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How to market and sell to early adopters

3 tips for gaining market momentum

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From initial test users to the last buyers on the bandwagon, every new product or service moves through the same sets of “adopters” on the way to full market acceptance.

As the name suggests, early adopters come right near the beginning. They’re the bridge between test users and your first mainstream customers.

So who are they and how do you get them engaged with your product or service?

BDC Communitech Partner Ryan McCartney says one thing common to all early adopters is that they have a problem to solve.

“They don’t want to be guinea pigs,” he says, “but they’re willing to take the risk of trying something new if they think it could ease their pain.”

He offers the following three tips on how to connect with early adopters to start selling.

1. Understand what they need

The first step is to identify user groups with a specific challenge your product or service could help overcome.

He gives the example of municipalities that hire consulting companies to monitor traffic flows. This “car counting” is usually done by human beings who can be imprecise and error-prone. Bad data compromises their ability to make good decisions and can be expensive to correct.

“I was involved with a company that developed an automated traffic-counting solution,” says McCartney. “It wasn’t perfect out of the gate, but the consultants who bought it—the early adopters—were willing to accept some flaws because they still got a huge benefit over their older way of working.”

This is a key characteristic of early adopters, McCartney explains: They’re curious, and because they have a real need, they’re usually willing to overlook rough edges and glitches, which makes them ideal for your still-developing solution.

2. Meet them in person

McCartney says conferences and trade shows are good places to go out and meet with early adopters.

“Get out from under your desk,” he says. “You don’t need an expensive display, but by being there, you’ll see how early adopters react to new products and learn more about their needs and what they’re responding to.”

Industry magazines and trade publications can also provide useful insights into customer and sector needs. If you create a professional web presence and a bit of buzz, early adopters may find you themselves—because they are actively looking to solve their issue.

Early adopters aren’t likely to complain about every little glitch. They’re more interested in the result than the customer experience. But pay attention to the feedback they do provide—and ask for it—because it will make your product that much stronger.

3. Give them something they can use right away

Early adopters are prepared to work with your minimum viable product. They want something they can put into action. To win them over, consider offering the solution at a discounted price or with other perks that make it even more advantageous for them to try it out.

While the revenues you generate from early adopters are welcome, there’s another benefit: They are usually happy to provide constructive feedback. Use it to refine and evolve your product for the larger market. In this way, they become an extension of your development team.

Be prepared to pivot

While early adopters provide valuable insights, the value proposition that appeals to them may not resonate with the wider market.

“Later adopters are looking for a well-rounded customer experience—from purchasing to unpacking, set-up and use,” says McCartney. “They want a near-perfect product, something they can’t get from early iterations.”

That can mean adjusting your product and also your sales approach—even how you define the problem you solve—as you move deeper into the market.

McCartney says future customers may also want to pay less, an expectation you can often meet by scaling up production. “Efficiency improves as you generate more, higher-quality product on the manufacturing line,” he says, “so you can set a right price for the broad market.”

McCartney sums up his advice for launching a new product as follows:

  1. Pick a problem you can solve.
  2. Find the people who have that problem.
  3. Ask questions and learn from what they tell you as they use your product.
  4. Get better, cheaper and faster.

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