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Have you Crossed the Chasm?

The Final Sayye by Gary Kayye By Gary Kayye, CTS

Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore is probably the single most important book to read as a ProAV system salesperson (or systems designer) today! It is, in my opinion, the blueprint for the customer sales and marketing process of AV technology. When it was published in the early 1990s it was geared toward the computer industry. Its prophecies, however, are now becoming a reality in the ProAV market of today.

One principle of the book is the direct correlation between different stages of the technology adoption lifecycle and buyer decision factors. In other words, when a product is first invented and introduced to the market, we can assume certain characteristics about the buyers of the technology at each particular stage in its life. Likewise, as the product matures through the lifecycle, this new set of buyers has a different set of characteristics and reasons for buying. If you can identify the type of buyer you're dealing with early in the product sales process, then you can make certain assumptions about the characteristics of your buyer that will make you more successful in selling and marketing the product to that buyer.

Moore breaks the technology adoption lifecycle into five stages of buyers from a product's introduction to its death. They include: Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority and Laggards.

The central theme of Moore's book, as it relates to the ProAV world, is that there is a vast difference, or chasm, between Early Adopters and Early Majority buyers. In fact, this difference is extremely important to a salesperson because it should completely alter your approach to selling to one client or the other. Thus, if you do use the same sales technique to both, you will likely lose the sale to one -- missing 50% or greater of your market opportunities. Historically in the ProAV market, the majority of the buying has been done by the Early Adopter client (not all, but most) -- but, not any more. This buyer/client is very different from the buyers that are appearing all over the place today. In fact, this new buyer is likely a person who doesn't actually care much about technology -- even though they might be the gatekeeper of it or the primary contact you are trying to sell it to (i.e. an IT manager). They aren't focusing on the technology as much as they are focused on the solution the technology provides. And, if you sell based on technology (like you have been for 15 years in the ProAV world) to an Early Majority buyer, you will fail. It will overwhelm them or turn them off -- resulting in a loss of trust or a perception that you, the ProAV provider, aren't listening to what they are asking or telling you. You must realize the "chasm" that lies between Early Adopters and Early Majority buyers, resulting in one sales approach on one side of the "chasm" and another strategy on the other side. 

What separates the two groups?  Early Adopters buy based on features.  They want to buy the latest and greatest product because it has a Pentium 4 rather than a Pentium 3.  They care about the numbers and specs of a particular product and will usually buy a more expensive product with more advanced features.  They buy up.  The Early Majority, on the other hand, doesnt focus on the features of a product; they care more about the benefits that the product will provide them or their company.  For example, they would not care if one projector has 1000 lumens more than another projector.  They would care, rather, that the one projector is bright enough that they can leave the lights on while they use it.  The actual value isnt in the specification as much as its in the resulting benefit.

What other benefits might an Early Majority buyer focus on? Well, instead of citing features and specifications of a given product, they cite benefits such as convenience, reputation, speed of service, or relationship/trust to name a few. There's really no way to categorize or stereotype why Early Majority customers buy certain products over others -- and that's a key point. It's not, however, based on the technology itself. Likewise, we know that contrary to what most people think, price is generally NOT the most important decision-making factor to the Early Majority buyer.

And, before you start to assume that price drives the sale of products to the Early Majority, consider the "Target effect." If price is a driving factor to most people (i.e. the Early Majority) why do they buy from Target? Sure, Target is a discount retailer, but did you know that both K-Mart (the lowest priced discount retailer) and Wal-Mart sell the same stuff cheaper than Target -- considerably cheaper -- up to 9% less? Yes, Target is one of the fastest growing retailers in the world. And, interestingly enough, they don't promote their price as being the lowest, or anything having to do with price. They promote something called the "cool factor" of shopping at Target. Still not convinced? Tell your kids you'll give them $20 and ask them if they would prefer you take them to Target, K-Mart or Wal-Mart. It'll be Target, hands-down. Cool sells, cool is marketing.

Sure, the Early Majority spent less on that DVD player or that projector they recently bought, but it wasn't because they waited for the lower price. The lower price was, more likely, a by-product of time. The longer a technology is in production, the cheaper it is to make and sell. Did they buy the cheapest DVD player on the shelf (you know, that $79 one)? Or, did they buy one in the middle of the price range made by a recognizable brand. Brand recognition comes from comfortable marketing.

Keep in mind that both Early Adopters and Early Majority are clients of ProAV systems and AV product components. They just don't buy for the same reasons. Thus, the simple answer is that you just need to use two totally different sales techniques to appeal to both buyer types in the future.

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Gary Kayye, CTS is Chief Visionary at Kayye Consulting, Inc., a Chapel Hill, NC-based marketing consulting firm that serves the ProAV and Home Theater markets. In addition to strategic marketing consulting, Kayye Consulting, Inc. is also a training development company. Gary can be reached via e-mail at gkayye@kayye.com or through his Web site at www.kayye.com.
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