The Right and Wrong Ways to Identify Early Adopters for Your B2B Startup

Steve Jobs famously said that people don’t know what they want until you show it to them. But, if no one knew what they wanted until others started using it, how would new solutions get traction in the first place? What about early adopters?

In 1991, Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm introduced marketers to the five customer groups part of any market. Although Steve Jobs was right in saying that most customers won’t know what they want until it becomes popular, two of these groups will.

Crossing the Chasm - B2B Early Adopters for Customer Development
The five customer groups from Crossing the Chasm

Defining Early Adopters

B2B Early adopters and innovators know what they’re looking for. They can see the value in an incomplete solution and have the potential to help you find product opportunities in the enterprise. This is why this group needs to be your first target.

As leaders, early adopters have a great understanding of the technology landscape both inside and outside of their company. They also have a higher tolerance for risk and a greater ability to see the potential of new technology than most of their colleagues.

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They may not always have a budget or turn out to be your customers, but they can help open doors for your product and direct you to the right people in the enterprise.

How to Spot B2B Early Adopters

We typically recognize B2B early adopters by these signs:

  • They’re actively looking for a competitive edge;
  • They have the ability to find new uses for a technology;
  • Early adopters seek out and sign up for early trials and betas;
  • They like to be unique and share new products (it makes them feel good);
  • Sometimes they exert some kind of technological leadership in their companies (although they may not be in a leadership position);
  • They will use a product that isn’t complete.

That last point is particularly relevant for us.

Early adopters are, by definition, early customers of a company, product, or technology that can also be likened to trendsetters. They are not a social club or a personality type.

It’s important to understand that (being an early adopter) it’s not a personality type, so we get lost, especially in the tech scene, people assume that ‘people who are early adopters and get the new iPhones are the same people that go and try the new coffee shop’ and that’s not true.Brant Cooper, Lean Entrepreneur Author and Entrepreneur

There is no bar where they hang out to talk about new technology adoption; it’s not that easy. Early adopters are market and solution specific; being an early adopter in Human Resources software doesn’t make you line up to buy the latest iPhone on the day of its release.

How to Find Early Adopters

The best way to find internal champions is through your network, no further than one link away (i.e., friends of friends).Steve Blank, The Four Steps to the Epiphany Author

One of your biggest challenges early on will be to find early adopters to speak with.

The best way to find early adopters is to start with the people you know, through your personal network at one degree of separation.

Your professional network will be a crucial driver of your success. Do you have contacts in your network that fit the profile of early adopters in your industry?

Take the time to go through all of your contact lists (email, mobile, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.). Make a list of every project you’ve ever worked on and everyone you’ve worked with. Draft a list of potential early adopters working in your target market.

Do the same for your contacts’ professional networks using a tool like LinkedIn. Are there people your first-degree connections could introduce you to?

You start with the people you know and the people you can get recommended to as friends or close acquaintances.

If you have close contacts with extensive professional networks, you can ask them to refer people that match your ideal customer profile, but it’s generally best to keep the initiative.

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How to Contact Early Adopters in Your Professional Network

“Here’s what we’re doing; do you know anybody who fits this profile?”

Accountants, headhunters, investors, recruiters and lawyers are notorious for having large business networks. Perhaps some of your partners or other startup founders can help identify a few early adopters to add to the list.

“Who are the most innovative companies or people in this industry?”

After going through your contacts’ professional networks, you should start to have a good list of potential early adopters for your target market.

Start there. These will be the easiest to motivate to work with you.

More on Early Adopters

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