Early adopters are critical to any company that introduces a new product or service. In particular, to a startup company. In addition to being an early customer for the company’s product, early adopters will also provide valuable feedback to help validate the product’s value proposition and features. Also, they provide important lessons regarding the product’s distribution, service, and support.
Therefore, identifying the right early adopters is an important element in the company’s business model and go-to-market strategy. And yet, how do you know who are the right early adopters for your product?
As a startup company, especially in the early stages, you are always short on cash and resources. Most of all, people. When you release your new product, any customer that you have requires a significant amount of attention and support. As a result, you are limited in the number of early adopters that you can have. So, you better be sure that you are choosing the right customers.
The Criteria for an Early Adopter
Let’s start by clarifying the expectations and requirements we should have of an early adopter. It’s not enough that they are enthusiastic about your new product and want to be the first to use it. While these requirements are mainly for B2B business models, they are also relevant for B2C companies.
Comfortable with Technology Risk
By design, early adopters use the very first revisions of new products. Furthermore, these products sometimes deploy new technologies. As a result, there is a high risk that something will go wrong. In other words, the product will have bugs and failures. Such technical issues could lead to disruptions in the customer’s business and service outages.
Therefore, your early adopters have to be willing to accept such risks. In addition, they should calculate it into their adoption plans. And, their willingness to take such risks largely depends on the perceived value they expect to get from your product. So, you better have a very strong and compelling value proposition.
A good early adopter needs to be ready and capable to quickly start using your product. This is important since you are relying on your early adopters to provide you with critical feedback about the product’s value and features. If you missed something important, you want to know about is ASAP so you can pivot quickly and revise your value offering.
Therefore, it’s critical to verify that your early adopter customer has a nimble and agile operation (and company culture). This includes a short and efficient decision-making process, and the ability to deploy new products quickly and effectively.
In addition, good practice will be to start with a pilot program, on a limited scale, and in a controlled environment. Once the pilot deployment has been successfully completed, and all critical lessons learned and required changes made, you can move forward with a larger-scale deployment (still with the early adopter).
Perceived as a Credible Reference
This is extremely important. The main role of an early adopter is to validate your value proposition and business model. In addition, to serve as a reference for the next wave of customers also knows as early majority customers.
Therefore, your early adopter needs to meet two critical qualifications. First of all, it needs to have the same jobs-to-be-done as your target customers, as defined by your business model. That is, it should have the same significant problem/s, need/s, and desires.
Also, your early adopters need to be viewed as credible references by your target customers. For example, when it comes to athletic gear, professional athletes are a very credible reference for regular consumers that engage in sports activities. Likewise, Samsung is a credible reference for other consumer electronics manufacturers when it comes to new TV technologies.
Conversely, as explained in Geoffrey A. Moore’s famous book “Crossing the Chasm“, technology enthusiasts or geeks, are not perceived as a reference by other consumers. A recent example is the failure of the Google glasses.
Commitment to Provide Timely Feedback
Lastly, as mentioned above, you need to utilize the early usage of your product to validate the hypotheses within your value proposition and business model. To do so, you need to obtain as much feedback and lessons as you can. These include feedback about the product’s features and functionality, about its perceived value to the customer, and about your business model.
Thus, it’s important to ensure that your early adopters are up to the task. They have to be willing to provide you feedback in a timely manner. Ideally, that should be a formal commitment. For example, a beta customer agreement. Also, in B2B business models, it would be good to have a formal point of contact at the customer. Someone who is responsible to collect such feedback and submit to your company on a regular basis.
In conclusion, when you are making the critical choice of who should be your early adopters, don’t just settle for those customers who were first to express interest in your product. Be sure to choose the right customers that meet the above criteria. Because the right early adopters can help you enter your target market swiftly and successfully and win your target customers.