Geoff Moore Goes Mainstream
In Silicon Valley, he's known as the Chasm Guy. But Geoffrey A. Moore doesn't take offense. After all, in the past decade, Moore has built a career on his odd nickname. In countless speeches and one-on-one consulting sessions through his tech marketing company, the Chasm Group, he has taught computer makers how to cross the great divide and sell their wares to regular folks. His reader-friendly lessons were the heart of his seminal book, Crossing the Chasm, published in 1991. That work, plus three others on high-tech selling, investing, and strategy, have sold a total of 675,000 copies--blockbuster status in the business-book niche--and made him the latest grand guru of tech marketing.
Now Moore, 54, stands at the edge of a chasm himself. Before, he always preached to the techies. Now he's trying something new: peddling corporate-strategy advice to mainstream companies. And just as marketing to the average consumer was a stretch for tech outfits, this is a great leap for him--not to mention his new clients. "These folks have missed the bus big time" by clinging to economies of scale rather than switching to economies of speed and flexibility, says Moore. "Most, if they stay on the track they're on now, will become a brontosaurus. They're just going to walk off into the pond and drown."
The free-flowing metaphors are vintage Moore. His best-known idea, of course, is the chasm. Moore defines it as the gap between "visionaries"--customers who seize on new gadgets--and more mainstream "pragmatists" who need convincing before they buy. For many tech startups, his marketing ideas have become magnetic north on their business compass. They can size up where their products stand. Then they can adjust their product or marketing strategy to make sales take off. In his third book, Inside the Tornado, he explains how companies that have crossed the chasm can take advantage of a sudden, cyclone-like demand for their products. Bottom line: Just ship. Don't tinker.
In June, he published his fourth book, Living on the Fault Line: Managing for Shareholder Value in the Age of the Internet. In Fault Line, now ranked No. 3 on BUSINESS WEEK's best-seller list, Moore warns Corporate America that its timeworn ways won't cut it in the Internet Age. His prescription: Quickly adopt new strategies that take advantage of the Web and be prepared to shift on a dime. Focus on moves that will boost the stock price, while hiring outsiders to handle such things as manufacturing, accounting, and delivery. To help make themselves nimble and creative, Moore urges companies to thin management ranks and offer stock options to employees.
For many, this advice will sound mighty familiar. That's because computer powerhouses such as Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO) and Sun Microsystems Inc. (SUNW) pioneered and refined these principles over the past decade. Moore codifies their behavior, and he puts his own stamp on things by arguing that each company has distinct business cycles. When an organization is delivering a new set of products, it must focus on product development first, sales later, and customer support after that--shifting resources and outsourcing functions as they become less important. Then it has to start all over with the Next New Thing. Example: After ramping up prototype production of a new car, an auto maker might decide to let somebody else make its cars while it concentrates on marketing them and designing the next model.
Almost a Luddite. Moore seems particularly well-suited to carrying the Silicon Valley gospel beyond tech's borders. He's not likely to put off old-school execs with technobabble, since he's practically a Luddite when it comes to using tech gear. He rarely turns on his cell phone and he only bought his first music CD two years ago. Yet he has watched the New Economy outfits operate at close range. And for $15,000 a day, he dishes up the wisdom he has learned in generous dollops. Indeed, he's a big talker who proudly points out that his grandfather's surname was Malarkey. His gentle but engaging manner charms and energizes audiences of even the toughest managers. "He teaches very much in the best way that college professors teach. He's challenging and provocative but never sarcastic, and he never puts people down," says Peter West, a leadership consultant at Microsoft, a Chasm Group client.
It's no wonder he's so good at teaching. After earning a PhD in English Renaissance literature at University of Washington, Moore began his professional life in 1974 as a college English professor. His thinking about business strategy is rooted in 16th century authors' attempts to reconcile conflicts between Christian and classical philosophies, religion, and the emerging nation-state, he says. Within a tech company, conflicts often arise between the engineers who show a religious zeal for complicated gadgets and the more worldly marketing people who want the engineers to make something people can actually use. Moore brings them together and helps them focus on their common goal: sales.
Moore's ability to help companies get over humps comes partly from his own experience with failure. Before he became a marketing consultant, he worked for two Silicon Valley software companies that flopped--Enhansys and Mitem. Earlier he had bombed on his first attempt to defend his doctoral dissertation on Book II of The Faerie Queene, the 16th century epic poem by Edmund Spenser. "It blew him away. He had never failed at anything," says Marie Moore, his wife of 32 years. "He went back and did it again, and the second time he passed. It's the same with all these companies." Moore is determined to get it right for the companies he advises, she says.
When Moore makes mistakes, he finds out why. At first, he chalked up the demise of the software companies where he worked to personal failure. Then he thought again. "I felt: `Damn it, this is happening too often. It can't be a mistake. There's something going on here."' What was going on, he discovered, was that tech companies often achieve their initial successes by marketing to early adopters of the latest technologies. Later, those same marketing techniques fail miserably when applied to people who don't want to know a bit from a byte.
Moore's revelations led to a new career as a management consultant. He learned the trade at the hands of a master when he worked for famed Silicon Valley marketing guru Regis McKenna. Then, after his first book caught on in 1992, Moore formed the Chasm Group in Palo Alto, Calif. It was a winner. The firm's six partners did $5 million in business last year.
Moore seems an unlikely capitalist. A flower child in the 1960s, he wore a Nehru jacket to his 1968 wedding--a ceremony performed by a since-excommunicated priest. His marriage was daring for the time: He was from an upper-crust Portland (Ore.) family. Marie was first-generation Filipina-American. He rejected a business career early on in favor of trying out academia as an English professor at Olivet College in Michigan, where he taught for four years. But small-town racism got in the way. The last straw for the Moores came when their daughter returned home from kindergarten and told them other kids weren't allowed to play with her because of the color of her skin. The Moores fled to the Bay Area to make a new start.
There Moore is known as an engaging speaker with a winning personality. He jokes that he's a "charlatan" and jumps at every chance to sell himself and his ideas. During a recent lunch at Manhattan's Four Seasons hotel, for instance, he noticed a group of potential clients at a nearby table. On the way out, Moore stopped and schmoozed for several minutes.
For all his charm, clients say Moore is no snake-oil salesman. "He's not trying to get people to accept the principles that he's outlined in some book with blind faith," says client George Conrades, CEO of Akamai Technologies Inc., a Web content-delivery service based in Boston. "He's excellent at getting people to debate, to test them and not just accept what they say but to challenge them." When Conrades was CEO of BBN Corp. in the mid-'90s, Moore persuaded him to stay focused on being an Internet Service provider. So BBN sold its Light Stream switch division. "Focus and execution are paramount for companies like these," he says.
The value Moore brings is more in the man than in the books. Because he's meeting with different companies almost daily, Moore develops market intelligence that allows him to pass along the latest ideas. Many of the concepts in his books are admittedly second-hand. He refers to Harvard professor Clayton Christensen's The Innovator's Dilemma so often in Fault Line that you might wonder why you're not reading Christensen instead. "The issues aren't new. But phrasing them succinctly is," says Jeff Hawkins, the chairman of Handspring, a maker of handheld devices. "It makes you think. The concepts crystallize things you sort of know. But do I run my business by them? No."
An ad for himself. Nevertheless, some of Moore's clients have become ardent fans. Robert Peebler, vice-president for e-business strategy at energy-services giant Halliburton Co., read early drafts of Fault Line and already is putting it to use. Halliburton is expert at using information technology in its operations, and Peebler has begun taking over the tech operations of some of his company's oil and gas clients. That lets his clients focus on exploration, while Halliburton runs the databases that help their geologists decide where to drill. "It's a mission-critical service to them, but they don't need to be doing it themselves," Peebler says.
So far, Moore hasn't landed a major consulting gig with a large nontech company. But he's counting on Living on the Fault Line to help him gain entry into the board rooms of America's giant corporations. "This is an ad campaign, really," he says. About 50,000 copies of the book have been sold since its June launch, according to publisher HarperBusiness. That's more than Crossing the Chasm sold in its first two years. If sales keep up, this tech industry guru may be able to make his giant leap to the mainstream.
For a Q & A with Geoffrey Moore go to ebiz.businessweek.com.