July 25, 2017 Ted Bauer

Selling to early adopters vs. the mainstream

Time to peel back for the curtain for a second.

One of the challenges we’ve had at BizXpand — because transparency is fun and failure is a consistent factor of life — is selling to the mainstream vs. early adopters.

It’s a totally different animal, so now we’re going to discuss it — maybe even for two whole posts.

Framing up the early adopters vs. mainstream debate

A lot of people associate this with Malcolm Gladwell because he wrote about it in Tipping Point in the case of Brooklyn hipsters bringing shoes into the mainstream. Visually, it all looks like this:

Notice that says “technology adoption lifecycle,” but it works this way for many products.

Early adopters tend to be friends/family, past business partners/co-workers, and others where there is some type of relationship or acquaintanceship that pre-dates the selling process. It varies by industry, but many companies can get up to $10M in revenue from the early adopter side (sometimes more).

But as Aaron Ross notes on Predictable Revenue, selling to the mainstream is much different. Why? Let’s use another graphic:

That’s a basic sketch, but let’s say early adopters are in the high trust area. They are friends and partners, right? So if you ask for a referral or a demo, they’ll usually consent — even if they don’t understand the industry you’re selling in. That’s what friends and family does.

Think about this in terms of time:

  • On the high trust side, you can get a referral pretty easily. Let’s say the referral process constitutes 15-45 minutes of time.
  • On the low trust side, you send a cold email. The recipient engages with it for 0.3 to 3 seconds before moving on.

See the difference?

How do you sell to the mainstream?

This may sound mean or bad, but you need to assume a lower level of attention span, context, and intellect at the mainstream level — the pool of potential people is just way wider, so you won’t find many geniuses or business titans in there (a few, sure).

When you’re dealing with a simplified population sample, you need a simplified approach. This means:

  • Short messaging
  • Clear value proposition
  • Easy to act on

Why do you think TV was the preferred medium of advertisers for — well, it still is often. It’s short messages, often simple/catchy, with large reach. That’s what everyone wants.

The tricky part here sometimes is the role of marketing, if you have a dedicated marketing function (not everyone does). Marketing sometimes over-focuses on campaign elements, which makes the end message too complicated and doesn’t resonate at a mainstream level. Phrased another way: marketing often will design campaigns aimed at pleasing internal stakeholders (the bosses), which makes the process of selling on those campaigns to a mainstream audience (who don’t know the politics of your company) much harder.

The first 1-2 punch on selling to mainstream, then:

  • Simplify and show value (sometimes even ROI)
  • Keep marketing in check

Next week: A horror story

Next week we’ll have a post from Martin on some challenges of trying to sell SaaS mainstream. Should be terrible. Just kidding, it’ll be informative!

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