Crossing the Chasm For Geoff Moore

by

My experiences as one of Geoff Moore’s first chasm test cases
certainly taught me a lesson about confronting
my client’s new-technology launch.

My very first project as a principal at RMI (Regis McKenna Inc) was as the team leader on the launch of a client’s new thermal-wax color printer technology.  

It was a year before Geoff Moore, a partner at RMI, would publish Crossing the Chasm. He approached me to alpha test his still-under-development chasm models. As he explained his ideas and concepts about this “chasm,” I became excited about the potential benefits it could bring to B2B-technology-marketing practitioners like me. My client’s pending launch seemed the perfect test bed.

I Go Head-to-Head with One of the World’s First Chasms

In those days, RMI methodologies defined what product-launch marketing and PR strategies and tactics were. The firm’s market relations® processes and techniques had launched all the major high-tech players, and went on to create — virtually single-handedly – the brand “Silicon Valley.” Dataproducts, my client, certainly had great expectations of a world-class RMI launch that would keep my client the acknowledged B2B market leader in enterprise printers.

Going through the pre-launch steps, all the key requisites for a successful launch of the new JOLT printer were falling into place:

  • Corporate target customers were profiled and surveyed…yes, there were compelling reasons for them to purchase a personal color printer that broke the market’s current $5,000 price barrier
  • The prospective customer’s perceived the competitive advantage of color documents in a B&W-page world was overwhelming. That helped shape my competitive positioning and messaging
  • The distribution channels were ready to place quantity orders

Responses to everything in my checklist further validated that Dataproducts had a winner, and my launch projections pointed to a clear home run.

As my pre-launch work progressed, I kept Geoff posted. He was especially interested in the feedback from Dataproducts’ alpha and beta participants. These would become the “Innovators” and “Early Adopters” categories in his book’s Adoption Cycle. (As an aside, Geoff’s inspiration for his “Technology Adoption Life Cycle” curve came from a graph in a U.S. Department of Agriculture report).

Where’s the Chasm, Geoff?

While I was gaining my own insights into what Geoff was doing, I just couldn’t see how there was going to be any chasm that might threaten Dataproducts’ launch. Sure, there were some minor “nuisance” issues raised by the innovators and early adopters as to print nozzles clogging. Also, a small point that, if too heavy a wax-based ink deposition occurred, cracks in the ink would appear on the printed image.

The client reassured me that these early small glitches were going to be corrected before the product launch. I recall talking with Geoff about them and my stating that such “bugs” in new-product development were to be expected. For sure, this couldn’t be what his planned book was going to call a “chasm.”

Focus on the Elephant, Not the Fly on It

Based on progress reports from Dataproducts’ engineers that the minor glitches would be resolved, corporate gave me the green light to move forward with the launch. I huddled with Geoff about launching a product that still had a fly in the ointment. Geoff walked me through his interpretation. Don’t focus on the fly…pay attention to the elephant it’s on. He persuaded me that my client’s chasm was elephantine. Geoff’s main point was that these seeming product “inconveniences” would be intolerable to “early majority” B2B corporate buyers.

Geoff’s chasm perspective was more realistic than the optimistic feedback I was getting from Dataproducts’ marketing, sales, and engineering departments. The next day my client received my pre-launch report. My recommendation: Do not launch until all of JOLT’s known technical problems are resolved.

Did Awareness of the Chasm Save the Day?

Sadly, Dataproducts’ leadership ignored my recommendation. My marching orders were to continue with the launch, but to place particular emphasis on possible damage control if the product deficiencies became a public issue.

JOLT’s launch went off without a hitch. Press, media, and analysts flooded the B2B corporate ecosystem with hype, as did the innovators and early adopters with their case studies and testimonials. Printer sales took off, and product was moving out of channel partners’ distribution centers. I invited Geoff to a celebratory lunch, even though my successful launch flew in the face of his chasm theory.

The Chasm Call

I know that it happened very early on a Monday morning. My answering service called my home phone. John Leggatt needs to speak with you immediately. A sunrise call from Dataproducts’ EVP could not be good news, I thought. John’s voice was strained when he answered the phone. As usual, he was brief and very to the point. “Largest customer…power turned off over the weekend…hundreds of JOLTs non-operational due to hardened wax in the print nozzles…please discontinue any further marketing programs until further notice.”

I had that meeting with Geoff. His model of the chasm had become painfully valid to me. I ate crow for lunch that day.

Maybe that’s why my copy Crossing the Chasm is always on my desk. Over years of applying its teachings to my own firm’s practice, the book has become Post-It® festooned. Perhaps that’s the best tribute I can make to Geoff on this 20th anniversary of his landmark book’s publication.

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One Response to “Crossing the Chasm For Geoff Moore”

  1. marketechforum Says:

    Joan,

    A nice tribute to Crossing the Chasm, a true landmark work that changed the face of technology marketing

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