I "led" (and by "led," I mean "asked one question and got out of the way") a roundtable on innovation challenges at the Frost & Sullivan Marketing World 2009 event last week with a group of incredible marketers. The only challenge was taking notes fast enough!

The participants included Jeffrey Rohrs (ExactTarget), Andy Shafer (Elevance Renewable Sciences), Sean Cheyney (Accuquote), Steven Handmaker (Assurance), Kathy Zanzucchi (Microflex Corporation), Theresa Kwan-Zangara (Gallagher Benefit Services, Inc.), and Brian Krause (Molex). Here are innovation challenges the participants successfully addressed:

No Process for Channeling Customer Ideas

ExactTarget crowdsources product innovation ideas - 90% of enhancement ideas come from its user community. Additionally, an Idea Lab allows customers on the forefront of its product use to trial changes in a structured environment. (Jeff Rohrs)

Customer Perspectives Are Being Ignored

It's important for marketing to be involved with innovation and new product development efforts to help vet ideas. Without marketing introducing a customer perspective, there's an opportunity for gaps to develop. (Kathy Zanzucchi)

There's No Widespread Understanding of Innovation

Marketing can become more involved and help drive innovation by setting up company-wide training curriculum on innovation. (Sean Cheyney)

No Motivation to Share Ideas

One way to stimulate employee innovation ideas is making a full-fledged program of it, complete with a character (in the case of Assurance, it's "Ivan Idea"!), a convenient intranet-based way to submit ideas, and a $5 gift card for EVERY business process improvement idea submitted. Among 200 Assurance employees, 60% have submitted ideas! Every idea is reviewed, followed-up, and published through the work of a key middle management group. (Steven Handmaker)

The right kind of internal competition can be a stimulus for sharing proven ideas others haven't yet implemented. With a distributed marketing force, Gallagher Benefit Services uses national webcasts to prompt individual offices to share what's working for them to improve efficiency, revenue growth, and operations. Marketing plays a role in drawing out best practices from participants. (Theresa Kwan-Zangara)

Death by a Thousand Approvals

Sometimes innovation hinges on avoiding corporate inertia and simply starting before getting everything cleared. Social media implementation can be an example of this in more traditional companies. Get the kindred spirits in place, agree to the program goals and risks you're willing to take on, and begin. With social media especially, there may be a better opportunity to start and experiment within an agreed to framework that minimizes the potential for big gaffes. (Brian Krause)

Thanks to everybody for making it such a great information-packed session. - Mike Brown