When it comes to required reading for the high-tech CEO, one of the first books to come to mind is Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing The Chasm.
The book adapts “diffusion theory” (a theory by a French economist on how new innovations and ideas progress through a population) to adoption of new technologies produced by high-tech companies.
The “chasm” in Crossing The Chasm refers to the gap that exists between the few “early adopters” who are willing to try virtually any new technology and the “mainstream customers” that are much bigger in number but more cautious in adopting new technologies. The gist of the book is in the early phases of getting a new technology out in the marketplace, the majority of marketing efforts should be targeted at the early adopter.
Early adopters look for big leap-frog improvements in capability — and are willing to tolerate a number of inconveniences to get it.
As the technology adoption progresses, there’s a leap that needs to be made to “cross the chasm” to the mainstream market. Often what’s needed to cross this chasm is to simplify the product, making it easier for mainstream customers to use… which often reduces the breakthrough nature of the product. The challenge in crossing the chasm comes from the fact that one will likely alienate the early adopters that have supported your product to date.
In other words, to win the mainstream market, you will likely have to alienate your early customers.
Most companies screw up this process in one of a few ways.
1) They don’t target the mainstream customers and continue to focus on early adopters. This leaves the door open to a competitor who IS willing to sacrifice the good graces of early adopters in exchange for cracking open the much larger mainstream market. This is one reason why “superior” products that early adopters rave about often lose to “inferior products” (at least in the eyes of the early adopters) that were designed to be more palatable to more cautious mainstream customers.
2) A company will sometimes target the mainstream customers too EARLY. The amount of change required that a mainstream customer needs to undergo to use the product is often too much. It’s too disruptive, too inconvenient, or too fraught with little problems. Also, mainstream customers look to see what early adopters are doing. So without an enthusiastic early adopter base, the mainstream customer isn’t willing to make such a big bet on a new technology. This leaves the company with no customers.
“Crossing The Chasm” is a book that is worth reading, re-reading, and re-reading again. It’s a book that you should buy by the dozens and ensure every employee on your team reads it. It’s that important.
To this day, I still see companies here in the value making classic crossing the chasm mistakes. In this day and age, this is really such a waste.