New: Book Report: Crossing the Chasm

This book is about marketing; about marketing for products which are at a certain stage: they have enthusiastic "early adopters", but no big uptake. This stage sounds familiar to me based on my experience--and apparently it should sound familiar, because it happens a lot. It's so amazing to ship a product, so awesome when you hear that people like it--and then things stall out. Your team works on the next version, polishing your features, waiting for the word-of-mouth to spread... but the word-of-mouth doesn't seem to spread and you start thinking about doing dumb crap like superbowl ads just so that more people will hear about your project because of course if they just hear about it they'll love it like the early adopters did and pick it up too... But that doesn't seem to work out either.

I don't know if the approach espoused in this book works--I haven't tried it. But it sounds reasonable.

You've probably been going after the whole world as your "target market". That's been fine so far. But if you're trying to reach folks beyond the small, enthusiastic fringe of the "early adopters", you want to appear credible. Part of how they decide whether to use your product is--looking around to see if anyone else is using it. You want to aim for 50% of the market so that conservative folks can choose you without finding themselves hanging out with the lunatic fringe. How do you bootstrap your way to that?

Choose a small market. Choose a small market segment with a problem you can solve in a year. You've been trying to solve the world's problems. How about solving the problems of... dental office administrators? If you can tweak your product so that it's the logical choice for dental office administrators, you can probably break into that market. So far the dental office administrators have been struggling along with generic, uhm, calendars that haven't been tweaked to fit their specialized needs. (No optimization for six-month checkups, say.) You'll want to set up comparisons to folks' other choices because folks are more comfy with A/B choices. You're probably going to have to do a bunch of specialized stuff that wasn't part of your original idea. You're probably going to have to think about standards, compatibility... Spread to another small market segment. Another; maybe, like the Macintosh creeping its way out of each company's art department, you can take over the world.

Beware: your company's pioneers, the smart folks who got you this far--they might not enjoy this stuff. Find something else for them to do, pronto. They'll want to keep being disruptive. But the customers you're going after now don't want "disruptive", they want "safe". There are other people-role issues. You'll want someone market-ish to figure out this new market you're muscling in on--someone who can become an expert on dental office administration. This person will spend a year figuring out product stuff, a year during which you won't actually be selling much to the dental folks. Then the sales folks will start selling to the dental admins--and if the marketer did it right, the product will seem to sell itself. But the marketer might have already moved on to develop the next market segment. How do you figure out who did the great stuff--the marketer or the salesfolks? No easy answers; as time goes on, it might be more important to hire folks that work well together than folks who, uhm, accomplish great things on their own.

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Posted 2009-01-11