Chasms of FailureGrowth

The Chasms of Failure: Growth Means Delivering on your Promises (Part Three of a Five-Part Series)

In part one of this series, I discussed some of the tactics companies use to create and maintain growth and the reasons those tactics don’t always work as planned: the Chasms of Failure™. In part two, I discussed the Chasm of Failure to Focus — the one that afflicts companies most often. In this post, I will discuss the Chasm of Failure to Deliver, how it happens and a path to recover. In the next part, I will discuss the Chasm of Failure to Execute, and in the final part of this series, I will conclude with insights on identifying when you have fallen into a Chasm of Failure and what to do if you have.

I noted in the previous two parts that focus is a critical element of growth. Now, I’ll shift from how to find your focus to what to do once you have found it. I’m going to assume you understand your target audience, you know what is valuable to them, and you know how what you do maps to what they think is valuable. I’m also going to assume you’ve done a good job of educating your team(s) and creating the processes to support fulfilling the promises you want to make to your target audience.

This Chasm of Failure is nearly impossible to avoid at some point in a company’s development. Falling into the Chasm of Failure to Deliver means that you know your audience and what promises you are making, and your people are ready to fulfill those promises, but you have missed at least some significant portion of what you are delivering — your product.

Keep in mind that your product is more than just a widget or bit of software. It’s everything you deliver. Everything that a classic marketer would call “product,” along with packaging, services, contract, terms and whatever ongoing support you will deliver, plus your roadmap and vision for the future, is included in what I define as “product.”


Falling into the Chasm of Failure to Deliver is often a result of simple mistakes. Sometimes it’s a misreading of how your promises translate into product, sometimes it’s small things along the way that accumulate. It’s probably not that hard for you to recall a time you bought or used a product and had the reaction, “That’s not how I expected it to work.” That means somewhere along the road, from understanding what the customer wanted to actually creating it, something might have been miscommunicated, or maybe someone thought there was a better way, or something was interpreted differently by different people. None of these shows an inability to build for a customer, only a typical challenge of communication in any organization.

Building a roadmap for your customer’s future is also a challenge. The goal is, when you present your plans to your customers (or prospective customers), they react with a deep appreciation of how well you understand the future of their business. If you’ve been in product organizations long enough, you know how hard it is to get that right for the promises you are making to that customer.

The Chasm of Failure to Deliver might look something like this:

A small software startup I worked with put a great deal of effort into developing a deep understanding of their customer, what their customer considered valuable, how they liked it delivered, and how their businesses — and the value they needed — would change during the following two years. The company had very ambitious growth targets and chose to use one of the tactics I discussed in part one: adding more products. They looked at the capabilities their customers were requesting for the products and what they knew about their customers’ businesses. When I showed up, they had developed a plan that specified how long it would take to build all those capabilities and when each would be ready. They added to this new offerings, which would carry their own pricing and which they expected would become valuable to their customers in the following two years. The result was a laundry list of product capabilities and a schedule.

They had some success in selling current and future offerings to their customers, and they saw some growth, but they also found it was increasingly hard — and expensive — to convince the targeted prospective customers to sign on, and there were more and more onerous terms that those prospective customers would demand. They were in the Chasm of Failure to Deliver.

We discovered the cause of these challenges was that customers are always skeptical of product plans from small startup technology companies (often rightfully so), and when presented with a laundry list, the discussion quickly focused on how the prospective customer would be certain their particular needs would arrive on schedule.

We worked to resolve this by reshaping the roadmap. We made it into a story of how the customer’s business might develop and grow, what they would need to make that growth happen, and how this company would deliver those needs. In other words, the story we created focused on what the customer found valuable, what valuable promises the company would make and how the company would fulfill those promises.

As the sales team, supported by the product team, began to tell that story, sales became easier, fewer customers put their skepticism in the way of creating the envisioned future, and growth started to become easier.

The Way Out of the Chasm of Failure to Deliver

Knowing the promises you intend to make to your customers is always the first step out of every Chasm of Failure. It’s not enough to choose promises to make, you must constantly validate them with your customers to ensure you are delivering the value you think you are — and that your customers expect.

Climbing out of the Chasm of Failure to Deliver also demands an honest rethinking of what you are delivering and why. Looking at customer complaints can help, but it will only get you pointed in the right direction. Spending time fixing something to resolve every individual complaint will not get you to an offering that delivers on your promises. You have to take a hard look at what promises you are breaking in every case and why. Then you can reconsider how you are building your offerings to fulfill your promises.

Building a great product or a cool product or a leading-edge product is fun and exciting. Building a product about which customers rave, because it never fails to deliver value is the hardest and most rewarding product path of all.

In the next part of this series, I will discuss the Chasm of Failure to Execute. In the last part, I will discuss discovering and making promises, building customer trust and how to scale your focus to become a market leader.

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