portfolio of incremental innovation

You must look ahead to the future of your business. And whether that’s adding revenue through an obvious layer of advertising to a content experience, improving how consumers can find products quicker in a home improvement store or extending the capacity of your infrastructure by subsidizing consumer energy consumption through IoT Thermostats, as an innovator, you should be searching for the smaller wins as much as the big ideas.

To lay the groundwork for confidence in a major innovation venture you want to develop, you’ll need to discover small wins across the many business units and departments within the company, to build confidence with your executive team. Being able to show 5% improvements is a bigger than you think.

Proving a single metric minimizes risk

Risk is double-edged sword in the enterprise – it’s inherent to any innovation project, yet executives often do everything they can do avoid it. An innovator’s role is to make that risk tangible and digestible, allowing executives to

In the day-to-day grind, innovators rely on streams of data and KPIs we believe will tell a success story. While that data is invaluable to a fellow marketer, they simply muddy the waters for an executive or investor looking for a potentially viable business.

Rather than throwing a wall of data at decision-makers, focus on proving that you can achieve one core business metric – and do it well. Proving a rock-solid performance metric can often do more to validate a business model than focus group feedback, website traffic or social buzz.

On his way to creating the most successful new venture in COX Enterprise history, Mike Burgiss from COX Automotive focused on the details.

As he said during our last EES event, “All we needed to prove is that consumers were willing to click on this button to negotiate with us online for their next car. We proved they would. And we showed a higher than average industry conversion rate. Because we focused on that the story was clear, and we were able to sell that this idea had legs.”

It’s critically important that your stakeholders buy into the concept that this isn’t the same business model and because of that, there is inherent risk – risk is the known enemy of an enterprise, but a new business cannot thrive without it. It’s power to remind your executive team that when traction is found and the new venture matures into a thriving business, the enterprise will eventually take that venture back into core business model. It’s key that a new venture receives this freedom to start.

Like any company, even the enterprise you work in was once a startup. There was the ability to pivot, take on new services and risks, and experiment with what is and isn’t important to keep. When you think about it, a new venture is a new organism that has to constantly evolve to survive. It’s forced to take risk for growth. You’re learning how to create the best version of itself; however, holding that business model to the same standard as an enterprise is in direct opposition to innovation.

Develop your idea outside the brand

Innovation requires making a mess, which can be tough for executives to stomach. Marketing leaders may hate the idea of launching an unpolished MVP to customers. Tech leaders oftens shy from new, open-source technologies. Brand guardians will likely instantly shut down any project that doesn’t meet brand standards.

These factors are predictable and understandable, which is why innovators often find success by creating a new venture that isn’t fully connected to the enterprise. Working off-site, choosing new technologies and developing a unique brand identity provides innovators with their own sandbox to work in. Without solid connections to the enterprise, you can observe consumer reactions and find product/market fit without worrying about brand expectations or a polished product.

Moving forward

Enterprises are designed for sustainability, while also fighting market atrophy. Without a process for discovering viable new ventures, that atrophy will eventually, inevitably hurt the core business. As an innovator, it’s important to remember that your role and ideas will feel disruptive to the status quo, but your motivation is aligned with those who are roadblocks to innovation – both of you want to have a healthy company with a vision for the future. You just need to create an atmosphere which makes it easy to say, “Yes.” to innovation.


Robert Berris is EVP and Managing Director of Three Five Two where he leads company strategy and day-to-day operations.