“Crossing the Chasm” was a book first published in 1991 and talks about the types of customers in different phases in the life of a technology product. The different segments of customers have different profiles:
- Innovators are techies. They love technical complexity and being at the forefront of cool new technology. They probably like the product being hard to use because it means its more elite to use it.
- Early Adopters are visionaries. They can see the potential in the product and the direction the market is going. They are willing to put up with complexity to be a part of the bleeding edge. They may have real problems they want to solve now and are willing to put up with immature products with potential.
- Early Majority are pragmatists. They just want to get the job done. They will consider the options and make decisions on total cost of ownership (which includes things like training their staff).
- Late Majority are conservatives. They don’t like risk. They will move to the product only once its obvious its the right choice and the majority of the industry is already there.
- Laggards are skeptics. They will only take on the new technology where there is no choice left.
The chasm is between early adopters and the early majority. The biggest share of customer base is in the early and late majority segments. Crossing the chasm is therefore important for a product to achieve its full potential in terms of market share.
The trick for a technology product is that to get a product to market it is common (even sensible) to first appeal to the innovators and early adopters. These uses generally are happy with or enjoy complexity. They either like or need to be on the bleeding edge. As the developer, you can avoid the investment of getting product to the level of maturity expected by the majority until you are sure you have the right product and that it is likely to be successful. But once you are convinced you have the right product, the team that built the product needs to go through a change. What were the right practices and strategy early on typically needs to change with the changing needs of your new customer base.
Examples of common areas of change
- The product needs to be easier to use. This is a combination of functionality and documentation. (This article argues the importance of documentation is often overlooked)
- The availability of training courses becomes more important. Customers want to get their staff up and going to get the solution completed.
- The cost of effort for customers to upgrade between releases must be easier. Originally people would accept the product for what it did. But the longer the life of a product, the greater the percentage of your customer base will be upgrading rather than installing green field.
- The defect rate must be reduced. As the number of customers goes up, the cost of each bug goes up as well. So it pays to keep the defect count down to keep your support cost down. More effort around automated testing can make a big impact here.
Obviously different products may have a different list. But the reason it is called a chasm is it is common for products and companies to fail to transition between the phases – they fall into the chasm.
The good news is the problem is well known, and if the team can make the transition a lot of success may be waiting! If you don’t want to read the whole book, some web searches will soon locate you some good summaries online.