No one buys your product. No, I mean literally; customers don’t want or need products, what they want is to get a job done.
This distinction might seem obvious, but when you think that about 95 percent of new products fail, that’s a lot of product managers segmenting their market the wrong way (no offense).
Technology is changing too quickly to be a reliable differentiator. Meanwhile, the job that the customer is hiring your product to do doesn’t change, which makes it a stable target.
As Theodore Levitt famously said in the sixties: “customers don’t want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole”. Whether your drill connects to the Internet doesn’t matter if it can’t make a decent hole.
And this applies to everything:
A surgeon doesn’t want a VR headset, she wants to be trained enough to avoid making mistakes and risking a patient’s life.
Your retention team doesn’t want CRM software, they want to prevent churn.
If you know what job customers would hire your product to do, you don’t need to guess how to bring it to market or how to innovate in your category. In this post, I will explain how to find out.
To become a purpose brand commanding a premium price, first you must become a master at identifying what those jobs are, then how to help your customers get them done with an added value.
I often discuss marketing strategy with friends who also work in the industry. One of them (we’ll call him Jordan) manages all retention efforts for an online gambling group.
When he started there, he was completely oblivious of office politics and had never heard of Peter’s Principle. Jordan was a seasoned marketer and had done very well for himself in the past, but he had done so as an entrepreneur, and this was his first role as an employee.
Most of Jordan’s colleagues had been promoted from customer services over the years, and his first months in his new role were spent trying to get used to his colleagues’ mentality and speak the same language.
One of the biggest struggle, it seemed, was to agree on the definition of a customer need. Customer requests, sales requests, game or feature “ideas”, new technologies… Anything could be called “a need” (especially bonuses).
Another worrying observation was that the culture seemed to prioritize guessing, testing and “failing fast” instead of taking the time to come up with a strategy and stick to it.
This reactionary mode, combined with siloed departments and poor communications nearly made him lose his mind. It was a flawed and inefficient process.
The problem with these definitions is that they are variables and as such, they change over time. To stay ahead of competition, there must be a focus on stable needs.
Humans are formidable hackers, they constantly adapt their environment to fit their needs, often without even thinking about it.
This is often where clever product managers can find the biggest growth opportunities, because customers don’t want to stitch lots of incompatible solutions together to get the entire job done.
Rather than defining markets according to product categories or segmenting your customer base into target demographics, put your ethnographer’s hat on and ask yourself why your customers do what they do (or why anyone would).
Because let’s face it: defining your market based to your product category doesn’t work. It’s like driving looking only at your rear mirror, or basing your acquisition strategy solely on customers you already have.
Being 18 to 34 years old or being married with kids doesn’t cause anyone to buy specific products, they’re merely correlations. As a product manager, what you want to uncover is the root cause.
Going back to Jordan, correlations could indicate that giving free money to customers increases conversion in the short term, but over time, those new customers are very likely to churn. Probably even faster than the guys who did not receive a bonus.
Why? Because studies show that most players aren’t hiring online gambling to “win money”, they are hiring gambling to “be entertained” (“get my mind off something or someone”, “pass the time while waiting for something”).
The moment Jordan stopped focusing on money to focus on time spent playing (the real currency), the results proved him right; The user experience onsite had a lot more to do with retention than limited time offers.
On the organizational side, having a separate team thinking about retention without linking their efforts to acquisition prevented progress on both sides.
The Jobs To Be Done theory was first introduced by Clayton Christensen and “focuses on deeply understanding your customers’ struggle for progress and then creating the right solution.”
In that sense, it is similar to design thinking in that it’s a human-centered approach. Both believe that the degree to which you understand the users’ motivations can make the difference between successful and unsuccessful innovation.
It might seem rather simple at this point, but jobs are actually complex and have functional dimensions, but also social and emotional ones.
Notice how “get my mind off something” is solution independent. Netflix, walking the dog or hitting the gym could also be hired for this job. Because the need for distraction has been around forever, it is indeed a stable need worth focusing on.
A gambler who wants to showcase his skills and thinks he can beat the system might be more tempted to play poker or bet on sports to “be entertained”, boasting about his prowess on social media on his good days, while another who lives in a country where gambling is considered shameful might prefer to keep her slot machines habit to herself. And these are just examples of recreational gamblers.
The main reason why so many companies struggle to work with these metrics is that we live in a world where “business intelligence” has become a synonym of “Big Data analysis”, meaning focusing on the meta, the quantifiable and the past.
Meanwhile, innovation and product planning should focus on the future, which makes the market terribly hard to define. A lot of people end up going back to old habits, because traditionally, their company’s data has been organized by product category or customer demographic, so they feel they must work within the same segment to get conclusive data.
Getting data about a job requires commitment and to get out of your comfort zone. While you investigate, use these four techniques to get it right:
1. Always ask why. In focus groups, surveys, prototyping interviews, ask customers why they use a certain product. It can be yours or your competition, but the answer should give you a good idea of the stable need hidden behind the hire.
2. “When I wake up in the morning, I think about…” When your ideal customers wake up, what do they think about? Do you wake up wondering which software development firm to hire, or do you wonder what your customers want the most? Was this question on people’s mind 100 years ago? If not, your job statement might be too specific or include a solution, in which case you don’t have a stable target.
3. Use goal-driven verbs. Good job verbs are action verbs and define the goal the customer is trying to reach. Define, understand, acquire, diagnose and teach are just a few examples of verbs you might use.
4. Don’t forget the social and emotional aspects. To provide a better solution for your customers’ job, you must also identify the emotions surrounding the job. Use your empathy to think about what feelings could be linked with a job and how your customers want to be perceived (or not).
Even though jobs represent stable needs, it doesn’t mean you can move on to something else once you’ve determined which ones you should be focusing on.
Think about your job: getting hired was just the beginning. Now you must go to work everyday, and if you don’t do what your boss expects you to do, you could get fired.
Customers are very much like your boss. Even if they made the “big hire” of purchasing your solution (product, software-as-a-service, consulting…), it doesn’t guarantee that you will live happily ever after.
“Small hires” as just as important, if not more. That is when customers unpack your product after leaving the store, when users login to their account and interact with your software, when they make a call to customer service or when they read your email.
If you don’t consistently delight them by providing the most efficient, painless solution to help them make the progress they’re trying to make, they will fire you.
By reviewing your metrics to align them with the job to be done, you can increase the likelihood of getting hired repeatedly.
Measure the speed and accuracy with which your solution is performing the job and make sure to get behavioural data to identify the social and emotional components of the job.
In Competing Against Luck, Christensen describes Southern New Hampshire University’s job as “providing adult learners with credentials that will improve their professional prospects as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
One of the metrics they used to improve their performance was the time between inquiries about financial aid and responses by the admissions team. By bringing it down to 10 minutes instead of 24 hours, SNHU’s conversion rates exploded.
Use this formula to define which metrics to measure:
Direction (e.g. “reduce”) + metric (e.g. “time”) + goal (e.g. “obtain financial aid”)
Back to our slot machines, one of the metrics could be “increase play time per dollar spent”. Since the job to be done, at its simplest, is entertain, the more time customers get to play for their money, the better.
Turning your mindset, data and processes around Jobs To Be Done helps identify unmet needs, broaden your view of competition and identify other solutions’ weaknesses, generate the most relevant product ideas, and mitigate risk in your product road map.
Adopt a human centric approach by constantly asking why and show empathy by weighing in the social and emotional components associated with the job.
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