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After 20 Years: 3 Reasons Why the Chasm is Closer than it used to be

Posted by Bob Apollo on Fri 11-Mar-2011

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Crossing the ChasmLike most high-tech marketers, I found Geoffrey Moore’s “Crossing the Chasm” essential reading. His concept of the gap that exists between Early Adopters and the Mass Market, and the fundamental shifts in emphasis required to bridge it, has proved to be a key frame of reference in crafting growth strategies for high-potential companies. But something has changed. The Chasm has Moved Closer.

Geoffrey Moore has deservedly achieved iconic status in the industry. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the book’s first publication. I enjoyed the privilege of being coached by the Great Man himself, in an assignment at SCO just a few months after the book was released, and have applied the principles ever since - and learned a lot about putting them into practice along the way.

I believe that the core technology marketing ideas he laid out remain fundamentally true, but that the challenges of confronting the Chasm are occurring earlier in many company’s lives. Here are three reasons why:

1: Fewer Early Adopters

At the time “Crossing the Chasm” was published in 1991, it seemed reasonable to assume that Innovators and Early Adopters made up as much as 20% of the buying market. That may have been an exaggerated view even then, but the world has clearly changed, and they now typically represent a low single-digit percentage of the addressable market.

2: Customers are Buying Solutions, not Technology

Here’s why this is important: Early Market Buyers identify applications for emerging technologies, but the post-Chasm Mainstream demand proven solutions for key business problems. With an even higher percentage of the market lying the other side of the Chasm, emerging high-tech companies are running out of Friends, Family and Early Adopter buyers far faster than their pre-2000 counterparts did.

3: Stuck for Longer in the Chasm

The shortage of early adopters means that technology-driven companies run the risk of falling into the Chasm earlier than before, and getting stuck for longer. Many may never claw their way out. It’s placing an even higher value on understanding where your Mainstream market bridgeheads lie, learning what’s really important to the buyers you are trying to address, and understanding what it would take to motivate them to take a buying action.

Impact on Go-to-Market Strategy

The impact on go-to-market strategy is profound.  With so many fewer prospects willing to stick their neck out and speculatively invest in new technologies, emerging-market vendors have to quickly identify critical business issues that their technology can solve, and craft compelling sales and marketing messages based on solutions to clearly identified business needs.

Time to Get Lean and Agile

Even start-ups are having to learn the language of business rather than the sometimes more comfortable vocabulary of technology innovation. It requires a different perspective to traditional “if we build it they will come” feature-function led development. That perspective is increasingly being provided by the lean startup movement, which encourages and equips start-ups to focus on the problems they solve, and not just on the products they build.

The End of Innocence

It strikes me that the Chasm is a lot like adolescence. And it seems that adolescence, for many high-tech companies, is being curtailed, and they are having to grow up faster, and lose the innocence of childhood (assuming they had any in the first place) a lot earlier...

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Topics: Crossing the Chasm, Scalable Systems, Intelligent Targeting