The concept of ‘Crossing is the Chasm’ is widely accepted as the primary challenge of tech start-ups aiming for a mass market. Documented in detail in Geoffrey A Moore’s very readable book of the same name, Crossing the Chasm is the concept that most products can find an ‘early adopter’ market but don’t to get to the mainstream market, where they can deliver profits. And this is primarily due to the failure of marketing.
Is marketing to blame for the chasm?
The concept relies on the premise that most products can be successful, and that success is determined by marketing rather than the intrinsic value of the product. Is this correct? Marketing is often very badly executed, I’ve noted a few reasons for this at the end of the article, but can it really take the blame?
Let’s assume you implement a comprehensive filtering and validation exercise prior to the product being developed and launched, then poor marketing would logically be the reason for failure. After all, if people don’t know about the product, it’s incorrectly priced, they can’t buy it or use it – all marketing tasks – it will fail. But that’s a large number of caveats…
An alternative view is that good products, for which there is a real need, ones that deliver the customer with recognised value and that are well executed, will succeed even with mediocre marketing. This would explain why many products fail: they are just poor products. But for this to occur poor products must get to market, sell a few to early adopters, and then fail. How could this possibly happen!?
Why throw products into the Chasm?
Here are three reasons for poor products getting beyond the drawing board:
Passion: Most products are a real challenge to create. To get to market they require a massive commitment from the founder or team doing the work. Logic is not enough; passion is required. And passion is not a good precursor to difficult, honest decisions. Poor products, or products without a market, are hard to kill. And the more time invested, the more difficult they are to terminate. So, excuses are rolled out – ‘we’re too early for the market’, ‘the salespeople don’t get it’, ‘growth takes time’, etc.
Success (and Money): Success is great, but it sometimes blinds people to the need to maintain rigorous product management and market verification. It’s easy to believe that what worked previously will work now, especially if the product has more features (and is consequently more expensive than the previous product). It’s also easy to assume that what worked in one market (the one we knew a lot about) will now work with a different product in a different market (ignoring Ansoff).
Decision making: in making product decisions there are often three options:
a) commit to the product’s success and ensure the resources are available to develop and market it effectively
b) kill the product and re-allocate resources
c) continue the development but with limited resources.
All too often option ‘c’ is taken instead of option ‘b’. It’s really difficult to kill a product! Option ‘c’ makes success unlikely but continues to consume resources. Developing products based on faith, with too few resources, can work. But it’s probably a great way of finding a chasm rather than jumping it!
And as the British Prime Minister David Lloyd George said:
“There is no greater mistake than to try to leap an abyss in two jumps”
So, when someone says, ‘it’s a great product, it will sell itself’, just check. It could be a product that just addresses the Innovators and Early Adopters. Nothing wrong with that, if it’s a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), but it will need to be a whole product to address the whole market!