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Do You Understand the Job Your Customer is Trying to Get Done? [Podcast Recap]

I recently sat down with the folks at Predictable Revenue to talk about one of my favorite theories: Jobs-to-Be-Done. I’m a massive fan of Sarah and her team, and their podcast is chock-full of great content for sales leaders. During our chat, we dove deep into:

  • An overview of the Jobs-to-Be-Done (JTBD) theory
  • The different job types within Jobs-to-Be-Done
  • Customer segmentation and personas and their usefulness for Sales

You can listen to the full episode below, or you can read a summary below. Let’s get right into it.

How to use Jobs-to-Be-Done to understand your customers better

What is the Jobs-to-Be-Done Theory?

Jobs-to-be-done is a framework that helps you understand precisely why customers bring a new product into their lives. It’s the culmination of work by business leaders such as Clayton Christensen, Tony Ulwick, and Ted Levitt. In our conversation, we also discuss how Intercom has improved the framework for SaaS businesses.

“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!” 

Ted Levitt

Customers hire products to do a job. Products match problems, not people. It might sound a bit abstract, so here’s an example: long-distance communication. 

It’s been an issue throughout human history with different solutions: Smoke signals. Lighthouses. Twitter. 

The key takeaway: The customer’s job remains the same—only the product customers hire to do the job changes.

Job Types within the Jobs-to-Be-Done Theory

There are three main job types within the theory. They are all essential to identify. I often explain them to people using Airbnb as an analogy:

  1. Functional jobs. When I’m looking for a place to stay on vacation, I want to filter by price so that I can find a place that meets my budget. 
  2. Emotional jobs. When I’m booking a place to stay on vacation, I want to learn about past guests’ experiences so that I can feel safe staying with this host. 
  3. Social jobs. When I finish my trip, I want to leave my feedback for future guests, so other travel community members will have a better experience than I did. 

Identifying Emotional Drivers Blocking Your Prospects’ Progress

JTBD helps understand the different emotional forces pushing or pulling the customer toward an outcome and those forces keeping them in place. 

  1. Forces moving the prospect to take action:
    1. The push of the situation: “How could this situation be better?” 
    2. The pull of a new solution: My life could be better with this service or product in the future. 
  2. Forces keeping the prospect in place:
    1. The anxiety of a new solution: That’s when customers think, “What if I make the wrong choice? What if it doesn’t work out?”
    2. The habit of the present: The status quo is comfortable, and we’ve already figured out how to work with all the flaws. 

Identifying and empathizing with your prospect’s struggles is the first part of leading them to change. If your customers feel like they’re not understood, they will resist moving forward.

Understanding Different Functional Roles and Competitive Alternatives within your Prospect’s Organization

When using the Jobs-to-Be-Done theory in a B2B context, you need to identify folks’ roles in bringing a new solution into a company. Understand each type of actor and what they care about:

  • The purchase decision-maker (e.g., VP of Sales)
  • The job executor (e.g., SDR or CSM)
  • The product lifecycle support team (e.g., Sales Operations)

“At the end of the day, you should focus on the end-user. Solving the job executor’s role better is going to impact topline financial metrics. But it’s important to understand both.”

Dan Balcauski

Jobs-to-Be-Done also gives you a modified lens on who your real competition is. Most B2B SaaS folks are competing with email and spreadsheets, not the startup down the road. Facebook competes with cigarettes. The user’s context is that they want to procrastinate for five minutes. They may go for a smoke or scroll through social media. Either way, the user is hiring a different product to get the same job done.

Using Customer Interviews to Delineate Between Wants from Needs

A persona is a group of customers with similar jobs, similarly dissatisfied with how current solutions are getting the job done today. Here’s the problem: Product Managers usually build personas around customer demographics or other observable attributes like age, race, geography, and education. But personas developed with these attributes don’t aid design decisions and map to customers in the real world. They end up tucked away in a drawer, not being used. Sad, right? 

I recommend conducting customer interviews to understand the jobs your customers are trying to get done. Your goal is to understand why customers buy. One piece of advice I always give is to try to dig behind the surface-level answers. I recommend asking questions about their past purchase behavior for the product type in question—it’s often a key indicator of future behavior.

Don’t just look for what they say, but how they say it. Are they happy? Sad? Where’s the inflection in their voice? What frustrates them? Who else was involved in the purchasing decision? Interviewing is intensive work, and it might require multiple interviews to construct a complete timeline.

It’s easy to confuse desires with needs. I call it the New Year’s Resolution problem. Everyone signs up for the gym in January, but none are there the 1st week of February. You need to dig behind surface wants and understand your customers’ previous unsuccessful attempts to solve their problems.

If your interviewees tell you they have a problem and haven’t tried to solve it, it’s a want or desire. It’s not a problem. But if it’s something they’ve been attempting to solve on multiple occasions? Then you know it’s a need.

Customer Segmentation and Personas

Once you finish your interviews, you should run quantitative research to validate the hypotheses you uncovered in your interviews. And then use the ratings on job outcomes and profiling variables to build your personas. 

Once you’ve developed your personas, make sure to run them by the frontline sales team. These folks will often have significant experience talking to customers every day, so make sure it makes sense to them beyond the fancy math and analysis used to build them.