Fun With Pros, Hookers and Know It Alls
I broadly segment corporate external innovation as either Pros, Hookers or Know It Alls.
Why even discuss this topic? Quite simply, because many of my readers either personally deal with external technology providers or have staff who do. Hopefully, some will feel that they can benefit from an "outsider's" perspective. Heck, reviewing this content also reminds me to always strive to do my best when working with external technology providers.
The Pro: I consider 70% of corporate external innovation contacts to be Pros. By and large, these folks are courteous, polite, timely and reasonably consistent with their external communications. In short, Pros are usually a pleasure to work with and I have established very cordial relationships with many of them. They treat their external contacts with respect and make favorable impressions that encourage external parties to want to do business with them again, even if their company has declined their technology submission. In other words, they typify "Partners of Choice".
The Hooker: Hookers represent about 25% of external innovation contacts. Hookers are good people, but they aren't uniformly great relationship managers. A Hooker keeps an external party "on the hook" by not providing regular updates or decisive feedback. I recognize that these individuals often aren't responsible for, or even directly involved in the technology review process. I admit that in my role as a technology scout, I can occasionally be guilty of this behavior myself and can take an external technology providers' interest in my corporate customer for granted. However, we need to consistently treat our external contacts as individuals and not as impersonal technology cases. They deserve and are entitled to our best efforts.
Know It Alls: While they represent only about 5% of external innovation contacts, it is 5% too many. Fortunately, the vast majority of these persons are not primary corporate liaison. Still, they can do significant damage when they do make an appearance. They are more often than not, a scientist whom the front line contact has invited to join a conference call with an external party. A Know It All will often grandstand to display their technical prowess and to a perpetuate their not-invented-here mentality (rather than to fairly vet an external technology submission). Their objective is usually to raise sufficient doubt about an external submission so as to effectively kill it. A Know It All can discourage prospective partners from ever again wanting to approach the corporate customer with an offering.
External Innovation leaders should consider effective management of external relationships as vital to their operation's ongoing success. They must treat external interactions with a similar type of discipline that is applied to other high value customer and or supplier relationships. If OI departments are not already closely examining this facet of their operation, they should seriously consider doing so. While most external facing personnel do a very good job of servicing their contacts, we should always examine how we can do even a bit better.