“What Job Did You Hire the Product To Do?”

The Why Behind Your Prospect’s Want

Of the 30,000 new consumer products launched each year, 95 percent fail.

Clay Christensen, the influential business thinker and renown Harvard Business School professor, tells us why the majority of products hit the dust bin:

The problem often is that their creators are using an ineffective market segmentation.”

In his best-selling book, Competing Against Luck, he says, “It is time for companies to look at products the way customers do: as a way to get a job done.”

As Henry Ford reputedly put it, “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” The truth is that we need to go beyond what customers say they want and understand why customers (or clients) have the wants that they do.  

Christensen’s theory of Jobs to Be Done states that: to elevate innovation from sheer luck to predictable, you have to understand the progress a consumer is trying to make in a particular circumstance.

People purchase products and services to achieve specific goals. They are not buying ice cream, for example, rather they’re buying celebration, bonding, and indulgence.

By focusing on the job of the product or service, you naturally look deeper and discover what drives behavior. Christensen gives a great example of research his team did on hiring a milkshake to get the job done. You will find consumers’ answers surprising.

Back in our marketing classes, we were thought to segment markets by products, like price or function, or to divide the customer base into target demographics, like age, gender, or income level.

Christensen says, unfortunately, neither way works very well:

“the jobs to be done point of view causes you to crawl into the skin of your customer and go with her as she goes about her day, always asking the question as she does something: why did she do it that way?”

Jobs to be Done in B2B Sales

I learned from Professor Christensen, one of my favorite professors, that I did not need to focus on the functional jobs by segmenting markets─all that does is describe what solutions people use today, not what they might be able to do or how they might behave tomorrow.

Instead, I learned you need to focus on the buyer’s motivation to purchase the product. They want to overcome some struggle, and they imagine that buying a particular product or service will make their struggle go away and make things better for themselves.

The concept to keep in mind, especially in B2B, is the economic buyer’s decision versus the user buyer’s dynamic. Often, multiple decision makers make the purchase decisions, each with a stake in the decision. However, there is always one economic buyer: The person who can release the funds for your product or service.

As an example, the chief revenue officer (CRO), the head of sales and the sales team will each have a different vision for the solution or concept of a product like a CRM system. What job will it do? The CRO, due to pressures from the CEO, wants to improve revenue predictability. The head of sales wants to improve the closing ratio and use the system to coach his sales team. Same product, but different jobs to be done.

According to CSO Insights’ 2016 Sales Best Practice Study:

“Different buyers perceive value differently, especially in large deals that can have significant impact on their business success. A finance executive will find more value in a solid business case than the VP of product development, who will probably be more interested in specific features and functions. And the project manager will value implementation advantages more than the raw business case. Sales professionals have to be deeply aware of each buyer’s approach and how to tackle the challenge at hand in a way that suits the organization’s specific context. Dimensions, context, and approaches are different in every buying situation, and the larger the deal, the more important those elements are, for the buyer and the salespeople.”

This rationale is why it is so important to spend time with each buying influence to understand what job are they trying to get done.

Fix, Accomplish or Avoid

As I write in many blogposts, people buy for three reasons. They want to fix something, avoid something from happening or accomplish something for the growth of their business.

Now apply the jobs-to-be-done theory to your prospects. You must probe deeper to gain an understanding of what job they are hiring the product or service to do. You have to understand the job the prospect wants to do within his specific circumstance.

Too many organizations attempt to create the perfect product with the ideal combination of features and benefits to appeal to customers. We think we know what our customer/clients want. However, in reality, this knowingness turns out to be hit-or-miss.

Under the theory of jobs to be done, products are less likely to fail because we more realistically understand what causes prospects to make the choices they do.

Professor Christensen says it is “about progress, not product.” “To elevate innovation from hit-or-miss to predictable, you have to understand the underlying causal mechanism – the progress a consumer is trying to make in particular circumstances.”  If you want to win more opportunities, stand out from the competition with the theory of jobs-to-be-done because it is about helping you make progress, too.

For years, we have conducted focus groups with the buyers of our products and services to understand how we can improve our product and service offering. While this effort may have seemed productive, it did not focus on why the client hired our product and service.

Defining the Job

In my MERGE process, I acknowledge that prospects do not buy products or services per se; they buy what those products will do, then pull those products into their lives to make progress.

With Jobs to be Done thinking, progress is the “job” they are trying to get done. In Christensen’s metaphor, he says that customers “hire” products or services to solve these jobs. When you understand that concept, the idea of uncovering customer/client jobs makes intuitive sense.

This thinking is quite different from the traditional concept of uncovering needs because it entails a much higher degree of specificity. Needs are ever present which make them necessarily more generic.

Christensen makes the point with the statement, “I need to save for retirement.” While this need is important to clients, its generality provides only the vaguest of direction on which to innovate and satisfy that need.

Needs are analogous to trends─directionally useful, but totally insufficient for defining exactly what will cause customer/client to choose one product or service over another. Simply needing to save for retirement isn’t going to cause me to pick one solution over another or pull any solution into my life at all.

Consider this example from the product side. As a kettle maker, it would be easy to conclude that people buy your product to “boil water” even though boiling water is only one step in the real job the customer is trying to get done:  to ”prepare a hot beverage for consumption.”

If you want to keep making kettles, and do not want to focus on the entire job, then you are at risk of a competitor coming along (like Keurig) with a solution that gets the entire job done on a single platform. It is not uncommon for a new competitor to overtake a market by finding the capabilities, resources, funding, technology and know-how to create an offering that gets the entire job done.

Prospects’ Progress

Define a job as “the progress that a person is trying to make in a particular circumstance.” It is key to understanding why someone makes the choices he or she makes. The choice of the word “progress” is deliberate. It represents movement toward a goal or aspiration. A job is always a process to make progress; it’s rarely a discrete event. A job is not necessarily just a “problem” that arises, though one form the progress can take is the resolution of a specific problem and the struggle it entails.

Intrinsic Circumstance

Second, the idea of a “circumstance” is intrinsic to the definition of a job. A job can only be defined, and a successful solution created, relative to the specific context in which it arises. The circumstance is fundamental to defining the job (and finding a solution for it) because it will strongly influence the nature of the progress desired.

The prospect circumstance is important to understand, as we typically look at product attributes, prospect characteristics, trends and competitive response. While these characteristics are important, they are not predictive of prospect/customer/client behavior.

Functional, Social, and Emotional Complexity

Finally, a product/service job has an inherent complexity to it. Not only does it display functional dimensions, but it displays social and emotional dimensions, too. In many situations, we place the bulk of focus on the functional or practical need for the product.

In reality, prospect/customer/clients’ social and emotional needs can far outweigh any functional desires. Imagine you want to buy a lawnmower. Ostensibly, you buy it for its functional ability to mow the lawn. Underneath that desire lies the real job you want to get done: Impress your neighbors with your beautifully tended lawn, and feel good about yourself.

In his book, Christensen offers a more serious example of hiring childcare. He says the functional dimensions of that job are important: Will the solution safely take care of your children in a location and manner that works well in your life? However, the social and emotional dimensions weigh more heavily on your choice: “Whom can I trust with my children?”

In the B2B world, whether the buyer needs to hire a consultant, implement a CRM system or purchase factory equipment, we must recognize he is asking himself, “what’s the job I need to be done?”

Once you answer that question clearly, you are on your way to figuring out the motivating behavior behind the purchase, the real reason he buys.

Christensen warns us to guard against believing everything our product data tells us, especially about market segmentation.  And, instead, keep our eye on the Job to Be Done.

See you on the upside,


For more information, go to www.pleinairestrategies.com
Or call William L. MacDonald in San Diego at PleinAire Strategies LLC at 760.340.4277 or 213.598.4700

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