Not All Customers Created Equal

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At the risk of stating the obvious, there is a fair bit of buzz around entrepreneurship and start-ups these days. I suppose the truth is that this is something I’m interested in and work around, so it could just be that I notice it more than some. Either way, I think it’s safe to say that it’s an exciting time to be in the technology space. It seems every few weeks you hear about another “success story” (editorial note – success can be defined in many different ways) of some start-up that has hit the jackpot, by being scooped up by a large corporation (Instagram, Tumbler, or locally in my neck of the woods, Radian6 to name a few examples), to realize their exit strategy (be it planned or unplanned).

Again, at the risk of stating the obvious, regardless of what you’re “selling”, and regardless of your exit strategy, at some point you’re going to need some “customers”. (paying customers would be nice, but that hasn’t stopped many of today’s start-ups so don’t let it stop you…at least for now). Knowing this, it’s helpful to understand how customer adoption can differ. Some customers like to have the newest, shiniest things just because…we’ll because they’re new and they’re shiny, whereas some customer are more pragmatic and will hang back and wait for the “2.0 release” when perhaps the cost is a bit lower and/or some of the bugs have been worked out. This is the case in both the B2C as well as the B2B world. There is a continuum on which customers exist – from the “Innovators” at one end to the “Laggards” at the other. Though there are many ways to slice and dice the types and tendencies of the various “customer adoption types”, I’ve outlined below one way I’ve seen it done recently (with a B2B focus) with some of my thoughts woven in for good measure.

  • Innovators – these guys are the “techies”; the group even before the “early adopters” that we hear about so often. These guys are the ones that must have the latest and greatest gadgets and technologies. The consumer market equivalent would be the hardcore “geeks” (no disrespect; being a geek is über-cool now) that camp out overnight a Future Shop whenever Apple releases…well just about anything (again – no disrespect; kudos to Apple for building the hype and delivering most of the time). If you’re trying to appeal to this crowd – and why wouldn’t you want to really – you’ll want to focus on the elegance and general coolness of the technology.
  • Early Adopters – hey I’ve heard of these guys! These guys are the “visionaries” and often also leaders in their industry. They prefer technology “revolution over evolution” and are always on the lookout for a new technology to give them a competitive advantage. Landing these guys as customers should be part of any strategy as they can become great case studies for early successes that can help you land customers of a more pragmatic nature.
  • Early Majority – these guys are the “pragmatists”. They dig technology but really want see the proof that adopting something new WILL yield business benefits (e.g. lower costs, higher revenue). Show these guys the business case for how this will help them save money, grow revenues or some combination of the two. Show them how finely tuned your product is now as a result of working closely with your innovators and early adopters. In Geoffrey Moore’s book, “Crossing the Chasm” Moore discusses how bridging the gap from the early adopters to the early majority is a key step for any organization to achieve mainstream success.
  • Late Majority – this group is often referred to as the “conservatives”, and as the name suggests, they tend to resist change but are willing to adopt so long as the changes can be integrated into their existing systems and/or processes. Boring!
  • Laggards – these guys are the “skeptics”. They’re just not into it. They only adopt technology when they’re absolutely forced to. (Internet Explorer 6 is no longer supported. Please, please upgrade!)

So that’s it*. Know your customers then go get em’.

* That’s not it.

Image credit: http://tomfishburne.com/2011/04/crossing-the-chasm-cafe.html

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