How do you uncover why your customers would buy your product and craft a compelling message that resonates with them?
The answer? A framework called Jobs To Be Done.
Jobs To Be Done focuses on a specific customer (i.e. your tribe, target market, customer persona) and uses both qualitative and quantitative data to reverse engineer the driving motivations for buying your products.
The Jobs To Be Done framework is invaluable for all stages of a business: Pre-product, early-stage, growth stage, you name it.
It’s a theory that has been repeated over and over. What it has to teach us simply cannot be ignored.
The framework will help you in understanding what truly motivates your customers to buy your products. And let me give you a hint, it’s probably not what you think.
It’s called “Jobs To Be Done” because it works to understand what “job” your customers are hiring your product to do for them. Just like a person, a business hires someone to perform certain tasks and fill a need. Jobs To Be Done takes the same approach for products. A person hires a product to perform certain tasks and fill a need.
Clayton Christensen tells a story about how a fast food restaurant was trying to sell more milkshakes. They segmented the market both by product (milkshakes) and by demographics (a marketer's profile of a typical milkshake drinker).
Next, they asked people who fit the demographic to list the characteristics of an ideal milkshake (thick, thin, chunky, smooth, fruity, chocolaty, etc.). The would-be customers answered as honestly as they could, and the company responded to the feedback by making it thicker, chunkier, more chocolaty, etc.
But milkshake sales did not improve.
Then the restaurant hired one of Christensen’s associates to help them and he took a different approach: figuring out what “job” the customers “hired” the milkshake to do. After spending time at the restaurant, studying purchasing behaviors and data points, he noticed that a large portion of the sales were made in the morning by commuters.
After interviewing the customers he found that most of them all got the milkshake for a similar reason: to pass the time in the commute with tidy snack that would last the whole trip.
Christensen details the account in one of his teaching sessions:
"Most of them, it turned out, bought the milkshake to do a similar job," he writes. "They faced a long, boring commute and needed something to keep that extra hand busy and to make the commute more interesting. They weren't yet hungry, but knew that they'd be hungry by 10 a.m.; they wanted to consume something now that would stave off hunger until noon. And they faced constraints: They were in a hurry, they were wearing work clothes, and they had (at most) one free hand."
The milkshake was hired instead of a bagel or doughnut because it was relatively tidy and appetite-quenching, and because trying to suck a thick liquid through a thin straw gave customers something to do with their boring commute.
As you could imagine, this was probably shocking to the marketing department who had invested so much time, energy, and money into talking about the milkshake’s features: it’s taste, texture, ingredients, etc. When in fact, the customers actually cared very little about the milkshakes features, and cared much more about the job they could hire it for.
The restaurant was wasting an enormous amount of resources and money marketing the milkshake in a way that no one cared about. When the restaurant changed its marketing to talk more about the ease of use in the car, special morning deals, and improvements to the packaging to make it safer to drink in the car, sales increased.
I imagine the marketers probably described the milkshake to their customers in the beginning like, “The creamy chocolate milkshake delight with chunks of caramel, fudge, and candy bits.” This statement does a lot to describe the product, but fails to describe the jobs to be done. I imagine they shifted it to something like, “Boring commutes to work are a thing of the past—make every commute magical with a creamy chocolate milkshake that lasts the whole ride.”
By shifting the focus of the marketing onto the true motivating factors instead what was assumed, the message is much more effective.
Marketers have a tendency to want to dictate to their customers why they want a product.
Instead, listen to the problems your customers have and the language they use to describe them, listen to the things they want to do, and THEN offer your product to empower them to do the things they want to do.
The world of art is a great example of how the Jobs To Be Done framework can be applied.
Think about what an artist does... is the value of the painting a combination of the quality of the materials used? No, the value of the painting is based on it’s artist, the emotion it evokes, and the beauty it reflects.
The “job” that an art seeker wants to hire a product to do has nothing to do with the paint, materials, or even the quality of the image. The “job” is actually to invoke an emotion, to tell a story about the artist to a friend, and to impress guests who see it.
This is why art salesmen are needed in galleries to sell the paintings. The art salesmen will romanticize the artist’s life, the story of how the painting came to be, the intricacies in the painting, and how sophisticated and distinguished it will make it’s owner.
Apply this same method to SaaS.
In SaaS, the value of the product is not in the materials used (language of code, how many lines of code, the nuts and bolts of features and functions). The value of the product is based on the job your customers hire it to do.
The fundamental difference between jobs to be done and other frameworks is that it describes what the customer can do, instead of what the product can do.
Jason Fried of Basecamp once said, “‘Here’s what our product can do’ and ‘Here’s what you can do with our product’ sound similar, but they are completely different approaches.”
I love the way Jason contrasts the two because “Here’s what our product can do” focuses on the features while “Here’s what you can do with our product” focuses on the jobs to be done, in other words, the abilities your product gives to customers.
The two best way to start fleshing out your product’s jobs to be done are to collect research online and to conduct interviews with potential and real customers.
The key to finding great data online are to find niche websites, forums, and communities that will give you insight into the pains and problems they’re experiencing.
It won’t be easy, and it won’t be quick, but it’ll be authentic.
Start with Google searching, searching Reddit, and searching through niche forums and communities like Indie Hackers, Hacker News, Slack groups, and Facebook Groups. Search for relevant keywords to your product and for phrases that start with words like “How to,” “Problem with,” and “Help.”
I highly recommend looking into Amy Hoy’s Sales Safari process for finding digital “water holes” that you can dip into for key insights into the pains and problems your potential or real customers are experiencing.
The key to conducting interviews with potential and real customers is to ask the right questions.
In order to get unbiased answers, you can’t ask leading questions.
Here’s some great questions you can ask based on the process Claire Suellentrop used for Userlist.io:
Gather all the data you’ve collected between the research online and the interviews into a single place and start organizing into key themes.
Now with this research and interview data in mind, we need to start making a hypothesis about what our customers would hire our hypothetical product to do.
We need to answer three important questions:
1. What ability do I think people want to have?
2. What would be the outcome of having that ability?
3. What pain would they alleviate with that ability?
We need to ask these questions for two reasons:
First, we need to sanity check our hypothetical product to make sure that it’s actually valuable to people and that we’re thinking in terms of what it could enable people to do. Your guess at a hypothetical product shouldn’t be about software. Your guess should be about the types of beneficial outcomes people will get as a result of using your product.
Second, we need a way to quickly explain our idea to people to see how they react to it.
Let’s role play for a second, beginning with some possible answers for our first question, “What ability do I think people want to have?” could be:
Some possible answers for the second question, “What would be the outcome of having that ability?” could be:
Finally, some acceptable answers for the third question “What pain would they alleviate with that ability?” could be:
Now let’s answer these questions for ourselves and answer them in a single sentence.
Fill in the blank:
“I believe that people want to <ability> so that they can <outcome>, and they would pay good money for that because <pain>.”
“I believe that people want to aggregate all their marketing data in one place so that they can automatically generate real-time reports on all the metrics they track every day, and they would pay good money for that because manually exporting data from multiple tools every day into a spreadsheet is tedious and takes too much work.”
Now let’s make this statement a bit more customer-friendly by switching up the wording and order a bit to follow this pattern:
“If you <pain>, you can <ability> with a project I’m working on so that you can <outcome>”
“If you have been manually exporting data from multiple tools every day into a spreadsheet and think it’s tedious and takes too much work, you can aggregate all your marketing data in one place with a project I’m working on so that you can automatically generate real-time reports on all the metrics you track every day.”
Pretty nifty, right???
Congratulations, you just created a USP, which is marketing jargon for Unique Selling Proposition, which is more marketing jargon for: the reason your customers will give you money for the solution you built for them.
Now for the fun part.
You get to take your new sparkly USP and put it in market.
Test, learn, iterate, and evolve.
Jobs to be done is a critical part to understanding your customers and ultimately crafting a single, unique, and compelling selling proposition. Using the research and interview methods along with the templates to start forming a hypothesis, you should have a market-ready USP for the world.
In the next chapter, we’ll explore how to expand the USP into a compelling story that can be used and repeated across websites, ads, pitches, and more.