Growing sales from your initial product launch requires a special approach with disruptive technology in the Life Sciences. In a typical Life Science or biotech startup, your very first sales will likely come from some (hopefully most) of your beta evaluators. Often, you will have a slew of sales at the beginning followed by a very frustrating period of time where every new sale takes a huge amount of time and effort to win. Some have called this the ‘Valley of Death’ since it looks like your sales momentum has fallen off while you are burning through your capital reserves.
What’s going on?
Geoffrey Moore discusses this situation perfectly in his book “Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers” (This book has become a classic and is a valuable source of insight to any entrepreneur with new technologically advanced products). The premise here is that most if not all of your first customers are ‘Early Adopters’ but the market that you really want to reach and where the success and failure of your company hang in the balance is with ‘Mainstream Customers”. There are never enough Early Adopter customers to be an attractive market. However, these customers are valuable since they will help you to figure out how to reach the bigger market later on of the pragmatic ‘Mainstream Customer’.
Know thy customer
Knowing the difference between the characteristics of an ‘Early Adopter ‘ from a ‘Mainstream Customer’ holds the key for getting across Moore’s ‘Chasm’ or the ‘Valley of Death.’ Here is how he defines both customer types:
“Early Adopters … buy into new product concepts very early in their life cycle … they are people who find it easy to imagine, understand and appreciate the benefits of a new technology, and can relate these potential benefits to their concerns … [They] do not rely on well-established references in making … buying decisions, preferring instead to rely on their own intuition and vision…”1
“[Mainstream Customers] … are driven by a strong sense of practicality. They know that many of these newfangled inventions end up as passing fads, so they are content to wait and see how other people are making out before they buy in themselves. They want to see well-established references before investing substantially.”1
Tips for winning ‘Mainstream Customers’
The following tips have been field tested and shown to work. They are based in part on the insights gained from knowing the difference on what it takes to appeal to your first customers and what is compelling to all the rest.
- Build early credibility using Key Opinion Leaders (KOL’s). – Learn who these people are from your first customers (you might think that you know who they are already, just validate this with these customers first). Engage with these Key Opinion Leaders through collaborations, sponsorships and other ways (see blog post ‘The Key to Key Opinion Leaders’ ) and get their endorsements and testimonials.
- Get published – There is no better way to validate the impact of your new product though publication. Work with your beta-evaluators and early customers to help them to publish. Academic journal publications are most desirable but look to get poster presentations, articles in trade publications (printed and electronic) as well. As good as the papers that your own scientists are publishing, the ones by outside investigators will hold the most value for the ‘mainstream customer’.
- Stay visible while building credibility – Start a blog where you r scientists can showcase their mastery of this field of study and how your products are impacting your customers. (Be sure to keep your blog posts free of anything that looks and feels like an advertisement, keep this about the science)Where possible, see if you can get early customers and Key Opinion Leaders to be guest bloggers for you by submitting a post or two.
- Moore, Geoffrey (1991) Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers (HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., New York).