Disrupt, Displace, Bleh. Semantics, right? WRONG

February 4th, 2014 by Matthew Rosenhaft Leave a reply »

I got interesting feedback from my post yesterday. I used very deliberate language to segment a disruptive technology versus a better displacement technology. It was interesting because the people who were in the midst of go-to-market planning immediately gravitated to the difference and the impact on their planning, but those who were involved, but not actively working on a market strategy didn’t see the theorectical difference. I thought I would explain why this was so critical and how it can change your adoption curve dramatically on both sides.

First, let’s clarify what disruption means versus displacement from a buyer’s point of view. Almost all technology companies seem to see this as the same from their perpective hence the go-to-market is the same. “We are going to disrupt the market and displace the leading competitor with our better technology.”

Yes, BUT…. that is from a vendor’s perspective. From a buyer’s perspective as it relates to their adoption, disrupt and displace has tremendous impact on whether they buy or not. Disrupt is perceived as disrupting our current operational processes. The more disruptive, the harder the adoption.

Displace is when they can rip and replace for better affect, lower cost, faster capabilities, or more, but NOT have to dramatically alter the way they do business.

In a buying process, who is at the buying table tells you which side they fall. If it is one or two decision people, but far reaching implementation. They don’t see it as disruptive.

If they have everyone around the table, probably sending you the opposite signal.

In messaging, if you are a displacement for an existing technology with an established market. Your goal should be to “minimize the wake”. Be the easiest decision they ever have to make. Telling them that you are disruptive is actually working against you. Disruptive, change, complicated, etc is bad. Emphasing why you are different is bad. Why you are better, is good. Outcomes is the key. Even though you have amazingly complex technology, but you don’t require a change in behavior. Don’t send mixed messages about your so-called disruptive technology. Talk about your better results. More tangible the better. Simpler the better. An in-market displacement strategy is the best for you.

For the truly disruptive technolologies, where it is a new problem, completely different approach, requires complex sequencing, education on both the problem and the implementation. It is better, but fundamentally really, really different. Simple is actually bad. If you are pre-market, meaning that there isn’t really a competitive marketplace for your technology, comparing yourself to somthing else is actually going to make your buyer more confused. Pre-market being where there are 1-2 competitors, but almost every sale is really about educating the buyer. A lot of no-decisions, committee paralysis, and long sale cycles. Traditional in-market mantras are all about simplifying stuff. Your elevator pitch, your tag line, etc. All that does is force the compexity into the sales cycle. You get a lot of false positives based upon interest, but not a lot of real buyers.

Why? Because in simplifying something that is obviously complex to purchase, you actually genericize your innovation. You oversimplify it. Buyers are not going to make a major decision on ripping and replacing something that has a tremendous amount of disruption on their organization. In trying to make it simple, we reduce ourselves to trying to make it catchy. This makes it less tangible and makes it harder to facilitate adoption.

What is really tangible for these buyers is the pain and underlying causal problem(s). Look, I have been on both sides of these discussions. As a vendor, it is really tough to get agreement from all of the stakeholders from the outside. That is why the conversion sales process is so difficult. The implementation process is even harder. As a decision maker with a committe around a table, it is tough to figure out what is really causing the isssues. Is it one problem, two problems, overlapping symptoms? Are we treating the symptoms or the real problem? Will this work or do we need something else? How do we know?

As a buyer, I would like to have someone come to me with clarity on how do I figure out what underlying problem is causing our pain in our business. Someone who can help me get agreement to the problem, before launching into the solution’s pitch. In short, approach me as a consultant to help me diagnose the problem before switching hats to sell me on the solution. If you have a new technology, obviously you are the most qualified to help me figure out that I have or not have your problem. There aren’t independent consultants out there who know the problems and the solution. You are it. But, if I can’t map your amazingly disruptive-to-my-business solution to my situation, how do I know it really will work? Giving me case studies of businesses that may or may not have the same symptoms just tells me it works some of the time. Doesn’t give me comfort that you can help me. Hence why we spend forever in the sale cycle.

I would like to have you approach me and my peers for a discussion of “How do You Know” around the issues we are living with on a daily basis. I don’t mind reading if it is important to me and my team. I would rather have a frank discussion around our issues and challenges that read technical wonkish stuff. My technical people can validate that suff later. I write the checks, I am accountable for success, and I want to understand it in my business.

Pre-market means that buyers don’t have the experience in the new solution. If it is truly disruptive to their world, you can’t short-circuit the adoption process. Make it tangible by making it about their world and their problems. Not saying this is easy. Usually takes a while selling to see enough deals to assemble enough scenarios to cover the spectrum of problems. If you follow the traditional go-to-market strategies. Hence, the last post. Blending in-market displacement approaches with pre-market disruptive technologies actually hurts you the worst.

Buyer adoption modelling, segmenting to problem, prioritizing and targeting the most critical problems, engaging in top-down-executive conversations about strategic problems and business priorities, discussions about why what their doing today doesn’t really solve their problems, etc. requires a lot more planning, forethought, etc. to get it right. Obviously, I wouldn’t recommend it unless I could do the process exponentially faster, better, and with more predictable results.

But, the point of the post is to highlight that by clearly identifying what problem we solve and what problems we don’t, we are helping provide problem consulting before selling you on OUR complex, disruptive innovation. Our buyers will read it if they believe they have our problem. Why not? Helps them become better buyers, right?

Matthew Rosenhaft

Matthew is a Social Marketing Executive and is co-founder of Social Gastronomy, LLC and the Social Executive Council. Prior to founding Social Gastronomy, Matthew has over 18 years’ experience as an executive in marketing, product management, and sales. Matthew has an extensive background in the SaaS Software, Social Media, Mobile, IT Services, and Telecom industries. He has prior entrepreneurial experience as a founder and executive in several early-stage venture-backed technology companies, as well as, holds several US patents for a mobile marketing technology. Matthew is a prominent blogger and regular industry speaker on social marketing and strategy topics. Matthew’s blog can be found at www.socialgastronomy.com/blog. For more information on Matthew, you can check out his LinkedIn profile at www.linkedin.com/in/rosenhaft or contact him directly at mrosenhaft@socialgastronomy.com.