Yesterday I picked up Geoffrey Moore’s Inside the Tornado; a sequel to his best-selling book Crossing the Chasm.  First off – wow.  What an amazing book.  Both Tornado and Chasm describe the challenges of marketing technology products through each stage of their lifecycles, but I found the latter to be particularly impressive.  I read nearly the entire book this weekend and emailed several relevant excerpts to coworkers.  This one really had me hooked.

A very quick summary of the content

In this book Moore uses catchy nicknames to describe the different phases of the technology adoption lifecycle (Note: all of the capitalized terms below may seem excessive, but I promise they are all well-defined in Moore’s book):

  • First there is the “Early Market,” which is dominated by Technology Enthusiasts and Visionaries.  These customers are willing to bet on new companies and will accept a product that is less than complete in exchange for the opportunity to try it first.
  • Then there is the “Chasm” – the gap between the Early Market and the Mainstream Market where many products languish and die.  The trick to crossing the Chasm (which was the subject of Moore’s prior book) is to focus on one specific market niche, put all of your eggs in one basket, and find a way to construct a “Whole Product” that is acceptable to a more risk-averse audience (the “Pragmatists”) on the other side of the Chasm.
  • Then there is the “Bowling Alley” where high tech companies must focus on individual market niches in succession, first focusing on the front “pin” (the niche that helped them cross the chasm), then expanding to adjacent niches until you have a product acceptable to the entire market.
  • Following the Bowling Alley is the “Tornado” where your product goes mainstream and demand far outpaces supply.  This is a hectic time, but historically the most profitable for companies who are lucky enough to make it there.  The Tornado is where fortunes are made.
  • Then there is “Main Street” where your mature product must continue to innovate to defend against low-cost alternatives.

The Bowling Alley.

Among Moore’s metaphors, I found the Bowling Alley to be the most interesting.  There’s something about looking at a technology market as a series of bowling pins, lined up in formation that is particularly compelling.  For each of the bowling pins, a technology company must develop a product that is good enough for the skeptical technology Pragmatists that inhabit the front part of the Mainstream Market.

The key difference between the Visionaries (who dominate the Early Market) and the Pragmatists (who populate the Mainstream Market) is that Visionaries will accept an incomplete product, while Pragmatists will only accept a complete product.  To hammer this metaphor home, Moore states that Visionaries “see” with their eyes closed, while Pragmatists see with their eyes open (i.e. they want to see a working product).

There are a few secrets to success in the bowling alley, but the one that I found most powerful is actually quite simple, but at first, counter-intuitive.

Moore states that in the Bowling Alley, a technology company must shift their sales efforts from the Technology User to the Economic Buyer.  At first I found this confusing.  Wouldn’t the Technology User be in the best position to appreciate the new solution you’ve developed?  They are the people you’ve studied and who’s use cases you’ve mastered.  You’ve gotten into their heads and built them the product that will allow them to be more efficient and effective.  Why do you have to sell around these people in the Bowling Alley stage?

The problem is that corporate Technology Users are inherently risk-averse.  They’re responsible for maintaining uptime on mission critical systems and it’s always more work for them to change what they’re doing than to stick with the existing tech.  From the point of view of a Technology User, the ideal path is to continue using your current technology and test the new technology safely offline.  This produces the best of both worlds for the user: they get to try the new solution, but they don’t jeopardize stability and they don’t have to work too hard to make a new solution work before they’ve fully tested it.

The problem with this approach from a vendor perspective is that it slows down technology adoption and could lead to a Technology User blocking the sale if they decide the effort required to switch is too great.

In order to get around this issue, vendors entering the Bowling Alley have to undermine the decision-making ability of the Technology User and focus sales efforts primarily on the Economic Buyer.  Showing the efficiency, cost savings and other economic gains of your solution over the incumbent technology will get the Economic Buyer interested.  After all, they’re the ones who will ultimately be getting more economic value.  With the right sales pressure, the Economic Buyer will be able to force the Technology Users to adopt the new technology before they’d otherwise be ready to.  As with any enterprise sale, this operation is tricky and involves building up the organizational power of the Economic Buyer, but it is the only way to get the big deal signed and allow you to reinvest revenue gained against securing your hold on that bowling pin and moving to adjacent pins.

At first it may seem wrong to undermine the decision making ability of the very people you want to help, but this is necessary to push change-averse organizations to adopt new solutions.  In the end, after your clients have reaped the rewards of adopting your new technology, they’ll thank you for pushing them.

The Bowling Alley
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