Many companies have the philosophy of “if we build it, they will come”:
This is the typical, sad, predictable path:
1. Spend years and tons of money developing a new innovative product.
2. Create a hugely optimistic forecast that can justify the amount the amount of R&D and money spent.
3. Solicit some positive reviews from a few, friendly alpha customer sites.
4. Do a splashy release, train your sales force worldwide.
5. Get a few orders from early adopters (some of these orders are due to huge discounting to place the product at high profile sites while others are simply order conversions which would have received the older product being replaced).
6. Then…nothing. The original forecast gets cut drastically. Sales and Marketing pull out every excuse in the book: “It’s too new.” “It’s too expensive.” “The customers can’t see the value.” “They’re happy doing it the old way.”
This is exactly what Geoffrey Moore pointed out in his book: Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers.
You can have the most innovative products but you have to get past the relatively small number of innovators and early adopters that made up your initial sales and sell to the bulk of the customer base – two-thirds of which will be your “Early Majority” and “Late Majority” (aka "Pragmatists" and "Conservatives"). Couple this with the fact that today’s innovation is tomorrow’s commodity. Technology changes so fast that you have only a very brief head start for an innovation to be a clear differentiation.
As Moore states, the “Early Majority” “share some of the early adopter’s ability to relate to technology, but ultimately they are driven by a strong sense of practicality. … They want to see well-established references before investing substantially. Because there are so many people in this segment—roughly one-third of the whole adoption life cycle--winning their business is key to any substantial profits and growth.”
This important customer base is thinking: “I don’t want to be your guinea pig.” “I don’t want to rock the boat.” “Show me the money. Don’t make me try to figure out why this is good for me.” You must reach this group of prospects or your product will never gain momentum and fail.
In today’s business environment, this means mind-share and thought leadership. At this stage, you must show thought leadership and be able to articulate why your innovative approach is superior. The ultimate goal at this stage is to have early-stage, innovator-type customers who are enthusiastic champions of your solution. So how do you do this? You develop collateral such as case studies, customer testimonials, third party articles that can articulate how the solution would work in the reader’s environment and show the benefits. The reader must gain understanding and confidence in taking that step to purchase. A strong, established company with a good brand name may have some advantage here over a newer, smaller supplier.
Let’s take pharmaceuticals as an example. New drugs are usually not prescribed by the majority of practitioners if there is an existing solution. The doctor is familiar with the older prescriptions and their risks - they have no impetus to change. So a drug company has to push hard with case studies, seminars, testimonials from established experts to buy the doctors' mind share and change their perspective. This may include direct ads to the prospective patient to “talk to your doctor about the possibly of taking XXX” which forces the practitioner to at least learn about the new drug. (Drug companies are fascinating studies in marketing.)
So don't blame your sales force if you haven't done the groundwork for them.
Remember: You must have “Mind Share” before “Market Share”!
Note: I suppose that a Boston cab driver who drove me from Logan Airport years ago would be classified as a typical “Early-Majority” or “Pragmatist”. We were going through the Boston Sumner Tunnel and he told me that he would not take the new Ted Williams Tunnel when that was completed. He reasoned that there was no guarantee that it would be 100% safe and he did not want to drown with no way out. He was sticking with what worked. (Unfortunately, he was correct. A woman died when a section of ceiling fell on top of a car traveling through the connector tunnel due to failure of adhesives used.)
Frank Lio is a Product Manager, Strategist, and Change Agent in the Hi-Tech industry. His growing track record of successes include creating 3 winning software products, leading nationwide seminars, and turning around a failing business unit. He is currently serving a dual role as Product Manager and Business Team Support Manager at Instron ITW.
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