Addressing the challenge of how to “Cross the Chasm” that separates early adopters from mainstream markets has become a critical rite of passage for almost every expansion-stage technology-based business.
First popularised by Geoffrey Moore in the book of the same name, “Crossing the Chasm” is an interpretation of the technology adoption cycle that refers to the profound changes in buying behaviour that can be observed between the minority of early-adopter technology enthusiasts and those mainstream pragmatic buyers that represent the potentially far-more-profitable majority of almost every market.
Organisations that fail to identify and adapt to the changes they need to make in their own go-to-market behaviour are likely, no matter how strong their early promise, to find themselves discarded by the wayside while others exploit the opportunity (or the market fades away).
Getting stuck mid-chasm isn’t a pleasant experience. All that early momentum has faded as you run out of early adopters and “family and friends” customers. The optimistic early revenue growth forecasts start to look unachievable.
Doing more of what got you your initial success isn’t helping. Your investors are signalling their impatience - sometimes furiously.
You can't product-develop your way across the chasm
You can’t develop your way out of this. A product-led approach won’t get you across to the other side - evidenced by the many failed attempts to build a “better mousetrap”. Sales-led strategies are just as hard to achieve and even harder to sustain. The only strategy capable of reliably supporting the required transformation is to thought-lead your markets.
But that requires that you have a crystal-clear understanding of who your ideal prospects are, of where they can be found, of the actionable issues that really matter to them, and of how and why they make buying decisions.
Land and expand
“Crossing the Chasm” requires that you land in a place - a bridgehead into a mainstream market - where you can not only achieve tangible success in the here-and-now but also expand progressively and with confidence into adjacent territory.
You have to focus. You have to apply all your energies to serving a well-defined target market that has a critical problem that you can solve better than any of the other options available to them, including a decision to stick with the status quo and “do nothing”.
If you cannot do this, if you lack the discipline to focus, you will almost certainly fail. Having hundreds of “interesting” features is far less important than solving one critical, must-deal-with-it issue better than anyone else. Focus is hard, but necessary.
Stop "spraying and praying"
“Spraying-and-praying” is the common alternative to focus. However, doggedly demonstrating every one of your many capabilities in the hope that a few might stick is more likely to have your poor prospects reaching for the Samaritans than for their wallets.
Define your market narrowly
To Cross the Chasm, you have to know where to land. At this critical juncture, bigger markets are almost never better. You need to land in a narrowly defined market that consists of:
- A set of similar champions within similar organisations
- That all share at least one similar, must-deal-with critical issue
- That could be addressed by a similar range of options
- Who make buying decisions in a broadly similar way
- And who reference each other when validating their decisions
For the purposes of Crossing the Chasm, if the market that represents your target landing point does not have all five characteristics, you are likely to struggle to achieve the traction you need. Your definition might be slightly blurred to start with - but you need to rapidly bring it into sharp focus with the benefit of experience.
Download two key guides
Understanding the common characteristics of the organisations and roles you should be targeting is absolutely critical. Whether you’re on the edge of the chasm, in the middle of it, or even if you’re climbing strongly up the other side into a growing set of mainstream markets, I strongly recommend that you download and digest our guide to ideal prospects and key stakeholders.
You might also enjoy reading our brief guide to Crossing the Chasm - recently updated to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first publication of Geoffrey Moore’s book. It identifies 12 key considerations that any organisation must taking into account when defining their chasm-crossing strategy.
Have faith and get focused
If you’re on the edge of the chasm looking across, have faith and get focused! If you’ve somehow managed to plunge into the chasm, you must stop doing anything that isn’t going to help you climb out of it ASAP. And even if you’ve successfully made the leap, these principles can help to sustain the momentum.
What’s your experience of helping your current or past organisation navigate the chasm that separates early adopters from mainstream markets? Are there any other lessons that you’d like to share?
Here are those links again: