Putting yourself in the role of the supplier or customer is a key to clarity when posting your needs on an open innovation website.

There are many websites now touting open innovation, which attempt to match up an invention, technology, product or service with a potential investor, licensee, manufacturer or distributor. Some of these websites do a good job articulating the information required to make a match while others could use some improvement.

This is a case where one of Stephen Covey’s 7 habits, “Begin with the end in mind” is appropriate. Open innovation sites will be most useful when analyzed from the supply side of the relationship first. Who is the supplier? The supplier in this case is the problem solver, investor, licensee, manufacturer or distributor from whom we are trying to capture interest for our innovation. They may be supplying knowledge, solutions, money or expertise.

Since these sites typically charge the person or organization who is posting the innovation or problem the needs a solution, it would make sense that the poster should spend adequate time on articulating the idea, product or problem in such a way that the potential supplier can understand it and hopefully connect a solution with it.

One of the sites used by Proctor & Gamble (Connect + Develop) does a good job of outlining technology needs while also describing what they have already tried or investigated, which saves the searcher valuable time. For example, one entry seeking reduced calorie density in snack foods mentions three methods already tried, which tells me that if I have method number four, then maybe I have something they’re interested in, but if my technology is one of the three listed, then maybe not.

Clarity when posting your needs is critical on these open innovation websites. Here are some questions that will help you to flesh out your listing, if you decide to use one of these “idea exchange” websites:

1. If I want someone to invest in my technology, can I articulate potential uses (products, industries, applications) for that technology in addition to solely providing details describing what it is?

2. If I want someone to purchase and distribute my product, can I articulate how it may be packaged or purchased or shipped? Can I provide lead times or availability if applicable?

3. If I need a manufacturer, does my entry let someone know basic manufacturing processes (i.e., injection molding, extrusion, powder coating) that I need to produce my product?

4. If I want a licensee for my service (or product), what is the proof or background that I can provide to meet potential investor needs (previous orders, testimony from initial users, quality of work and most certainly, the basic business case)?

The supplier/customer relationship in open innovation can become very blended and we could argue over who actually is the supplier and customer in this relationship, But either way, looking at the innovation from the other side will provide greater clarity – and hopefully better responses!