Understanding customers with Jobs to Be Done

Understanding customers with Jobs to Be Done

Today, I'm going to talk about how you can use Jobs to Be Done to understand your customers and ultimately build better products. What is Jobs to Be Done? You're likely familiar with the idea of building and launching features, but the truth is your customers care far more about your product's ability to help them make progress in their life than any feature you could build. Jobs to Be Done is a framework that we can use to understand customer's behavior. It was first created by Tony Ulwick at Strategyn and was popularized by Clayton Christensen in his famous milkshake video. The premise behind the framework is that customers don't buy products. They hire them to do a job.

A great example of this is Theodore Levitt's quote, "People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter inch hole," and you can extend that theory to a number of examples. Maybe you could even go beyond the quarter-inch hole. Maybe they're trying to hang a curtain in the home, for example. The reason they want to do that is that they want to sit in their favorite chair and read a book and they don't want the sun blinding them as they're trying to do that. To build products that customers love, we need to uncover the desired outcome that they have, or in other words, the job to be done that they're hiring our product to do. Jobs come in a number of forms. They can be functional jobs. They can be social jobs, or they can even have emotional components as well.

If you think about some of the products that you use day to day, try to put them into those three categories, it might help sort of put a clearer picture in your mind of some of the products that you're hiring in your own life. But it's important to note the Jobs to Be Done are product agnostic in the same way that people don't hire or don't buy a product. They're hiring to do a job. Jobs exist regardless of the existence of a product. We need to focus on why people want the features that we build and then what situation with what motivation and to what end. What is that desired outcome that they're trying to get to? Why do we need to do that? Well, because building successful software products is becoming more difficult than ever. Just look at this graphic from the marketing technology landscape from 2017.

There's more than 5,000 marketing technology companies alone. Because of that, cost of acquisition has risen more than 50% in the last five years. Every new product that we launch is competing with more alternative solutions than ever before. But part of the problem and part of the reason that a lot of these products fail is that we're just not talking to our customers enough in a research capacity to understand those Jobs to Be Done. Just three in 10 companies are talking to their customers in a non-sales capacity on a regular basis. Why is that? Well, there's a number of reasons. It can be time consuming. It can feel invasive.

You don't want to take too much of your customer's time, or maybe you're just not sure how to go about doing effective research yourself to better understand those Jobs to Be Done that we talked about earlier. From here, we're going to dive into some sort of tangible and actionable steps that you can take to help reduce the time that it takes you to learn about your customer's context, learn about the job to be done, and learn about their motivations, which ultimately could be the reason why they either hire or fire your product. A research sprint is a tool that we can use to help us learn more from our customers, make better decisions, and most importantly, move fast with confidence. There's four sort of key elements to a research sprint.

First, research questions, scheduling the participants, conducting the interviews themselves, and ultimately and sort of why we're doing all this to be able to extract insight that we can use to make confident decisions about our product. The first step with any research project or research sprint that you do is to identify research questions. What are we trying to learn by doing this? Where do we have the biggest gaps in our understanding of the customer? These questions or gaps may come from a number of different areas. They could be you have a new idea for a new feature or a new direction that you want to take the product, but you're not sure exactly how it will work exactly. If there's a need for it, exactly how that will fit in with your customers.

It may be a problem that a customer brought to you that you need to do some further research on. Maybe something to help you scale your product. Maybe you're expanding into a new market and you want to understand what are the Jobs to Be Done, what are the goals and the current barriers for people in that new market. But the goal here is to identify the untested assumptions that we need to either validate or invalidate to give us the confidence to move forward. The next question to ask is who can help us close that gap? This is typically very dependent on your answer to the first question. It maybe taking a look at your most successful current customers. Who are the people who have the highest lifetime value? Who are the people who are most active in your product?

Are they people who you're able to ask these questions and give you answers which will help you move forward, or they maybe people who've recently churned from your product. We talked about switch interviews. Typically, the people who will give you the most accurate or most representative information insights are the people who've either recently churned from your product or recently signed up for your product. Those are three good places to start when it comes to answering this question about who can help you close this knowledge gap. The last step is to prioritize the questions. What is the first question that we need to answer? What is the riskiest assumption that we have? What is the biggest unknown that we have that will prevent us moving forward with our project?

The next step once you have your research questions, you've identified who you're going to ask those questions of is to actually think about how you're going to schedule your participants. I think this is a place where a lot of people get stuck and sort of comes into or becomes a high barrier to doing interviews and talking to customers or feels like a high barrier. There are four main ways that I recommend scheduling participants for interviews. The first is direct outreach. This will be probably the most common method that you can use if you have an existing customer base.

You presumably have a user list or user table of some description that you can segment by the categories that we mentioned a moment ago by people who've recently signed up, by people who have a high lifetime value, that are very active in the product, or by people who have recently churned. You can reach out to them directly with a cold email. It's a good idea to keep those emails short and personal and try to position yourself as a partner who's going to be adding value for them through this conversation. But ultimately your goal here is to understand them, not to pitch a product, not to sell, but to really get a deeper understanding of how they use your product or maybe how they used the product previously or planning to use a product that is not yours in the future.

It can be really helpful to use a scheduling tool like Calendly or similar to simplify the process of booking a call for them. The second category of people that can be a good sort of channel for scheduling participants is customer support. If you have inbound questions, inbound queries, A, you can get a lot of useful insight from the queries and conversations themselves, but they can also provide a great jumping off point to have a deeper one-on-one conversation if you're able to get somebody on the phone from those touch points. In that case, you already have the same sort of context about them. You know who they are, how long they've been a customer of your product, and you can tailor your questions accordingly based on that.

The final two here are most useful if you do not have a large existing customer base. Maybe you're a brand new product or maybe you're sort of just getting started with your product in the market, but looking at online communities like Slack groups or forums or even review sites. Amazon Reviews is a great example of this. Places where people are already talking about the problems that your product solves or they're already raising questions or concerns or frustrations with an existing solution. They can be a great place to jump in. Again, not in a sales capacity, but in a purely exploratory or research capacity. Try to have a deeper conversation to understand what's going on though, what the current behavior is, and how they're thinking about solving the current problem.

The final one is social media. Similarly, to review sites and forums, this can be a great way too. You can use advanced Twitter search. Other social networks have some kind of advanced search as well, so searching for keywords related to either the problem that you solve or if you know competitors in your space using... Customers that are already having a conversation with those competitors can be a great way to identify people who maybe helpful and be able to provide insights to help you understand the job to be done and again the current frustrations that they have with trying to get it done. Thirdly, this is probably the biggest step is conducting the actual interviews themselves.

One thing that's really important to remember here and I think is something that often sort of scares people away from doing interviews or wanting to have sort of conversations with their customers on a regular basis is looking at them like interrogations rather than just conversations. When I'm interviewing customers, whether for a client or for my own business, I try to think of it as a conversation that I would like to have in a coffee shop or in a bar or somewhere in an informal setting where you can build a rapport with the customer or the person on the other side of the phone or screen or if it's in person across the table, but you want it to be low risk for them. You don't want them to feel like there's a lot riding on this conversation and you're deeply invested in something.

You always want to make them feel as comfortable as possible and try to ensure that you're not biasing their answers or sort of preventing them from revealing things that maybe very helpful for you to know. The second thing is to ground your interviews in understanding their existing behavior. A great way to do that is to try to get them to explain things in concrete terms. If you're asking them about let's say how they currently work out, what are their current fitness habits, instead of asking them how often do you work out, ask them something like how often did you work out last week. Get them to be specific as possible about the exact behavior which they have. Because otherwise you can find that people will say, not intentionally, but they will not represent the truth to its sort of fullest extent.

That's a really helpful tactic to get people to talk about things that are really going on in their day-to-day life. Finally, searching for the why behind everything that you hear is really important. Whenever you hear something that might be interesting or something that is maybe unrelated to your original question, try to ask why. Why is it that you do it this way? Why do you use that tool instead of this? Why do you do it at this time, for example.

Because often you'll find that following the trail of the interview in search of that why, sort of in search of the truth, will give you much deeper insights than following a strict script and trying to answer all your questions or ask all your questions that you have in your script because you'll really get to the things that are important to the customer rather than just the things that are important to you. Finally, the final step and probably the most important one is extracting actionable insights from all your interview data. One thing that makes this step much easier is if you're able to record your conversations. There's a number of tools that can help you to do that.

Recording isn't always possible, but if you're unable to record them, certainly trying to have somebody else who is able to take notes and allow you to focus on the conversation can be invaluable. The three things that I try to focus on when I'm pulling insights from the research data is trying to understand the context, similarly to trying to tie actions to sort of real world events. Why is this customer saying this? Why do they do that? What are the other variables at play which are driving their behavior? Secondly, trying to identify the trigger points. What is it that cause somebody to do the things that they do? What are the driving forces behind their behavior? What was the jumping off point? Do they talk to somebody else? Did they experience a particularly painful pain?

What were the things that led them to behave in the way they do? Finally, to tie this back to what we talked about at the very beginning, what is the progress that they're looking to make in their life that is beyond their individual usage or sort of task-based behavior? Where are they trying to get to? If they're using a CRM, for example, it's unlikely that the progress they're trying to make is entering more contacts in a database, right? They're probably hiring that tool or that product in order to close more leads, provide follow-up in a more timely manner to close more sales, those kinds of things. What is that progress that they're trying to make because that can be really helpful in driving the decisions that you make based on these interviews.

Finally, I'll leave you with this, that there are lots of different ways to talk to your customers or to get closer to your customers. It's my belief that the superpower of customer interviews is their ability to identify the tiny, high leverage changes that really drive growth. Often it's not big system wide changes that unlock the next level of growth. It's the tiny incremental things that you'll only discover by being closest to your customers that really will drive that growth for you. Customer interviews are a great way to unlock those little nuggets. With that, thanks so much for the listening. I hope that this gives you an overview on how you can use Jobs to Be Done interviews to better understand your customers, and use those insights to build better products.

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