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Hacking Your Way Across the Chasm

Hacking Your Way Across the Chasm
by Michael Tanner on 07-10-2016 at 7:00 am

 Geoffrey Moore’s “Crossing the Chasm” remains one of the most useful and widely read business books within the high-technology business. I say this not only because I spent a decade of my life working with Geoffrey and the rest of The Chasm Group as a consultant, but also because to this day, I have yet to find another book that is so well written and that communicates the basics of market behavior in such a simple and straightforward way. And, while Crossing the Chasm was originally born in 1991 from what were mostly B2B marketing challenges at the time, the market adoption and market development ideas within remain fundamental, proving themselves applicable across all forms of new innovations.

Growth-hacking” is a more recent concept. Coined by Sean Ellis1 in 2010, growth hacking involves using technical approaches and analytics to test and then optimize marketing activities, getting around traditional approaches at a substantially lower cost. ( Note: Neil Patel and Bronson Taylor wrote a great on-line reference to growth hacking — click here). Twenty years ago “hackers” were thought of as thieves who broke into networks and computers to steal stuff. Today, the term “hacker” is a more general piece of jargon that’s used to describe someone who uses innovative technical or analytical techniques to overcome barriers.

The two ideas: growth-hacking, and chasm-crossing, feel at odds at fist glance. Where growth hacking involves a series of tactical approaches that broadly test what works, chasm-crossing involves making strategic and more methodical choices about where, what, and how to sell, and then going after a single market beach head with a vengeance. But, growth-hacking can also have more than just tactical objectives. With a little foresight, these two concepts can intersect in some interesting ways that were not possible when Crossing the Chasm was originally authored.

In my experience, one of the big hurdles that teams face when making decisions related to chasm-crossing is the lack of comfort that comes from having insufficient facts. Growth hacking involves a process of trial and error to quickly identify facts about what works and what doesn’t. The challenge is to organize the growth-hacking tactics in a way that produces the types of information you need.

For example, the criteria for identifying potential chasm-crossing segments typically involves quantifying target segment attractiveness based upon a few things:


  • The availability and access to a well-funded set of buyers
  • The urgency (rather than importance) of the need
  • The degree to which the required ‘whole product’ is complete, and
  • The referral leverage that one set of customers might have into another segment

    Modern marketing and sales automation tools can give you some real insight here. For example: by simply identifying visitors in an intelligent way through your website and through social media you can help identify hot spots through the purchase process, starting with visits. By reverse IP-lookup, you can learn the names of companies visiting your website. If you have a general idea of the titles that might be good prospective buyers, including the line of business buyers and the infrastructure buyers, you can provide them to an outside service who will in-turn deliver a direct marketing list to you based upon your visitors, whether or not they’ve actually given you their names and email addresses. Over time you can then develop specific content sets that can test different messages in order to see which value propositions return the highest open rates, click through rates, trials, and eventual purchases by segment.

    Using targeted content marketing or feeds from twitter and blog posts, you might also hypothesize prospective solutions to see which resonate the best across different segments, which titles in your list spend the most time looking through content, and which stimulate actual content downloads or product evaluation. Most lead scoring systems within marketing automation tools can be setup to automate this effort. You can then use the analytics generated along with actual sales data to help answer the key questions above. Moreover, if you manage to create some sort of referral mechanism, either built into the process, or built into the actual product, you can methodically track where these referral references are coming from and going to.

    There are challenges to this approach too. First, if you are an early stage business there is a small investment into marketing automation tools and a learning curve. You’ll need to have and work with your outbound direct marketing team to setup analytics that help answer the key questions. Second, you’ll need to make sure that you differentiate between the early adopter tire-kickers who spend lots of time evaluating without consummating a real deal, and the pragmatic buyer types who have the ability to drive lifetime value. A careful study of titles, initial vs. follow-on purchases, and the up-sells achieved by segment can help differentiate these two types of buyers.

    Third, while you can’t understand solution gaps completely with such a low-touch approach, you certainly can glean insight from targeted content marketing that features prospective solution elements. The key is to have some call to action that can be measured. Product managers and engineers who decide solution priorities may not be used to working directly with those who execute tactical marketing programs in this way, so here’s where you may need a real “growth hacker” skill-set on the team who can span and integrate both cultures.

    Fourth (and finally), you must be very sure that you do not confuse correlation withcausation. But, all challenges aside, by putting just a few processes and tools in place early on you can bring far more factual insights to bear for the chasm-crossing discussion than could have been done cost-effectively in the past. Today, facts can actually be quite plentiful with a little planning. The challenge is now more about sifting through what is relevant to arrive at real insight.

    1. [Ellis, Sean (June 26, 2010). “Find a Growth Hacker for Your Startup” Startup-marketing.com ]

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