I would guess that most of you are early adopters, just by the fact that you are interested enough to come here and see what’s new in the business world. Every entrepreneur and startup loves you, but too many forget that every potential customer is not like you.
In fact, early adopters represent only a small percent of the total opportunity, and may derail your mainstream effort.
If you are a technical entrepreneur, you can count on early adopters to be first in line for your product, and they are quick to provide feedback on quality, and suggest even more features. Unfortunately many of their suggestions may actually increase the solution complexity for the larger segment of mainstream customers who come later and who you really need for success.
Thus, as a business advisor to entrepreneurs, I recommend the following strategies to strike a balance between the needs and feedback of early adopters, and the requirement to satisfy the majority of mainstream customers, and even laggards who are notoriously slow to accept change.
1. Survey a balance of customers for needs and feedback.
Early adopters who find you may be the easiest to believe, but you need to reach out to other groups who are less proactive but larger in numbers. Independent survey organizations know how to do this, and can help you avoid a common entrepreneur misstep, called the confirmation bias.
As an entrepreneur or a business owner, confirmation bias actually allows you to hear what you want to hear in feedback from customers, even though they may be telling you something totally different. Thus you need to know how to listen as well as who to ask.
2. Spend as much time on ease of use as new function.
For technical designers building innovative features, how to use them is obvious, and it’s very hard to see things as a first-time, not-so-technical customer. Usability is often an afterthought. The solution is to actively engage people outside your perspective to design usability in from the beginning.
3. All customer interfaces must be designed by marketing.
Even the most innovative solutions today won’t succeed without marketing. Although early adopters may not be deterred by complex interfaces, the rest of your customers will rate the solution by the wording, fonts, white space, and pictures–not by how many options you can fit on a page.
Unfortunately, even today many engineers and product developers believe that marketing is just for advertisements. In fact, marketing is all about connecting your solution with the broadest possible customer set, and creating a relationship between the two of you.
4. Offer a default simplified path as well as a detailed path.
Engineers and early adopters always love more options, even if some are esoteric or rarely used. Average customers and beginners want things to default correctly, be remembered, and not requested again–with extensive help and explanations included at every level.
All the technical people I know laughed when Amazon patented their big red button for a “one-click-buy.” But many pundits now attribute their scaling success to this simplification for the average customer. Google and others have since emulated this feature.
5. Aim for the global market, neutralizing any cultural bias.
Even though it may be your intent to scale globally as a second phase, thinking globally will help you avoid the pitfalls that local early adopters suggest. This includes things like avoiding acronyms, technical terms, words unique to a specific culture or geography, and phrases that won’t translate.
I’m sure KFC might have given a bit more thought to their tagline “finger lickin’ good,” if they had realized that during a later scaling of the business to China, the marketing translation would come out as “eat your fingers off.”
In addition to these strategies, I recommend that you continue to court early adopters and rely on them to signal when you are on an attractive initial path. They are opinion leaders, so the challenge is to keep them excited with your technology and innovation, without intimidating the rest of us. They can be a strong market influencer for you, or a raging critic you don’t need.
Even a niche business has the same range of customer types–from innovators, to early adopters, the early majority, late majority, and laggards–as described by the great business author, Geoffrey A. Moore, many years ago.
If you want a great business, you can’t ignore any of these customers. Your long-term satisfaction and business success depends on it.