Discovery and Demos Across the Technology Adoption Curve: How to Avoid Crashing into the Chasm - Great Demo

Discovery and Demos Across the Technology Adoption Curve: How to Avoid Crashing into the Chasm

discovery and demos across the technology adoption curve

Discovery and Demos Across the Technology Adoption Curve
How to Avoid Crashing into the Chasm

 (A Never Stop Learning! Article)


What’s in This Article for You?

  • An example of crashing into and then escaping from the Chasm
  • A Technology Adoption Curve refresh
  • Symptoms and solutions to Chasm crashing
  • Intriguing statistics and implications
  • What about Laggards?

Plus, Three Takeaways:

  1. Why your current demos may no longer work.
  2. The level of proof required by prospects increases as you progress across the Curve.
  3. No Decision outcomes increase similarly.



A “standard” demo will not fit all Curve categories.

Similarly, “standard” discovery does not apply to all Curve categories.

Very simply, for discovery and demos, one size does not fit all!


A Story

We have recently released our new flagship software which embodies the latest cutting-edge technologies. We had great success selling it to some of our existing customers and a few prospects, and then there was the terrible sound of nothing: no subsequent sales.

The balance of our prospects and existing customers didn’t resonate with our technology presentation. They didn’t understand our demo. Discovery, which had previously seemed very effective, didn’t yield the expected results. We heard nothing but the sound of crickets in an empty room. Over 80% of our market was unresponsive.

What was happening?

My boss at that time was good friends with Geoffrey Moore, who was in the process of launching his “Crossing the Chasm” workshops, and Mr. Moore was invited to use us as a test case for his training.

It was highly successful. In the midst of the session, I exclaimed, “Holy cow – we’re in the Chasm…!”

What we learned and applied pulled us out of the chasm, resulting in a sales renaissance of our flagship, dominating the verticals that we addressed, and catapulting us towards the coveted $100 million annual revenue milestone.


The Technology Adoption Curve

Wikipedia (the source of all truth today!) writes “The technology adoption lifecycle is a sociological model that describes the adoption or acceptance of a new product or innovation, according to the demographic and psychological characteristics of defined adopter groups.” Equally or more commonly known as the Technology Adoption Curve, it provides extremely useful insights into the business buying habits of individuals and organizations by identifying five distinct categories:

  • Innovators: Those who are eager to accept the risk of change and experimentation, often out of a love of technology.
  • Early Adopters: This group seeks to gain the advantages of technology implementation ahead of the mainstream followers.
  • Early Majority: These buyers, also known as “pragmatists”, are willing to change but do so carefully.
  • Late Majority: This group wishes to avoid change but will do so grudgingly and only when required.
  • Laggards: Forget it. These non-buyers resist change with every fiber of their being!

The amount and type of discovery and subsequent demos for these categories can be remarkably different!


Symptoms of and Solutions to Chasm Crashing

The story above is a classic example of being caught in the Chasm. If you haven’t read “Crossing the Chasm”, here is a brief explanation of the challenge.

As you roll out a ground-breaking new product, technology, or disruptive offering, Innovators and Early Adopters will make small purchases. You’ll enjoy rapid success with some easy sales.

Once you run out of Innovators and Early Adopters, things change – for the worse! Prospects appear dubious, cautious, and erect substantial obstacles to sales. They want increasingly complex and expensive forms of proof.

The “Let us show you how the technology works” demo no longer resonates. That’s your first key indication that you’re in the Chasm! Both types of Majority prospects are skeptical and require deeper, longer, and sometimes painfully detailed demos. They’ll demand POCs and other forms of evaluation.

Early Majority prospects also seek validation of your product in use by customers similar to themselves. This is why Vision Generation demos are the delightfully effective starting point for your selling journey (and their buying journey). (You can find details on Vision Generation Demos in Chapter 11 of the Third Edition of Great Demo!)

They need to talk with happy reference customers. You need to have good, effective references that align with your Early Majority prospects. This is one of the biggest challenges in crossing the Chasm: Early Majority prospects want to talk with their peers who are likewise in the Early Majority! This is clearly an oxymoronic problem and many organizations solve it by positioning their initial Early Adopter customers as members of the Early Majority. (Obi-Wan Salesperson: “These are not the references you seek…,” spoken with the appropriate accompanying hand motion.)

Next, where Early Adopter and Innovator purchases were made by individuals or very small groups, you find that larger buying committees are becoming the norm. That’s another indication of being in the Chasm.

Very intriguingly, Innovators and Early Adopters are captured by the vision of what’s possible. Innovators, in particular, can take a set of features and synthesize on their own the problems these features can address and the solutions that are possible. This is a key attribute that differentiates this category from Majority prospects, in particular.

Majority players need to see concrete solutions to their problems. They don’t react strongly to vision-of-the-future pitches. (Note: In many cases, you not only need to communicate the possible solutions to Majority prospects, you may also have to help them see the problems they face!)

As an example, I love to ask people if they know anyone who purchased an iPad when it was first released. Invariably, a colleague is mentioned. I asked, “Did your colleague have a plan as to how they expected to use their new iPad?” The consistent response was, “No, they just thought it was amazingly cool!”

If you connected with these Innovators a few weeks later, they would report how their new iPads were solving a pile of problems, many of which were previously unknown or unaddressed. Innovators synthesize solutions on their own; Early Majority prospects need you to paint pictures of both the problems and the solutions. Their comparative lack of vision is another indicator of residing in the Chasm.

Next, where technology demos were sufficient for the prior categories, those in the Early Majority want to see solutions to their problems. This is where Great Demo! methodology is particularly effective, providing a successful, validated approach that frequently satisfies the proof requirements of Early Majority prospects.

As you progress further into the Early Majority, you find that prospects demand short POCs, when previously a Technical Proof Demo was sufficient. Advancing still further into the category, you’ll receive requests for longer, detailed POCs and POVs. Later on, sometimes years after your initial customers purchased your fabulous new technology, prospects present you with RFPs and RFIs, followed by excruciatingly long proof and buying processes.

Applying Great Demo! principles can reduce the requirements and timelines for POCs as you move to the right, on the graph, from Early to Late Majority. That’s part of the purpose of a Technical Proof Demo: To prove as much as possible in the demonstration stage and reduce (or eliminate!) the need for POCs.

Another trait of being mired in the Chasm is that your No Decision rates change, rising dramatically from comparatively very few to far too many! Early Adopters and Innovators can often make (small) purchases rapidly, but the balance of the categories moves like glaciers.

The Early Majority will frequently delay buying until they feel confident about the new technology’s pragmatic application and market acceptance. They need to see success with their perceived peers before moving forward with a purchase, and this could take many months or longer. They only are willing to implement mature, production-hardened software. It’s very unlikely that a Majority prospect will purchase a version 1.0 release!

Late Majority prospects, by nature, will delay decisions as long as possible! They are change-averse and will only (grudgingly, slowly, painfully) accept change when required. “End of Life” of their existing implementation is a typical Critical Date for these folks. (Consider how much “green screen” software is still in use today!)

Finally, the type and amount of discovery required can provide clues to your position in or out of the Chasm. Early Adopters and Innovators won’t need much discovery. Innovators, for example, want to see the technology demo, they want to understand how the technology works. Discovery might consist of, “How many licenses do you want?”

Early Adopters will want a bit more discovery, focused particularly on how they can achieve the strategic advantages associated with implementation ahead of their peers and competitors. Fast-Followers (an intriguing subset of Early Adopters) similarly need to have their objectives and processes clearly understood by vendors. Discovery may need to focus on implementation milestones and achieving key Value Realization Events. (You can find more details on Value Realization Events in Doing Discovery.)

Overall, Innovators and Early Adopters require briefer discovery conversations about the implementation and adoption of new technologies than the Majority. These first two groups probably already have a culture of fast, complete rollout. In comparison, Majority players will often prefer to roll out new technologies carefully, in waves, with testing and adjustment before and after each wave.

Your discovery discussions of implementation practices and desires can tell you that you are entering (or deep into!) the Chasm. Early and Late Majority prospects will appreciate – and sometimes require – deep, thorough discovery. They need you to gain a rich understanding of their Demographics, their Environment and Extended Environment, their Major Pains and Related Pains, and the nature of their Culture. They’ll want you to be conversant with the details of their workflows and processes.

Very simply, you should expect to execute more discovery as you move from left to right across the Technology Adoption Curve categories. In the absence of sufficient discovery, as perceived by your prospects, one simple symptom of languishing in the Chasm is that prospects’ objections increase. These are often along the lines of phrases like, “You don’t understand our business” or “Our workflows are unique.”


In Which Category Is Your Prospect?

How can you tell if your prospect is an Innovator, Early Adopter, Early or Late Majority, or Laggard? Amazingly, sometimes all you have to do is ask! Prospects will frequently self-identify as one category or another.

I was listening to a discovery call between a vendor and a prospect in pharmaceutical research and heard the prospect ask, “Where will our data sit with your solution: On your servers or ours?”

When informed that the offering was a cloud-based solution and that their data would be in the vendor’s cloud, the prospect objected, saying, “We can’t let our data out of our datacenter…”

This is a strong indication of a Late Majority trait: An unwillingness to pursue true SaaS offerings and a strong preference for on-prem software.

You can ask culture-based discovery questions to assess your prospect’s category similarly. What does your prospect’s current tech stack look like? What and when were their most recent purchases? What has been their purchase history? What constraints does their IT group impose on new offerings? (You can find more examples in the “Culture” section of Doing Discovery.)

Note that individuals may display category attributes that differ from their organization. Intriguingly, many conservative (Majority) companies have technology scouting or assessment teams. These groups are tasked to explore and examine new technologies and disruptive products in a “safe” environment. Their findings then may (or may not) be pursued by the overall organization, but cautiously in any case! Accordingly, you could feel as though you are making excellent progress in establishing a toehold in a large organization, only to find that the footprint takes years to expand.


Some Stats and Implications

Innovators and Early Adopters comprise about 16% of the overall population – that’s about one in every six companies. They typically purchase just enough of your new offering (and rapidly enough) to encourage your forecast to inflate!

“Wow, those first few sales are just the tip of the iceberg!” is what often goes through your sales teams’ minds. “We’ll be rolling in commissions shortly!” Sadly, this optimism won’t be justified if you don’t change your discovery and demo practices as you engage the Majority players.

The Early Majority are approximately 34% of the population. Making the necessary changes in your discovery conversations and demonstrations enables you to successfully engage this group. And this category is, very simply, the most important group to secure! The first few sales into the Early Majority open the gateway to the balance of the category.

These first Early Majority sales need to be carefully nurtured and supported by your customer success teams to ensure that their implementations achieve these customers’ Value Realization Events. Why? That’s how they become reference customers, and, as noted previously, compelling references are one of the key requirements of the Early Majority (and even more so for the Late Majority).

That may sound like cyclical reasoning, and it is, to a degree. How can you secure your first Early Majority customers, who require strong references, if you don’t already have an existing Early Majority customer?

And yes, I’m repeating this point because it really is one of the main paths out of the Chasm. There are two solutions to consider.

First, as was suggested earlier in this article, one or more of your Early Adopter customers may provide sufficient references for some of your less risk-averse Early Majority prospects. Accordingly, you may want to focus on small initial orders with your first wave of Early Majority prospects, since small orders are correspondingly less risky, and focus on ensuring that these rollouts accomplish their Value Realization Events. These customers can then become your first Majority reference accounts. As this takes place, you can explore expansion opportunities with these customers, as well.

Second, and this should help in determining which Early Majority prospects to pursue, the attributes of the Technology Adoption Curve categories are not fixed in concrete, but manifest as a spectrum. Some Early Majority prospects will have some of the attributes of the Early Adopters: They require less proof than their peers (e.g., excellent discovery followed by a well-constructed Technical Proof Demo); they are a bit less risk-averse and are willing to support a small initial implementation. Not surprisingly, discovery questions that explore prospect culture, tech stack buying habits, rollout practices, and related topics are the keys to identifying these Earlier Majority players.

The Late Majority makes up another 34% of the population and, combined with the Early Majority, represents the bulk of your market. Secure enough Early Majority accounts as references, gain experience with typical POC (and POV) success criteria, and this will enable you to begin to address the Late Majority effectively. (Or at least as effectively as possible – the Late Majority will still demand a long, tortured, multi-threaded buying journey – more of an arduous trek, frankly, than a journey!)

Bear in mind that, while order sizes will potentially increase as you move further into the Majority, sales and buyer resource investment will increase. Leverage what you learn!



If you’ve been keeping track (and I’m sure you have!), the remaining 16% of the population are Laggards. Don’t even bother trying to sell to this category: Every fiber of their being resists change!

Geoffrey Moore used the phrase, “No compelling reason to change” but it’s stronger than that. Laggards resent every software update, no matter the size or importance. They hate new technologies that threaten to replace their existing tools and habits. One of their favorite phrases in defense of their choices to remain motionless is, “It works just fine.”

Here’s a real-life story of an oxymoronic combination of Innovator and Laggard:

Buck’s of Woodside restaurant is (well, was) renowned as a place where many Silicon Valley startups were founded. Stories of “cocktail-napkin” drawings sketched at Buck’s that resulted in new and disruptive products and new market categories abound. When you were greeted at the reception station, the employee would not ask, “How many are in your party?” but rather, “Who are you meeting?” Truly a fabulous place!

Imagine my surprise when I happened to glance behind the counter at Buck’s cash register machine (today we’d call this a Point of Sale device) and noted that it was running DOS (yes, DOS).

Amazed, on my way out I asked Jamis McNiven, the proprietor, “Tell me, why are you still using a DOS-based payment system?” He said, “It works. No compelling reason to change…”


Crossing the Chasm

Lengthy languishing in the Chasm can kill a new product and cripple a company. An inability to identify and effectively engage the five different Curve categories can precipitate a rocky downhill run into the Chasm. Failing to recognize that you are in the Chasm will place your organization in the ever-growing graveyard of technology organizations and products.

Discovery, demos, and the degree of proof required all need to change as you move from Innovator to Early Adopter, to engaging the Early Majority and working through the Late Majority. And if you see someone still happily running Windows 95, run!


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To learn the methods introduced above, consider enrolling in a Great Demo! Doing Discovery or Demonstration Skills Workshop. For more demo and discovery tips, best practices, tools, and techniques, explore our books, blog, and articles on the Resources pages of our website at and join the Great Demo! & Doing Discovery LinkedIn Group to learn from others and share your experiences.

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