It’s been nearly 80 years since American, British, and Canadian troops stormed the beaches of Normandy, France in June of 1944. The successful invasion relied on what came to be known as a “beachhead strategy” — focusing all resources in one local area, in order to gain a foothold before expanding further.
Five decades later, Geoffrey Moore emphasized this concept specifically when he published his now legendary business book, Crossing the Chasm, in 1991.
Moore’s attention was directed towards technology-based startups looking to advance from initial success with early adaptors into the mainstream market. But the concept — start with a narrow focus before expanding further — applies in any number of businesses across any number of situations.
For example, several years ago, I worked with an early-stage company that had created an app that enabled pharmaceutical companies to get opinions from doctors about emerging events or issues in the marketplace very quickly — in a way that existing research providers could not.
The company achieved early success among those individuals who were more tech-forward and less risk-averse — that was their “beachhead.” However, they found that growth had begun to slow down — and were thinking about adding additional service offerings.
Our research found that they had only penetrated early adopters and if they changed how they approached the rest of the market, there was a lot more potential … they hadn’t yet secured their beachhead market. By keeping their focus on their core capability with a specific target market, they were ultimately able to establish themselves as a credible provider of services and expand from there.
Ultimately, they sold the company to a strategic buyer, providing a happy exit for the founders and leaders.
A Clear Focus is Essential
Many businesses, especially those that are struggling, take an “anti-beachhead” approach. Rather than marshaling resources in one area to first gain critical mass, they try to diversify into several areas, hoping to somehow gain traction.
Unfortunately, this type of scattershot approach rarely works.
By branching out too soon, companies can actually make their situation worse. They divert resources from the target market, which slows growth even further. And, because they lack a foundation of customers or services on which to build their reputation and deepen their expertise, the approach usually fails.
This thinking can be true with nonprofits, too. Some years back, I worked with an organization that, while modest in size, offered 13 different programs! Not only did this make it challenging to convey their value proposition to prospective funders, because they were spread so thin, they struggled to create significant impact with any of their programs.
Once we were able to sharpen their focus to just three or four closely related program offerings, their ability to deliver impact in the market improved significantly and their funding story became clearer.
Pick a Lane and Own It
Diversification has an inherently intuitive appeal. It feels less risky to try several things and see which ones develop best over time.
But success in business is not a lottery and holding more “tickets” doesn’t improve one’s chances. Any organization that spreads its resources in too many directions can find its growth and effectiveness limited.
Keep in mind as well that establishing oneself in a specific area to start does not mean that this is all you will ever do. Quite the contrary — success in one segment will help provide the resources and momentum to expand your reach. But you have to build that foundation first.
As Geoffrey Moore famously wrote:
“Most companies fail to cross the chasm because, confronted with the immensity of opportunity represented by a mainstream market, they lose their focus, chasing every opportunity that presents itself, but finding themselves unable to deliver a salable proposition to any true pragmatist buyer.”