2011 marks the 20th anniversary of the first publication of Geoffrey Moore’s ground-breaking “Crossing the Chasm” - a book which has gone on to take pride of place in most technology marketer’s libraries. The principles Moore set out then remain just as valid - and just as important - today, and I'd like to share some of my experiences of putting his ideas into practice...
My first introduction to chasm-crossing came in a corporate workshop conducted by Moore soon after the book was published, and I’ve continued to apply the principles in every organisation I’ve worked with or for since then. So I like to think that I’ve accumulated a few hard-won lessons about bridging the gap between early adopters and mass markets along the way, and I’d like to share these ideas in the form of a “Chasm Crosser’s Checklist”.
I’ll assume that you’ve got a passing familiarity with the fundamental idea in the book - that the adoption cycle for new technologies does not follow, as you might assume, a smooth curve, but features a particularly dramatic discontinuity in buying behaviour - memorably described as a Chasm by Moore - between early adopters and mainstream customers.
For the purposes of this short guide, I’m going to simplify Moore’s model into just three key phases: before, during and after the chasm:
- At first, selling to early adopters, every sale typically feels like you’re slugging away through round-after-round of hand-to-hand combat
- In order to cross the chasm, you need to target your efforts as if you were in a bowling alley and aiming every ball at your ideal prospects
- Once you’re into the mass market, you want to create a stampede of pragmatic buyers who are attracted to you as the next big trend
One thing is clear: if you can’t even manage to cross the chasm, then you have no chance of being the beneficiary of a stampede!
Successfully crossing the chasm requires that you master a series of significant changes in your go-to-market model - changes which often require what seems to be diametrically opposite behaviours from one side of the chasm to the other. I’m not going to try to duplicate Moore’s detailed description of these differences - simply to acknowledge that the discontinuity is very real.
Having set the scene, I’d now like to introduce 12 key factors - a chasm crosser’s checklist - that I have often found to be critical to bridging the gap between your early adopters and your mainstream customers. These factors are particularly relevant to B2B technology markets involving high-value solutions with lengthy and often complex buying cycles.
1. Know Where You Are in the Technology Adoption Cycle
Misjudging your market’s position in the technology adoption cycle is a common and often fatal mistake. There’s no point in applying chasm crossing techniques in markets that aren’t yet ready, or perpetuating them in markets that are starting to stampede. You need to look for evidence that a pattern of widespread common need is emerging, and ensure that you are able to establish a company-wide consensus with regard to your ideal prospect profile. If you can’t you’re almost certainly still pre-chasm.
2. Make Sure There’s a Real Market
Moore establishes 4 critical criteria, all of which have to be present for a market to exist. You must be able to identify the common characteristics:
- Of a set of actual or potential customers
- For a given category of products or services
- Who have a common set of needs or wants, and
- Who reference each other when making buying decisions
The last point is critical: if your potential customers don’t naturally form themselves into a self-referencing group, you might have identified a loose group of potential prospects, but you don’t yet have a market.
3. Narrow Your Target
There’s no point in targeting too wide a market. There’s no value (and even less profit) in being a tiddler in an ocean. The key to crossing the chasm lies in choosing a market that is so narrowly defined that you have the real opportunity to be a big fish in a small pond. If you’ve chosen wisely, you’ll have plenty of scope to expand into attractive adjacencies later. But for now, having too wide a focus will just dissipate your energies.
4. Identify With Your Ideal Prospects
The “with” is deliberate. There’s no point in just identifying your target prospects. That means that you are going to have to go beyond simple demographics (like size, industry and geography) to understand their common structural, environmental and behavioural characteristics. Beyond that, you need to recognise the issues that are so important they will be forced to act, and the trends and trigger events that might serve to disturb their status quo.
5. Find a Compelling Reason to Buy
You might be able to enter into a dialogue with potential prospects by focusing on issues that are interesting to them. You might be able to persuade them to evaluate you because you are addressing issues that are important to them. But they are unlikely to convert their interest into action unless you can identify issues that are business-critical to them, and persuade that you can help them to resolve them. You need to identify the compelling reason to buy.
6. Orchestrate the Whole Product Solution
If you’re like many early stage companies, your product or service is probably an incomplete solution to the total needs of your customers - but it does a few things really well. That’s OK for early adopters - who are prepared to ignore the gaps or fill them in by themselves, but a hopeless basis for selling to pragmatists. Pragmatists expect vendors to help them solve the whole problem - and that requires a “whole product”. You don’t to have to provide all the elements yourself - but if you’re to cross the chasm you need to assemble an ecosystem that is capable of fully satisfying your prospect’s complete solution requirements.
7. Define The Competitive Space
In early adopter markets it may be possible to claim that you have no real competition, even if your prospect always has alternative options. But to appeal to pragmatists, you have to give them something to compare your solution against - and that means locating your product or service within a defined category of things that your prospect can relate to, and which allows them to claim that they have properly evaluated their alternatives. In fact, as Moore points out, when selling to pragmatists you are better off going out of your way to create a competitive space and establish reference points than you are denying that one exists.
8. Establish Your Unique Advantage
But having placed your product or service within a category that your prospect can relate to, you then need to clearly articulate why your solution is different from - and distinctively better than - the competition. The sequence is deliberate. Before you can claim that you are better, you need to demonstrate how and why you are different - you need to establish your distinctive and unique advantage.
9. Reach Out to the BuyerSphere
One of the things that has changed dramatically in the 20 years since the publication of “Crossing the Chasm” is the rise of what I’ve started to call the BuyerSphere - the network of increasingly online influence that surrounds your prospects and which strongly influences their buying decisions. It’s no longer as simple as identifying the leading analysts and journalists - if you are to successfully cross the chasm you need to build strong relationships with the web of influencers that your ideal prospects turn to when they feel the need for advice.
10. Assemble Your Invasion Force
Before you can establish a defensible bridgehead on the far side of the chasm, Moore argues that you need to first assemble your invasion force. I’ll divide this into two critical considerations:
- The programmes you put in place to attract potential prospects to start a dialogue with you
- The processes you put in place to persuade qualified prospects to buy into your solution
It’s not as simple as “marketing does the attracting and sales does the persuading” - both functions (marketing and sales) have to work together across both phases to make sure that you secure a defensible territory on the far side of the chasm.
11. Sort Out Your Economic Model
You need to establish a sensible balance between your cost of sales and your sources of revenue. That involves establishing a well-thought out economic model that clearly identifies the key costs of finding winning, satisfying and retaining customers and balances them against the key ways in which you can monetise your relationship with your customers now, and into the future. Get this wrong, and you’ll rapidly burn a big cost hole through the bottom of the chasm, with very little of value to show for it.
12. Execute, Execute, Execute
Estate agents talk about “location, location, location”. Chasm crossers need to focus on “execution, execution, execution”. You need to establish repeatable, scalable and predictable sales and marketing processes that are adopted throughout your sales and marketing organisations and which are continuously refined in the light of market feedback.
You can’t afford to rely solely on a bunch of lone-wolf hand-to-hand combat enthusiasts - invaluable though they were in the early stages of your growth - when you’re trying to systematically build the bridge between your early adopters and your mainstream markets. Neither can you afford to have such a rigid and inflexible plan that you continue throwing good effort after bad. Have a plan, implement it vigorously, and be prepared to adapt it in the light of experience
Just to reiterate a point made at the start of this article, crossing the chasm requires that you master a series of significant changes in your go-to-market model - changes which often require what seems to be diametrically opposite behaviours from one side of the chasm to the other. It’s not just a matter of doing what you’ve done before with even greater resources and enthusiasm. You have to change the way you think about your go-to-market strategy.
If you’re an ambitious organisation with high potential, and poised to break into a mainstream market, I hope that you’ll find some of these tips helpful. You can download a printable version of this article here. Please drop me a line if you’d like to spend a few moments chatting about some of the other lessons I’ve learned in 20 years of chasm crossing.
By the way, if you want a preview of some of the ideas that are going to be set out in Geoffrey Moore’s upcoming book “Escape Velocity”, I recommend that you watch his recent lecture at Stanford University.