By Cesare Ferrari, TRB Chemedica International
Every medtech company aims to build a successful product and have a seamless launch. But for this to happen, you must first identify early adopters of your new product. You should also develop a commercial plan to engage with them before the launch.
In the early stage of product development, you must be very specific in developing an actionable and detailed description of your early adopters. That way, you can interact with them during product development and validate the product’s utility.
Let's explore this concept in some detail.
Who Are Early Adopters?
The media often define early adopters as a customer segment of young, well-off, and tolerant to risk individuals keen to try new technologies. Think of the long lines for each new iteration of the iPhone.
Sometimes, a similar description is used in the medtech business. However, early adopters are not necessarily pioneers or groundbreakers.
Geoffrey Moore1 and, before him, Everett M. Rogers,2 famously identified five segments of customers to explain product adoption.
- early adopters
- early majority
- late majority
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In this psychographic market segmentation, each segment reacts differently to the introduction of a new product compared to the other groups.
What Crossing The Chasm Tells Us About Early Adopters
According to Geoffrey Moore,1 “Innovators pursue new technology products aggressively... This is because technology is a central interest in their life, regardless of what function it is performing.”
Conversely, “early adopters, like innovators, buy into new product concepts very early in their life cycle, but unlike innovators, they are not technologists. Rather they are people who find it easy to imagine, understand, and appreciate new technology's benefits and relate these potential benefits to their other concerns...”
The definitions by Geoffrey Moore are prevalent, and people in the healthcare business frequently refer to the concepts in his book Crossing the Chasm. However, the theories and strategies presented there have two prerequisites as foundations:
- The Discontinuous Innovation Model
Discontinuous innovation can also be referred to as breakthrough, radical, or disruptive innovation, requiring a significant change to be adopted.
For example, it requires users to change their current practice or to modify other products and services they rely on. Conversely, continuous or incremental innovation refers to upgrades or enhancements to products or services that do not require a significant change in the status quo.
- The High-Tech Marketing Model
The second prerequisite is that the book discusses the high-tech marketing model and the adoption life cycle of new technology in that market.
When discussing early adopters in medtech, many people refer to Moore’s book. However, it is important to note that the book does not apply as well to our medtech market as it does to other markets. Discontinuous innovation is introduced in the medtech market less frequently than in the high-tech market, and the market dynamics are different. Moore’s definition of early adopters does not always apply to medtech.
How To Identify Medtech Early Adopters
To correctly identify early adopters, it is necessary to classify the kind of new product you would like to develop and the degree of innovation it will bring to the market.
In essence, your early adopters are not necessarily the customer segment happy to try new technologies or highly innovative products.
I believe early adopters are potential customers with tangible and well-identified needs. They have such vital needs not satisfied by currently available solutions that they are open to trying and using your product before other market segments would try them.
The concept of early adopters is strongly related to the idea of customer need. According to Griffin and Hauser,3 a need is "a description, in the customer's word, of the benefit to be fulfilled by the product or service."
The benefit generated by the product will produce significant value for the early adopters, and possibly it will help them to fulfill their personal values.
4 Key Characteristics Of Early Adopters
- They have a demand: Early adopters have a problem that produces a need. This implies a benefit that brings value to the customer. It includes a context since the conditions are situational and related to fulfilling personal values.
- They are aware of their need: Early adopters know they have a need. They are aware of their problem, and they can explain the impact of the problem and its consequences.
- They are searching for a solution: Early adopters actively search for a solution to their problem. These customers feel so much pain that they seek a way out. In some cases, they have elaborate tactics, workarounds, operational processes, or use a combination of competitors' products or services to try solving it. However, they are not fully satisfied with their current solution.
- They have a budget: Early adopters can mobilize resources to satisfy their needs and solve the problem they are facing. After all, targeting customers is pointless if they cannot pay for the product.
True early adopters feel the pain and are ready to invest in a solution.
An Example Using A Medtronic Product
A few years ago, Medtronic launched the 30k burs, a new range of rhinology burs specifically designed for frontal sinus drilling. And it had to be used alongside the M5 Microdebrider. The new product was based on a new technology compared with the previous generation of the product on the market, but the new product was correctly considered an incremental innovation.
The new range of 30K burs offered higher maximum speed and effectiveness, improved stability, and reliability in a broader range. Besides, it showed that the previous generation’s users who wanted to adopt them would not need to make a major change.
As for the early adopters, we identified two targets during the launch:
Customer Targets #1
This group of customers used the previous generation of Medtronic products, but they were not completely satisfied because that product line was unreliable and not very effective.
In search of a better solution, they began to use manual instruments and surgical drills or competitive products. However, those solutions were not optimal compared to the new product line.
Note: It was easy to identify this set of customers because they had used previous-generation solutions but no longer did.
Customer Targets #2
This second group was made up of customers who kept on using previous-generation products and who could modify their surgical practice to manage their products’ weak points.
Note: It was easy for the sales force to spot this group of early adopters because they frequently complained about the product line, saying it was ineffective and unreliable.
Based on this analysis, you can see that both groups had four things in common:
- They had a need to perform frontal sinus surgery.
- They had a problem with the previous generation product line.
- They were actively in search of a solution.
- They were not completely satisfied with their quick fixes.
Why Is It Important To Identify Early Adopters?
You need them when developing a new product: This can be when you need to collect feedback on concepts, minimum viable products, prototypes, or to perform usability tests. This way, your company can collect necessary information and validate products and business models with these users.
Market entry: Even if your new product targets a broad market and all the market segments, the best way to enter the market is to start selling to early adopters.
They have a clear and informed need, and it will be easier to sell to them. Besides, the sales effort tends to be lower with early adopters because they are keen to invest resources and are low-price sensitive compared to mainstream buyers.
Time and money savings: Focusing on early adopters helps you save time and money. This is because you will proceed step by step on a plan you've prepared with the best information available from studying the market and learning the dynamics.
Also, launching a product in a specific segment will allow you to start small and stay focused.
Helps product adoption: Early adopters are critical. Hence, you can use their product acceptance and endorsement as a tool for developing a credible sales pitch. It's also a strategy for onboarding late adopters gradually.
It is imperative in product development and product launch to identify your early adopters because they are among the first customers in the market to adopt your new product or service.
Besides, early adopters can help reduce the skepticism and the perceived risks associated with using a new product. They assist with market acceptance and are the first point of call to the successful launch of a new product.
Remember that individuals do not always line up as early adopters in all areas of their decision-making processes, since they can move back and forth along the curve based on the problem (need) they are trying to solve.
- Moore, G. A. (1999). Crossing the Chasm. Oxford, UK: Capstone Publishing.
- Rogers, E. M. (2003). Diffusion of Innovations (5th ed.). New York: Free press.
- Griffin, A. and Hauser, J. R. (1993). The Voice of the Customer. Marketing Science, 12,3, 1-27.
About The Author:
Cesare Ferrari is area director CSEA at TRB Chemedica International. He is a sales and marketing leader with an extensive international experience in healthcare (pharma and medtech). He holds a master's in pharmaceutical chemistry from the University of Milan and an exMBA from SDA Bocconi School of Management — Milan. You can find him on LinkedIn.
*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position, opinions, or thoughts of TRB Chemedica International.