Today’s podcast guest is Bryan Mattimore from The Growth Engine Co.  He specializes in the innovation process and that’s exactly what we’re going to be talking about.

Innovation is something we all know we need and at the same time, it’s very difficult to do.  Bryan is going to help us demystify the process and I’m hoping that at the end of this podcast you’ll have some take home ideas on what you can do to implement a useful innovation program in your company. 

Here are some of the things you’ll learn in today’s episode:

  • Why innovation is important for you to pay attention to.
  • What innovation is in the sales process.
  • How not to confuse your potential customers as well as yourself.
  • Why innovation is a numbers game.
  • What the difference between qualitative v. quantitative research is and why you should care.



Narrator:         Welcome to The Sustainable Business Radio Show podcast where you’ll learn not only how to create a sustainable business but you’ll also learn the secrets of creating extraordinary value within your business and your life. In The Sustainable Business, we focus on what it’s going to take for you to take your successful business and make it economically and personally successful.

Your host, Josh Patrick, is going to help us through finding great thought leaders as well as providing insights he’s learned through his 40 years of owning, running, planning and thinking about what it takes to make a successful business sustainable.

Josh:                Hey, how are you today? This is Josh Patrick and you’re at The Sustainable Business.

Today, our guest is Bryan Mattimore. Bryan is the co-founder of a 17-year-old innovation agency called Growth Engine. So as you might imagine, today’s topic is innovation. And we’re going to talk about how you apply innovation to growing your company both in new products and in sales processes. So instead of me just wandering on and talking about what Bryan’s going to talk about, why don’t we just bring him in and he can speak for himself?

Hey, Bryan. How are you today?

Bryan:             Hey, Josh. I’m great. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Josh:                Oh, it’s my pleasure.

So, tell me about innovation in the sales process because it’s one of those things I think that we badly need to disrupt.

Bryan:             Well, I like the way you put that, that we need to disrupt it because most of the best companies have a “sales process”, right? Those that don’t should have. And we are definitely — we know about it but we’re not experts in all those kinds of different selling processes. But we are expert at helping companies and teams come up with new ways of thinking about things.

And we found, in the training we’ve done with different sales teams, is that they can often be at a loss for new ideas. And so, all the techniques we use in our innovation work to create new products and, for large corporations, new services, new strategies, is applicable to the sales world. And the basic idea is you can take these things and figure out new approaches, new products, new services, new ways of thinking about it, new opportunities, new joint ventures. And so, my hope is that by the listeners learning some of these techniques they’ll never feel that they are at a dead end when it comes to sales. There’ll always be a plus factor. They can always come up with something new.

Josh:                So how do they go about doing that?

Bryan:             Well, there are a lot of different techniques. I’ll share one right away and tell a story around it. We were asked by— I can mention the name of the company because I mentioned it in my second book, it’s Catholic Knights Insurance Company. It’s in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They since renamed the company. But it’s about $100 million-company. It sells life insurance.

They had read my first book. They called me up and said, “Hey, can you help us sell more life insurance to Catholics?” And I said, “Only Catholics?” Of course, they said, “Yeah, we only sell to Catholics. We’ve been sued by the Jews, and the Muslims, and the Buddhists. And our charter is held up.” And so, it was a fraternal type organization.

“We only sell it to Catholics.” I said, “Okay.” And I went out there. I did some work with them. And the technique that was really the breakthrough was a technique we call problem redefinition.

It’s very simple. You take a sentence. So “How do we sell more life insurance to Catholics?” You find a subject, a verb and an object. So the subject is we. The verb is sell. And the object could be Catholics. And you come up with alternatives for each of those words or columns.

So who else could the we be? Normally, it’s the salespeople but it could be the admin. It could be friends. It could be a priest. It could be anybody, right? So, you re-think of it in terms of co-market, co-promote, incentivize, give away, et cetera.

And then the Catholics. Is a Catholic, a Catholic, a Catholic? Well, yes and no. There are different kinds of Catholics – lapsed Catholics, Hispanic Catholics, old Catholics, newly converted et cetera. So you do those columns of words and then you play like a mad webs game. And you go across. And therefore you say, “How do we get the admin to co-promote life insurance to grandparents?” or whatever it is.

And the listener would probably be thinking, “Geez, if you had ten of those in each column, ten options in each column, you’d have 1000 different ways to redefine that challenge.” Pretty simple, right? Well, this company went through the process of doing thousands and thousands of those combinations or a way to redefine their challenge. As a result – and this was unsolicited, they wrote me a year later and said that they had increased sales 52% by using that one technique.

Josh:                So I have thousands of options, aren’t I going to be confusing my potential customers by changing my message on a regular basis? Or do I need to pick one of them and run with it? And how do I know which is the right one if that’s the option to do?

Bryan:             Well, a couple of things. You may not be changing the message. This may be more about finding new people to sell, possibly, with new products. So, I guess, that is, in a sense, changing your message.

But, for instance, one of the ideas that came out of that was to sell life insurance to newly minted grandparents – for the young kids, for the newborns. Another was to get Catholic schools who were having financial challenges and still are, to— if they had a certain percentage of their student body families, sign up for the insurance, they would be donated computers et cetera. So it tends not to be as much about changing the message or the offering as it is just finding new people to sell to in new ways, if you will.

Josh:                So I’m assuming, when you find these new people, you want to be customizing your message to them. And while you’re customizing the message to them, at least in my experience, I’m un-customizing the message to a whole bunch of other people?

Bryan:             Yeah, that’s correct. And so, you’re absolutely right about that.

You know, we think of sales really similar to the ideation process. And people ask us when we do an ideation session or brainstorming session, “How many ideas do you come up with?” We’ll say, “200”. “Well, how many of those are any good?” “Well, about 10% are really exciting ideas.” So, it’s very much a numbers game.

And we found that with the sales guys, they can try new things. If it doesn’t work they can always revert back to older things. But also, if it doesn’t work, you can try another idea, and another idea, and another idea. And you kind of keep pitching until you get ones that you find are really working. I mean, all salespeople know that sales is a numbers game. But this is more than just numbers and prospects. This is numbers of ideas.

Josh:                So this brings me up to one of my favorite innovation sayings which a guy named Doug Hall came up with. He probably didn’t come up with it but he uses it. And so, “Fail fast, fail cheap” which basically means you’ve got to do lots of iterations and do a lot of testing. So do you have any strategy for how to test these new ideas to figure out which one clicks and which ones don’t?

Bryan:             Well, we do. And we are big believers on like the quote in Steve Jobs’ book, Not Doing Research. We are tremendous supporters of qualitative research. We do have a strong bias with companies go to quantitative research too quickly because you don’t get insights about why an idea is or isn’t working, particularly. So we do a lot of qualitative research.

Josh:                Can you— just to let our listeners know what quantitative versus qualitative research is?

Bryan:             Sure. The qualitative research, you could think of it— the easy way to think of it is as a focus group, right? So you get a few people around the table, talking to them qualitatively about the why’s, and the wherefore’s, and the how’s.

The quantitative research tends to be a study of 100, even thousands or 2000 more people where you have certain perspectives, and your testing ideas, and you get quantitative results. So 59% of the 500 people believe X or Y.

So the qualitative, we think, we feel strongly about this because that’s where you get the insights. That’s where you really understand what’s going on. And it’s hard to understand that, frankly, when you’re doing a quantitative survey and you don’t have the chance to sort of ask follow-up questions.

Josh:                Okay. That makes perfectly good sense.

Bryan:             So when we do the qualitative work around this idea of sort of fail fast, or fail ugly, or whatever you want to call it, we recommended, when we’re testing new products—

I remember we did some work with Dr. Scholl’s. We helped them invent a new insert. We intentionally created ugly prototypes and they were like, “What are you talking about?” Because there’s 3D printing, we could’ve created beautiful prototypes. But we didn’t want beautiful prototypes. We wanted things made of cardboard and duct tape because if they’re ugly or handmade, people were much more likely to tell you what they really think because it doesn’t look right. They say, “Well, yeah, but I really want this.” Or, “I really want that.” If it’s beautiful, they tend to say, “Oh, that’s very nice. Maybe you should do red instead of green.” Well, that doesn’t help you.

And so, pretty much aligned with what Doug Hall was saying is that, you want to try a lot of stuff. And also, you should know that the failing, if you will, like Edison said, is about learning. We’ve had focus groups we’ve done where we’ve had contradictory comments by different— and the clients in the back freaking out. And we’re all excited because we recognize that there could be a huge opportunity for an insight that nobody’s had before in this dichotomy of perspectives.

Josh:                You know and it also helps you figure out who the right customer is for you and there’s probably some confusion.

So that brings me to the moderator for these qualitative groups. How would you— I mean, I’ve done lots of these groups in my life. I started off having professional marketing people behind the glass and doing a traditional focus group. They never ask the right follow-up questions.

Bryan:             Yeah. I mean, we’ve done literally hundreds – 500 or more, focus groups. But you’re right. I mean, we do shop-alongs. We do ethnographies. We do one-on-one’s. We do home use testing.

So, we mix it up based on the challenge we’re after or trying to solve. We had a new product for Thomas’ one time, a square bagel. We sent them to people’s homes, had them fill out a survey, and then when they came in, they were much more informed and they would tell us.

We didn’t say what it was. We didn’t say how to use it. And they told us. And from that, we realized that we really had a lousy bagel. This was a square bagel but we had a fantastic sandwich bread. And that was key to the positioning of this product.

Well, if we had done it in a different way or with a different methodology we might not have learned that. And so, we like to be creative about how you use these focus groups.

To answer your question about the moderating, we tend to do “fuzzy” frontend work. So we’re constantly exploring ideas. We’re not objective. We have our own point of view, if somebody will say something interesting. And like you, I must say, we used to hire moderators early on. We do it now ourselves because we have the same reaction. Somebody would say something really great and the moderator wouldn’t follow up on it. And it’s not their fault. I mean, they don’t understand necessarily the context, the category et cetera. Nor might they be as creative or be looking for creative ideas. So it’s an art. And the ability to sort of follow up in the moment with things that are being said is the real skill there, I think.

Josh:                Yeah. The key, for me– the other key, with doing the moderation, besides me doing it instead of a professional, was when someone said, “I think everybody would do blah.” I would always follow up with, “Are you willing to spend your money on this project or your time on this project?” And if they said, “Yes.” Then I would actually take what they said seriously. If they said “no”. Then I would completely disregard it so.

Bryan:             We’ve got a trick where we had people— they’d say they want to buy these new products and then we say, “Okay, great. Well, we can take your incentive money from the focus groups. And if you want, you can use that to buy the product when you leave. How many want to do that?” And then you really find out, right? If they’re willing to take their incentive money and spend it on the product, then you really know you’ve got something.

Josh:                Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

So one of the things that people listening might want to think about – we’ve talked in the past about what we call customer advisory boards?

Bryan:             Uh-huh.

Josh:                And customer advisory boards are great places to do these type of soundings.

Bryan:             Yes.

We have a program called Tradelink. I’ll tell you a story. We had a client. They were in the food industry. And they were having trouble “selling into Wal-Mart”. The buyer was great but she kind of said, “You know, your ideas aren’t great”. She didn’t say, “Don’t call me” but was kind of like, “bring me something new”.

And they said, “Well, maybe we should do an ideation session together.” And the buyer was great. She said, “Well, that would be fantastic.” So we did some qualitative research in her category. We created a highlights video tape of about 10 minutes of insights from the Wal-Mart shopper in that category. We flew down to Bentonville. And then we did a joint ideation session between the client, our client, and Wal-Mart.

It was so incredible because we came up with all these ideas together. And, of course, the buyer – because she was part of the process, was all excited. And she said, “I want to meet with you every other week to find out the progress on these things and really move this thing along because we really got something here.”

So, to me, that’s a creative way to involve the customer. When they’re part of the process of creating something, boy, you’re going to save a lot of time, a lot of money and your results. We found, because we’ve done this with a lot of organizations now – the CBS’s and Target’s of the world, your success rates are just exponentially greater.

Josh:                Yeah. And there’s no question about that. And you can even do this with competitors in the room and get away with it, although everyone thinks you can’t.

Bryan:             Yes, you can. You can some kind of— if you’re worried about confidentiality, you can “disguise” the challenge. That’s one way to do it. Another way to do it, we have a service we call disruptive war gaming. And that’s sort of an imaginative way to invite competitors in.

So we just did one of these for a large insurance company. And so, we had the the insurance company’s executives. And there were about 35 of them in the room. We had them form teams to role play the competition. So we’ll say , you know, Allstate, State Farm and Geico, let’s say. And that was on Day 1. And then Day 2, they went back to being “their company” and having heard “the marketing strategies and growth strategies” of their competitors, they then came up with different strategies.

Now, the take on that we have that’s difference, it’s really cool, this disruptive part of it is, we have them role play not only the standard competitors but we have them role play Amazon, Google and Wal-Mart because if they get into the insurance business, those businesses could be disrupted in a dramatic way. And so, that’s why we call it disruptive war gaming.

The stuff that comes out of that is so powerful. It sounds like consultant BS but when I kickoff these two-day session, I say, “You know, the world will be a different place tomorrow night.” And it’s true because they will understand these competitive strategies. They will understand how they could be disrupted.

And one of the major benefits we found is not only their own growth strategies but they anticipate the growth strategy of their competition, i.e. we had one situation where they anticipated an acquisition and were able to get ready for it.

The other thing it does is that it tends to make your salespeople a lot more humble, in a good way, because they understand that they could be out of business if they don’t come up with these new ideas and new approaches.

Josh:                Absolutely.

You know, Bryan, I’ve been noticing something as we’ve been talking today, is that you have named basically every process you have as a product.

Bryan:             Yes.

Josh:                Can you please explain why that’s important?

Bryan:             Well, there are a lot of reasons it’s important. One of them is – and this comes from our ideation facilitation work, when we’re facilitating new ideas, we will often get the people in the room to name the idea. So, Night Maid Cleaning Service or whatever it is. The reason we’ll do that is because it sort of crystallizes the idea.

You know, the creative mind likes concrete things. And so, that crystallization. And if you happen to come up with a really good name, it creates energy. And it becomes, if you will, a thing, right? It becomes a thing. And it’s easier to get internal support for it. It’s easier to get funding. It’s easier to get excitement because it’s no longer theoretical, it’s a thing.

Now, we’ve done the same in our own business because we recognize how important it is to brand things. But it’s also shorthand for knowing what you’re offering. It’s memorable. And so, part of what we’re doing constantly as an innovation agency because it’s fun. I mean, this is a great passion I have, it’s constantly inventing new services and naming them, (a) because it creates new business for us. It creates excitement. But it also creates new messaging, if you will, or new opportunities, or new reasons to reach out for people.

And the salespeople, in my opinion, need to do the same thing. They can name new programs, new approaches, new products and services because people like the new and they want to hear about it. And if it has a name, it’s a thing. It’s a thing.

Josh:                Yeah, and there’s no question about that. We have been doing that for years.

Actually, there’s a guy name Dan Sullivan who is well known on the business consulting world and coaching world. And he has all his people do that almost immediately as name all your processes.

Bryan:             Yeah. We did some work with Schick. I can mention this. We did an internal innovation audit with them. And there were two women there, a marketing person and an R&D person who were responsible for creating the Intuition Razor.

They named that thing very quickly. This tended to be more of a male-oriented company. They bend metal for razors. And they named it. And by naming it, it became this thing within the organization. And then when there was a hole on the launch calendar, the executive said, “Well, I’ve heard good things about that Intuition Razor. Maybe we should go launch that because we need something to launch.”

By the way, the other creative thing they do that was so clever, they did many tests like this fail fast, fail often. And they would report only the good news because they were constantly evolving this product. They would report the good news to the organization or it grew with the rumor mill. And so, when the executives had a hole on their launch calendar, they said, “Hey, I’ve heard great things about that Intuition Razor. Maybe we should go launch that.” And you probably know, it became their most successful new product they had launched the past 10 years when they launched that thing.

Josh:                Hey, Bryan, we are unfortunately out of time. And I’m going to bet—

Bryan:             Boy, that went fast.

Josh:                Yeah, it goes by really fast. People are always amazed by that.

And you have a ton of good stuff. And I know that you probably have tons more of good stuff and people who are listening are going to want find you. So how would they go about doing that?

Bryan:             Well, they can certainly call us if they like. They can call us direct. Our phone number is in Connecticut. It’s (203) 857-4494. We’re on the web. Our website is pretty good. And by the way, it has one of these idea tools – the problem re-definition on there, so people can use it. The website is My e-mail is bmattimore– mattimore Is M-A-T-T-I-M-O-R-E.

And then also, if they’re interested in these creative processes, I’ve got my two new books. One is, 21 Days to a Big Idea. That’s sort of a creative thought program for entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial teams. And then Idea Stormers has just probably 30 different of these techniques in it. That one is subtitled, How to Lead and Inspire Creative Breakthroughs. That’s the, if you will, the team book for corporations. So all these things, I think, are probably good resources for your listeners.

Josh:                Okay. Bryan, thanks so much for your time today. I really appreciate it.

And I also have an offer for you too. It’s that you may have thought that your business was going to get you to retirement by itself. Well, I have some bad news for you. For over 99% of you, it’s not. And you’re going to need some other stuff.

Now, I have done a one-hour audio CD about why this is true and how do you want to learn it. And the way to get this is to text the word RETIRE1 to 44222. You do this on your smartphone. And you don’t do it when you’re driving. Again, you text the word RETIRE1 to 44222.

And this Josh Patrick. You’ve been at The Sustainable Business. Thanks a lot for hanging out with us today. I hope to see you back here really soon.

Narrator:         You’ve been listening to The Sustainable Business podcast where we ask the question, “What would it take for your business to still be around 100 years from now?” If you like what you’ve heard and want more information, please contact Josh Patrick at 802‑846‑1264 ext 2, or visit us on our website at, or you can send Josh an e-mail at

Thanks for listening. We hope to see you at The Sustainable Business in the near future.

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