How to Bridge the Chasm, Not Just Cross It

Copyright Jeffrey Geibel, All Rights Reserved

If you are a technology executive, you probably have been reading about the so-called ‘chasm’ that is supposed to exist in the market adoption of technology. According to this theory, the high-tech marketer has to ‘cross the chasm’ from the early adopters to the mainstream adopters if they are to have any hope of commercial success and industry leadership.

What is overlooked by the authors of this theory is that the chasm is neither as clearly delineated as they would have you to believe, nor as wide. In fact, a far better strategy is to bridge rather than cross (leave behind) any difference between early users and mainstream users. Remember, a bridge works both ways - you can cross in either direction.

The real issue in technology marketing is not so much the difference between ‘early’, ‘leading’, ‘mainstream’, or ‘late’ adopters, but rather the fact that any market (and especially technology markets) consists of two kinds of buyers: expert buyers and mainstream buyers. The differentiating factor between the two is their capacity for visualization.

Expert buyers are often the early adopters of a technology because they can visualize its application and business benefits. They don’t need your help with examples or sales methodologies. In fact, many expert buyers are usually knowledgeable of the various sales methodologies, and tend to eat salespeople for breakfast (lunch and dinner, too). They will tell you how they intend to buy your technology, and not give you much leverage in how you can sell it to them. Since they have already gone through the evaluation of the competing technologies and their respective merits, attempts at ‘vision reengineering’ and other redirection of needs is usually regarded as blatantly sophomoric, and run the risk of the dismissal of you as a vendor.

No matter how successful you are in selling to expert buyers, the expert buyers in any market are not a large enough group to sustain commercial success. So you have to ‘bridge’ the visualization ‘chasm’ to reach the mainstream buyers. However, your expert buyers are really your bridge builders in crossing over to the mainstream buyer. This is because the expert buyers can provide you with the application examples and communicate their vision of how your technology is helping them to solve their business problems, serving to shorten the sales cycle with mainstream buyers. Ask yourself a simple question: as a prospective buyer, what kind of seller’s promotional copy carries more weight with you - a copywriter’s clever turn of a phrase, or the commentary of a user who actually struggled with the buying decision for the same technology you are evaluating?

Another way to look at this is to imagine taking a dozen of the expert buyers of your technology, and locking them in a room for an hour with a dozen of your best prospects. When you let them out, how many of those prospects do you think would be ready to buy? Probably all of them.

The role that you have to play as the seller of the technology is to use marketing to create that bridge (or hypothetical locked room with your customers) between your expert buyers and mainstream buyers, so that they can have an intelligent dialogue (share their experiences). Remember that ‘bridge’ traffic is two-way. The expert buyers are crossing over to share their vision with the mainstream buyers, and the mainstream are posing more questions, or expanding the scope of the applications, which leads to more expert buyers in new areas of application. This is the unpredictable part of technology marketing, the part that Bill Gates, Larry Ellison and others would dearly love to control or predict, but they can’t - and they know it. The best they can do is try to spot trends early-on, and position themselves to reap commercial success from those trends.

One of the most overlooked tools in bridge building between the expert and mainstream buyers is public relations. The documentation of the expert buyers’ use of your technology products fits perfectly for the three key areas of high-tech media exposure: news, features and commentary. It also supports a key element of sales - which is messaging.

Since expert buyers are often on the cutting edge of technology applications, their use of new technologies, or decision to standardize on a given technology is often perceived as news. However, your use of your expert buyers should not stop with the initial commitment to your technology. In addition to their commitment or purchase decision, you should document their decision-making process that led to your technology, rather than chancing that the media might possible emphasize this buying process (which they won’t). This can be accomplished by use of user application profiles (case studies with a technical orientation - see our article below on deep case studies) that convey the actual customer experiences with the buying process, going far beyond the pablum of typical ‘customer testimonials’.

The expert buyer’s visualization capabilities can also be leveraged by your public relations program to be developed into feature stories that are either based on your underlying technology or the particular use of that technology that your customer is developing. The real benefit from this approach is when your public relations materials and releases are squarely aimed at the mainstream buyer - by addressing the same technology decision-making issues that the mainstream buyer would face.

Your marketing messaging should not stop at public relations. Use of your web site as a primary marketing engine, active email-based communications and even Google Ads are additional ways to bring prospects to you. In our articles index, look under 'Marketing' for numerous articles on these techniques.

Expert buyers are also great sources of commentary on technology and its applications. Ever wonder why you so often see analysts quoted on new technology? That’s because it is very difficult for the media to find someone who has anything intelligent to say about a new technology in a timely manner. Do you have ‘editorial resource lists’ of your expert buyers for your technology applications, or a lot of quotable material in your press materials or posted to your web site? Probably not - which is why The Yankee Group or The Gartner Group appear to be the seers of technology - they are simply the most accessible for a quote when the media is under a deadline.

By focusing your public relations efforts on the sale of your technology, and using public relations to create a ‘bridge’ between the expert and mainstream buyers - you help to shorten the sales (buying) cycle. The resulting sales are the best route to commercial success and industry leadership.

Copyright 1997, 2007 Jeffrey Geibel

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