Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers by Geoffery A. Moore is a book about marketing technology products. For many people in product marketing in technology companies, this is a bible of sorts. This was written in 1990 and revised in 1999, so it is very old when you measure by technology pace. However, the principles presented and discussed here are as pertinent today as then. One of the best parts I liked about the book is that it is written for everyone in technology, and not only for marketing. As the author says in the book, “high-tech marketing is too important to be left only to the marketing department!”. When I read the book for the first time, it was a ‘wow’ moment for me – very crisply written, in a language easily understood by engineers, and examples that appeal to you.
The problem that the book attempts to address is this: We see new products getting launched with much fanfare, some initial traction achieved with initial enthusiastic buyers, and it seems the product is destined to take off; then suddenly, the projected growth doesn’t materialize, problems start surfacing, and all hell breaks loose; and more often than not, the company dies, and disappears. Why does this happen to so many companies and how do you guard against it is the question Geoffery Moore tries to answer. This is a very relevant problem for everyone in engineering, and a lot of us have seen one or more of such stories play out.
Here are the key takeaways from the book:
- Technology Adoption Life Cycle – There are 5 main segments of adoption happen (think of it as target segments) – innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards. Innovators and early adopters will pick anything cool and new in the market even when it is untested (in fact that is the pull for them – be the first one to try a new cool stuff!), and gives a sense to the product company that product is being received very well. However, the next set, early majority has a different expectation from the product – they want it to be well tested, and more importantly, they don’t want to be the first to adopt and would like to hear from someone else in their peer group (and not from some early adopter!), so this becomes a chicken-and-egg problem and early majority never adopts the product. This gap between early adopter and early majority is what Moore calls the ‘chasm’ and the book tells you how it can be bridged. This is pretty insightful if you think about it.
- Beachhead Strategy – One of the strategies to ‘cross the chasm’ is to pick a small slice of the market (for example, if you want to sell spreadsheet software, you can pick finance departments of SME as your beachhead) and them completely dominate it. It is easier to dominate because use cases are more focused and specific, and putting all your resources in a smaller target set will increase the impact. According to Moore, this breaks the hesitation of the early majority, because you are so completely dominating the segment that they don’t want to choose anything else. Once you get 1-2 early majority pick you, you have crossed the chasm and others will adopt you fast (and in fact accelerate your adoption).
- Whole Product – This is not a strategy per se, but a way to augment beachhead strategy – you not only deliver the core product (for example, PC is a core product), but a complete suite that takes care of all the needs of your target segment when they pick your product to solve their problem (so PC is a core product, but productivity suite, internet connection, and a host other software together comprise whole product for a small business owner for example). Not offering a whole product is how you fail to dominate a market because while early adopter will not mind putting things together around your product to get through, early majority will get more reasons to delay their adoption if they don’t see a whole product.
A highly recommended book if you are a manager in a technology business, an entrepreneur, marketer or an engineer with a zeal to know how to build and sell successful products. An engaging read too.