A couple of years ago, my CMO and I were working on a messaging refresh for our product. We had ventured into some serious soul-searching as to what our ideal users look like and how we can showcase our value proposition in a way that makes sense to them.
Like good girl scouts, we had our shiny personas all setup, but it was very hard to create messaging that fits them all. Something was missing. That something, as we learned later, was Jobs to be Done.
A few months and several dozen customer development interviews later, we had limited our scope from 4 personas to 2 Jobs to be Done. We knew what were the main benefits our customers cared about. We had discovered a messaging that encompassed them. Based on that, we launched an updated homepage that saw a 28% increase in trial signups and a 10% decrease in bounce rate.
Since then, I have used Jobs to be Done as a framework for customer development in a number of projects and this exercise elevates my clients’ understanding of their target audience like nothing else out there.
So today, I’ll share with you:
- what is Jobs to be Done,
- how to apply the framework in practice,
- what’s the step-by-step process of running your own customer interviews based on it,
- and how to apply the learnings for maximum effectiveness.
If you’re ready for some heavy reading, go on. If you’d prefer a video version, here I shared everything I know in a 1-hour interview with Growth Mentor founder Foti Panagio.
What are Jobs to be Done?
Jobs to be Done (JTBD) came about in the late 90s and was popularized by Clayton Christensen. On a very basic level, it explains what is the motivation of customers when they approach your solution.
The customer Job
We’ve all heard that the person who buys a quarter-inch drill is actually buying a quarter-inch hole in the wall. But Jobs to be Done takes us one step further. It tells us if the person needs to hang up a favorite painting in their new apartment or if the holes will be used to set up bookshelves in their office.
Jobs to be Done goes after the context of the situation and the deeper motivation of your customer. This means that in any of the two cases we’ll:
- focus on different features: ease of use and a built-in level tool vs a sturdy and reliable drill bit for heavy products;
- make slight tweaks to the product: create a novice mode of operation or add a nice case to get the drill out of sight when not in use;
- vary the pricing: create a beginner’s kit and advanced handyman add-ons with drill bits for different materials;
- vary the messaging: focus on customizing your living space with no effort vs a reliable tool that helps you unlock your inner handyman,
- and implement a number of other changes…
The Job (I’ll be using the term with capital J when I mean the element of the JTBD framework) is the high-level task the person is striving to complete and the sense of progress tied to successfully performing that task. So hanging up a picture on your wall is not just about that specific task, it’s about showcasing your personality in your apartment.
The standard phrasing we use to define a customer Job is “When… I want to… So that I…” This covers a few different elements – the context in which the person is operating, the specific task they want to complete and the expected outcome, the end result they strive for.
Here’s a great overview of what a Job to be Done can look like straight from Clayton Christensen:
The process of finding a Jobs to be Done solution
Once you understand what your customers are trying to achieve, JTBD will also help you get a clear picture of their decision-making process.
We often think that purchases are made way quicker than they actually are. And this is because we only take into account the phase of actively looking for a new solution.
In reality, the seed of your new purchase can be planted months in advance. This is what the JTBD framework calls “The First Thought”. This is the moment when the customer discovers they need a new solution for their Job, even if it took them months to actually start actively looking for it.
The First Thought can be a great way to uncover the deeper motivation of your user. For example, I might decide to finally buy a work trip bag because there’s one coming up in 2 weeks. But actually, I started thinking of elevating my work wardrobe five months ago after getting a promotion. This tells you as a researcher that messages related to showcasing “your grown-up work self” will fare better with me compared to details about storage, or the longevity of a top-quality bag.
After The First Thought, there are other important points in the JTBD customer journey that you need to uncover. These are the events that propelled your customer from passively into actively looking, deciding to move forward with the purchase, and actually buying and consuming the product.
In the end, we get a detailed timeline that will help us not just know more about the customer journey, but also ensure we as a brand are present in each stage.
The four forces of Jobs to be Done
As part of the JTBD interview process, you will not only learn the factual side of your customer’s journey, but you’ll also get an understanding of the underlying motivations at each step.
Maybe we need to take a step back here and explain that according to JTBD, your customer is always switching from an old to a new solution. This is sometimes hard to understand, especially to startup founders. If you’re developing a new solution, you might be tempted to believe that the customer didn’t have any alternative before – but believe me, they always do. The trick is to understand that this alternative solution might not fall within your idea of what a competitor looks like.
Let’s say you’re developing an advanced automation solution for some niche business tasks. You’re developing it specifically because you’ve had the same issue and you know that there’s nothing on the market that will help you do the work. So you have no competition, right? Wrong. Think about the ways you organized your work before. It probably included some complex Google Sheets file that the team had access to and worked in. Was it a great solution? No. Did it help you get your job done? Yes. Then guess what: your biggest competitor is actually Google Sheets!
So, in JTBD, your customers are always moving from an old solution to a new one – a process called “switching”. And if you’re trying to get a person to switch, you need to be aware of the forces at play – these are JTBD’s Four Forces.
The Pull forces are the ones that help the customer move away from their old solution and try your new solution. These are:
- Problems or limitations of the existing solution – there is always something that isn’t quite right with almost any product you’re using.
- The appeal of the new solution – we always want to try the new thing, be it out of curiosity typical for early adopters or because of a specific benefit.
The Push forces, on the other hand, play against you and motivate the customer to stay with what they are already using. These include:
- The force of habit – you’re used to it, you already know how to make it work for you.
- Anxiety or uncertainty of change – you never know what will go wrong with a new solution or there are reasons to think it won’t work for you.
During each step of the process we outlined in the previous section there’s a mix of different forces at play. During the customer interview, your job is to find out what they are and how to use them to your advantage.
Competitors reimagined with Jobs to be Done
The final element JTBD will help you understand better is competition.
We’re used to thinking about competitors narrowly because we are only looking at the functional tasks our customers perform. But when you expand this to a broader customer Job you start seeing your true competitors.
There are three levels of competitors you need to focus on:
- Direct competitors – these are the typical ones, the products that solve the customer Job in the same way you do.
- Secondary competitors – these are broader, the products that solve the customer Job in a different way.
- Indirect competitors – these are solutions that completely eliminate the need for that same Job.
Let’s look at our example from earlier, the person buying a drill to hang their pictures at home. In this case, your direct competitors are other drill brands they can choose from. They will solve the problem in the same way.
A secondary competitor might be hiring a handyman to hang all your pictures. They are solving the same task in a different way. Or maybe, rather than getting a traditional picture frame, you’d get one of these fancy new steep prints and you’ll just stick a magnet to the wall with adhesive. We’re already looking at a much broader set of competitors!
Finally, an indirect competitor might be hiring an interior designer who will talk to you and propose a way for your space to reflect your personality and interests. This completely eliminates the need for thinking about hanging pictures on a wall.
We already know much better what solutions customers might use – all thanks to Jobs to be Done.
How to do Jobs to be Done customer development
Now that you know what Jobs to be Done can help you learn, let’s look at the actual research process.
I’ll share the steps, tools, and resources I use and I’ll also try to give you some alternatives. This is based on experience but you might find alternatives that suit you better in time.
Step 1: Preparation work
Customer development is a fickle thing and if you don’t lay the groundwork right it can go wrong before it even begins. So prep is actually half the battle.
Choose who to interview
The most common mistake I see is just getting on with your Jobs to be Done interviews as if all your customers are created equal. But the broader you go with the audience you want to research, the harder it’ll be to actually get enough data to see patterns. You might need 30, 40, or even 50 interviews and that’s a lot of work.
So start by defining really specific criteria about the customer segment you’ll be digging into. The more concrete your targeting, the easier it gets to draw significant insights from just 10-20 interviews.
If you want to use Jobs to be Done interviews to improve your positioning and messaging, then you can start by interviewing your best customers. If you truly understand what they see in you, you’ll be able to communicate that to a larger audience.
You can start by interviewing:
- the customers who’ve been with you the longest;
- power users who use your most advanced features;
- high spenders with larger than average order values…
There are many options, depending on your business. But make sure you set very specific criteria for your interview subjects.
Finally, you want to interview people who’ve recently purchased your solution – ideally, within the last 3 months, or within the last 6 months. That way you’re sure that their first impressions are still fresh and they remember enough about the process they went through.
You can also use JTBD to understand how or why your customers are using a specific feature – just apply all of the above to that feature rather than your whole product.
Contact your interview subjects
The next step is to actually reach out to your potential interview subjects and ask for the interview.
You might think that this will be the hard part but in my experience, people are very open to sharing their stories. You can even get away with no additional incentive but I prefer to provide something of value – just as a way to acknowledge I’m grateful for their time. This can be a gift card, but it can also be a product sample or an extension of their subscription – stuff that will cost you less.
You want to set their expectations right – make sure they know how long an interview is going to take. I usually start by asking for 40 minutes and later I might lower that to 30 minutes. Anything less will make you rush through questions and not reach as deep.
You’d want to contact subjects in batches. First, this will help you spread out interviews over a few weeks. Second, it’ll let you do small tweaks to your invite and try different incentives if you’re getting low response rates.
Finally, make the process ridiculously easy for your interviewees to book a call with you. None of that back and forth “what time works for you” bull – give them a link to a tool like Calendly so that they can find a convenient time and book straight away. If your main set of customers lives in a different timezone, provide them with convenient time slots – even if that means doing the sessions outside of your work hours.
Here’s an example of an email I use to invite subjects to an interview. It sets the expectations right, provides a small gift, and lets them easily book a call.
You can either send these by hand or use a tool like Mailshake to personalize the message automatically.
Step 2: Prepare a Jobs to be Done interview script
OK, you have a few interview sessions booked. But what will you talk about? It’s time to prepare your script.
Set the scene
Talking to a stranger can be weird. So take a few minutes at the start of the interview to let them know there are no right or wrong answers and you just want to hear what they think.
This is also the moment where you should ask if they have a hard stop and if they are OK with being recorded. So far I’ve never had anyone say they don’t want to be recorded.
Drafting this opening will help you not think about what to say and focus on seeming friendly and inviting.
Prepare your Jobs to be Done interview questions
In order to get a full picture, make sure your script covers all the steps in the customer journey:
- the First Thought;
- the Passively Looking phase;
- the event that gets them to the Actively Looking phase;
- their (hiring) criteria when building and evaluating solutions (consideration set);
- the moment of purchase;
- the process of consumption.
I usually start the interview by focusing on the purchase moment. This is a very specific point in time and it’s a good starter. It will help you get your interviewee in “remembering mode” – the more you ask about the specific details of the situation, the more details they will remember, including their motivation and thoughts.
Then you can take them all the way back to The First Thought and work your way chronologically. You want to pay attention to each step and the underlying forces at play.
And when setting up your questions, make sure you stay away from asking “Why” and ask “What” and “How” instead. When faced with a Why-question, people often try to logic their way out and they will give you misleading information in the process. By focusing on the steps they took you will get much more valuable information.
Also, don’t ask “either-or” questions. This locks your interviewees and might cause them the answer you were expecting to hear rather than an answer you never would’ve thought existed. If I catch myself starting an “either-or” question, I’d just trail off and let them finish the sentence – for example, “Did you choose that because of the color or…?”
Don’t stick to the plan
Think of your script as a set of talking points. It’s nice to have it but it’s also important to know when to deviate from it. If you feel there’s something more to an answer, stay there and dig deeper with additional questions. Don’t follow your script in a robotic manner.
Some experts go as far as suggesting you go into interviews without a script. To me, the script provides me with an easy way to see if I’m missing something. It also gives me peace of mind and added confidence which, in turn, makes improvising easier.
Step 3: Call, note, and record
It’s time for the actual call, yay! Let’s see what’s what.
The technical setup for Jobs to be Done interviews
You need to make sure the call is just as easy as the booking process. Depending on your audience that can mean a different tool. Currently, I’m using Zoom a lot, but Uberconference is a great in-browser option and the free version lets you record the interview, as well.
Taking notes during Jobs to be Done calls
You will be recording the interviews so you don’t need very detailed notes. Still, you’ll want to have a big picture overview of what you’ve already covered and where there are still gaps in the story.
The typical Jobs to be Done notes format mimics the progress timeline where you can note down key events and some notes about the different forces at play. You will start off with a clear timeline and add notes to it as you go. You can then see if, for example, there’s not enough detail in the “passively looking” stage. The sheet of paper will get terribly messy by the end of your interview, but you’ll have enough time to get back to it and decipher after the call.
Here’s what an interview notes page looks like when I’m done with it. The top left corner outlines the hiring criteria of that interviewee:
Step 4: Transcribe and map
You will have your recording after the call, but listening to it is a very slow process to take down your notes. The easier way is to get it transcribed and use the transcription for mapping insights.
Transcribing Jobs to be Done interviews
Read and highlight key takeaways
Once you get your transcriptions, get a highlighter and start going through the text. If you’re working with a team, you might want to recruit a colleague to also go through the interview. Two sets of eyes guarantee you’ll get some new details you might’ve overlooked otherwise.
Add impactful quotes and notes to a Jobs to be Done insights file
You’ll want to get all of those valuable insights out of the transcription files and in one place where you can easily analyze the data in bulk.
My working file is made up of a couple of columns. First, you’ll add the actual quote. If there is no short quote, you can retell the fact in your own words. Then you’ll classify the type of information:
- anxieties – what almost stopped users from trying your solution or what they didn’t like about a competitor;
- behaviors – what did your users do while searching for a solution, testing them out or using yours;
- benefits – what users liked in a solution they were trying out;
- channels – what channels they used to find out about new solutions;
- feature requests – you will largely disregard these during the JTBD research but you may want to forward them to the product team;
- hiring criteria – what criteria did they use to evaluate different solutions and choose the right one for them;
- jobs – what were they trying to achieve by using the product, what was the goal, the final outcome, the emotional or social dimensions attached to it.
You’ll also look for mentions of competitors they tried. Get these in a separate sheet and check out the way your customers speak about the other solutions they tried.
You can also take out words customers use to describe your product – take out the nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and verbs they use. This will be valuable insight for your copywriting.
You’ll end up with a file like this, where the columns are your interviewees:
As a rule, there won’t be two people who say the exact same thing, so you’ll end up with a ton of lines in the file. Don’t worry – those 1-marks will serve you in the next step.
Step 5: Gather insights and implement them
Once you’re done with the interviews and you’ve taken out the key quotes from the transcripts you’ll start coding your data to classify your findings.
When are you done with interviews? When you stop getting new data from new interviewees. If you get 2-3 interviews where 80% of the information is stuff you’ve already heard, chances are you don’t need any more. Still, you don’t want to have fewer than 15-ish calls. And remember – the more concrete your interview criteria are, the less interviews you’ll need to conduct.
Code your interview insights
Now it’s time for some old-fashioned analysis. You want to filter out each category of quotes (say, take just the ones marked as benefits), read through, and try to group similar concepts under different key phrases. Here’s how that looks:
Then you’ll take out all the coded key phrases and see how often each one is mentioned:
Remember, this is qualitative research. And as such you’re not just crunching the numbers. They are here to give you a relative understanding of the things that matter to most of your customers as opposed to the ones that were mentioned just by one or two people.
Share your Jobs to be Done findings with the team
We’re almost at the end of the line, folks! We’ve seen the data and gained valuable insights about our customers jobs and the forces at play when choosing a solution to hire.
Now it’s time to present all that information to your teammates. You can organize a presentation where you focus on a couple of different things:
- the hiring criteria people use to assess your solution;
- the benefits they experience after using your solution;
- the anxieties that you need to eliminate to entice a trial;
- the channels you can use to reach your potential users;
- and most importantly – the Job they are trying to fulfill.
I like to focus attention on the things that surprised me and the findings that run counter to our current hypotheses. In the long run, I’d add all this information to our revamped persona profiles so that we take the new learnings into account for future marketing activities.
How to make the most of your Jobs to be Done research
Jobs to be Done is a powerful framework with tons of applications for many different aspects of your business. Here are a few of the key areas.
Jobs to be Done for positioning
You might’ve thought that your product does one thing but if your top customers think something different, guess what you need to go with. Jobs to be Done gives you powerful in-depth information about what your solution does for people. If the interview insights differ from your current positioning ideas, it might be time to revamp.
Jobs to be Done for messaging
The more your copy resembles an actual person talking about your product, the more natural and convincing it’ll sound. All these valuable quotes you took out can make your homepage and landing pages better.
Jobs to be Done for product development
Understanding what your solution does for people will help you know better how to improve it. A certain new feature is only useful if it enriches the customer experience when fulfilling their Job or makes the process of fulfilling that Job easier.
Jobs to be Done in buyer personas
The information about your customer’s Job to be Done is an integral part of your buyer persona. Oftentimes it will be more important than any demographic or psychographic information you have.
This is why I have a separate page in my persona template dedicated specifically to Jobs to be Done. And I would go as far as to urge you to base your personas on that. You might have customers in different age groups or with different personal characteristics but if the thing they want to achieve is the same, you’re better off adding them to the same persona.
Jobs to be Done and customer service
An often-overlooked element is the anxieties people have. These are fears or plain lack of information that can easily make a prospect walk away from you. So make sure you settle any anxieties either straight on your landing page or in your FAQ or knowledge center. And keep open communication with your customer service team – if they find new anxiety that comes up over and over again, address it head-on to settle any fears.
Further reading: Jobs to be Done resources
Obviously, a single blog post can’t go into all the detail about a concept as intricate as Jobs to be Done. So you might want to check out the following resources:
- Intercom on Jobs to be Done – a free book
- When Coffee and Kale Compete – another great book with a free PDF version
- The Mom Test – although not specifically about Jobs to be Done, this book will help you understand why Why-questions suck and how not to prime your interviewees
- JTBD.info – a great blog with tons of great articles
- Mastering Jobs to be Done interviews – a course that shows you different interview techniques and situations. It’s pricey, but you’ll also get access to ask the instructors more questions about your specific project
As marketers, the more data and analytics options we have, the less comfortable we seem to be with just talking to customers. But conversations uncover a treasure trove of data that helps us understand people better.
I’ve also hidden behind stats and tracking dashboards before. But Jobs to be Done gives me a robust customer development framework and it brings structure to the otherwise messy interview process. So try it now and get talking!