Since Geoffrey Moore introduced the concept of the Chasm for marketing and selling high-tech products in 1991, the conversation was mostly focused on moving from Early Adopters to Mainstream customers, and building strategies that will enable that success. The planning was aimed to take a fully developed, market-ready product to the market, and winning various market segments and customer types while building the organization to growth. Not surprisingly, the sub-title of Moore’s book is: “Marketing and selling disruptive products to mainstream customers”. He focused his book on the marketing and selling of completed products and not on the development of those products. This was illustrated in the well-known chasm drawing that presented the chasm between the early adopters and the mainstream customers.
Figure 1: The “classical” chasm in the technology adoption life cycle
However, I believe that the chasm illustration starts too late in the product life-cycle and we should look at earlier phases of the development process, extending the drawing to the left. There are additional chasms that present challenges before the products are made available to the market. The whole development/engineering process, from an idea, through a prototype all the way to a generally available product is filled with challenges, but two specific milestones in this process are dangerous and are the downfall of many good ideas into the abyss, never seeing the light of day. These three chasms are well known to any VC investor, even though they may not name them as such, and it is important they are identified and addressed by any product teams, especially those in larger companies who are not familiar or aware of them.
Figure 2: The revised technology life cycle with multiple chasms
When we look at innovation in mature companies with existing products, where innovation is mostly focused on adding new capabilities or features (like introducing “stories” to Instagram), not every new idea will become a big success, regardless of how much was invested in it. The challenge is how to make a new cool idea within an existing product/platform a commercial success, returning the investment that was put into it.
1st Chasm – From idea to development – there’s a raw idea, but it is not clear how to implement it in the product, where should it fit (in which product? workflow? solution?), does it address the right customer need and what is the opportunity for it in the market? Is the market ready for it or is it too early?
I believe that in this phase we see those projects that are stuck in the advanced development (AD) teams, who build a proof of concept but do not really know where to take it from there. It is never becoming important enough to be included in the roadmap, since there are always other items in the backlog of higher importance, so eventually this idea fades away. An analogy from the start-up world would be founders that seek investment to build a new company – how can they convince the investors to bet on it?
The main question that should be answered in order to cross this chasm is: How do you get the decision makers (GM, PM etc.) to include the idea in the backlog at a high enough priority, so that it is added to the plan of record (PoR) and find its way to the development teams? How can you convince them to invest in this vs. other ideas?
2nd Chasm – From GA to initial commercial success – You got the idea included in the roadmap, the smart engineers worked hard and it is now generally available (GA). But GA is not the end of the road. Too many GA offerings did not live to the business expectations since they could not be sold in any significant volumes, lost the confidence of the Sales team and the executives, and eventually were pushed to the side where they may still be stumbling through, barely keeping themselves afloat, but not enjoying the great success they could have. Here the challenge is: How do you get the feature/product to be sold for some significant initial quantity? (Note that how much is “significant” depends on the product and the company, but as a rule of thumb – for a small company it would be the first million dollars, and for a large organization it should be around $10-30M)
3rd Chasm – From initial success to mass market – this chasm is really the one described in Moore’s book, so everything he mentioned there would still apply. However in addition, the challenge of a product team in a large company is how to reach out to the broader sales team and get their attention? How do you make the product/feature offered to customers by the thousands sales and pre-sale experts your company has? Put differently: How do you grow from $10-30M to $300-500M, or even $1B? (or for a small company: how do you grow from $1M to $100M?)
Figure 3: The three chasms and ways to cross them
The ways to cross these chasms are naturally not the same and require different approaches. If you are driving a new product/feature in a large mature company, then you should look into the following:
(note that the below is mainly focused on larger companies and may be different for start-ups, since sometimes their whole company is the “specialty team” defined below)
One way to cross the first chasm, is to drive a technology incubation process, which will explore the technical implementation options, drive some PoCs, analyze the eco-system, and in addition will also look at the market need, discuss the issue with customers (maybe by leveraging the PoCs) and establish a solid understanding of the need. This will help drive the right use case, with the correct implementation approach, and help convince the decision makers to include it in the backlog at a high-enough priority.
Crossing the second chasm is trickier, since it requires a cross-functional effort that goes beyond just the engineering team. There is a need create a GTM incubation team that would include Marketing, Sales and the services team (PS & CS) to drive those first sales, ensure the product fits the bill and that all supporting processes (including business processes) work well. In this situation it is best to assign a dedicated specialty sales tiger-team to focus on this product/feature, with a different than usual compensation plan (since in the early phases, Sales need to invest more efforts for less return).
Then when you get to the third chasm, the specialty sales team need to change their hats and become enablers, vs. the sellers they used to be. They should invest their time to spread the message within the core sales team, help them succeed in selling, and be measured on that (vs. their direct sales).
Understanding the challenges in the introduction of new products and features is critical for their market success. The challenges do not start only when they are introduced to the market, but way before that when they are just an idea. A clear plan to cross all those chasms is key to make those “dreams” a successful reality.