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Crossing the Chasm: Safe crossing or a death fall?

O.K. so the Technology Adoption Lifecycle model predicts how the innovation moves from left to right through the five groups until its useful life is expired. We follow the logic and our early market success proved with out a doubt that your ground breaking new product will be a homerun, but instead it was a groundout. What the heck happened? What went wrong?

The main problem with the model is that it does not address the break that divides the Early Adopters from the Early Majority, what Moore calls chasm. This chasm is significant enough to warrant a full-scale effort to pass a product across. Moore argues that many companies get so caught up in early market success that they don’t anticipate the chasm, and their products then fail owing to an inability to traverse the gap.

What causes the gap?

The problem is that Early Adopters and Early Majority are so different in terms of underlying values as to make communications between them almost impossible. Moore uses the following illustration to understand the difference between the two groups by contrasting the way they use the phrase “I see.”

• When visionaries say “I see,” they do so with their eyes closed. That’s how visionaries see • Pragmatists like to see with their eyes open • Pragmatists don’t trust visionaries for the same reason they don’t trust people who want to navigate using the force • Visionaries think Pragmatist are pedestrians • Pragmatist think Visionaries are dangerous

As a result, visionaries, with their highly innovative projects do not make good references for pragmatists, and the market development, instead of gliding across this transition points stalls. The difficulty comes because the Early Majority, by their very nature, need good references before buying into a new technology, and Early Adopters do not make good references.

Unfortunately for many promising new ventures, by the time they reaches this transition point, they are often so highly leveraged and resource constrained that any hiccup in sales will throw them into a tailspin – or as Moore calls it, into the chasm.

Crossing the Chasm

The main difference between the visionaries of the early market and the pragmatist in the mainstream is that the former are willing to bet on the come, whereas the latter want to see solutions in production before the buy. When the visionary sees that you have 80% of the solution to their problem, they are eager to work with you to finish the remaining 20%. The pragmatist on the other hand expects you to be improving his productivity out of the box and opts to wait till the product is done and ready for prime time. They do not want to invest their resources in working through the final details – that’s your job! They want a 100% solution, what Moore calls the whole product.

A whole product is defined as “the minimum set of products and services necessary to ensure that the target customer will achieve their compelling reason to buy. Companies were getting stuck in the chasm because of their inability or unwillingness to commit to taking any whole product all the way through to this level of completion.

The high-tech enterprise, sensing it was in the chasm, and realizing that the customer needed more than just the bare product itself, would set out to address the problem. But instead of focusing on one a single target customer, management would instead target four or five likely targets with the idea of serving the one segment that caught on first.

There are two problems with this tactic: First, the companies would visit major customers in each segment and painstakingly extract requirements from across all users to create a product that addressed all key requirements. More often than not, this produced a product that had everything for nobody – it was un-sellable.

Second problem with the tactic is focusing the limited resources on a scalable opportunity. It’s the old resource constraint issue, too many opportunities, too few resources to execute. It is understandable why companies want to chase as many opportunities that it can at this stage, but that tactic won’t work in the chasm.

Moore states that the key to a winning chasm crossing strategy is to identify a single beachhead of pragmatist customers in a mainstream market segment and accelerate the formation of 100 percent of their product. The goal is to win a niche foothold in the mainstream as quickly as possible. This is what he calls the bowling pin in the bowling alley. The bowling alley is a period of niche-based adoption in advanced of the general marketplace.

Once you knockdown the first pin, you need to concentrate on an adjacent pins and knock them over, and the next and the next, until enough pins are falling that a tornado happens and the inflection point on the bell curve is reached. The tornado is the period of mass market adoption when the general marketplace switches over to the new infrastructure paradigm. Remember the “year of the LAN?”

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