Introduction to the Jobs-To-Be-Done Theory, Through Three Example Purchases

Let’s start off with these questions:

  • Are we talking about our product in a way that resonates with our buyers? Could we be improving our marketing copy?
  • The purchase data for this product is weird. What’s the explanation for these purchasing patterns?
  • Is there a case for charging a higher price for my product or service?
  • What is this product competing with, in reality, in the mind of the actual buyers?
  • What happened in the mind of the person right before they decided to purchase it? I don’t understand completely.
  • How come our market share is getting eaten up by this other inferior product with fewer features and a higher price?
  • We’re about to add new features to a product. Are the new features going to help sell more products?

Applying the Jobs-To-Be-Done theory helps to answer those types of questions.

Originally conceived under the name of Outcome-Driven Innovation by Tony Ulwick, the Jobs-To-Be-Done term was made popular by Professor Clayton Christensen of the Harvard School of Business. Prof. Christensen was working on his theory of competitive disruption. That theory aims to explain the mechanisms which cause a company to fall from the top of their industry, toppled over by small upstarts. While working on the disruption theory, he wondered if there was an explanation for what caused these small upstarts to get their seemingly inferior products to gain purchasers, fans and market share.

At the core, the theory challenges what we know about purchasing. It asserts the following main idea:

People Don’t Just Purchase Products. They Hire a Product for a Job.

Let’s look at three purchasing examples:

  1. Why did she buy that particular, expensive scarf?
  2. How come he bought two ebooks at the same time, on the same subject?
  3. He bought an iPhone right before the new models were to be announced, why is that?

When trying to understand the reason behind a purchase, there’s a temptation to attribute traits to the person.

  1. Well, she must just like that scarf.
  2. He must be the type of guy who likes to read a lot of ebooks.
  3. He must be technology averse and didn’t want to buy the latest phone.

Doing so tempts us to conclude that each person is unique, and that we should shrug off any possible similarities between buyers.

But according to the theory, there are bound to be common causes behind the motivations of your buyers. Those causes, the theory has a name for them. It calls them jobs. A buyer has a job to get done, an outcome she desires that is driven by a mix of reason and emotions, and it’s the urgency of the job that causes someone to go from not this one or not now to yes, this one, now. She hires that product for a job.

  1. She hired that scarf for the job of being noticed by the guy she has a crush on at work.
  2. He hired those two ebooks for the job of making sure he’ll know more than his peers on the subject ahead of the seminar in October.
  3. He hired that nearly-year-old iPhone model for the job of quickly gain back the ability to communicate on the go for his business, since his previous iPhone had died.

The products all did the job better than anything else at that moment.

Which begs the question: what were the other alternatives for those jobs?

Your Product’s Real Competitors Are Not What You Expect

When you get a sense of the job for which people hire your product, you realize that there are other alternatives that were competing for the purchase. And those alternatives might not look at all like your product or its normal competitors.

  1. To help her get noticed, that scarf wasn’t competing with other scarfs. It was competing with a new perfume.
  2. Those ebooks he bought, they weren’t competing with other books on the same topic, they were competing with all the other book excerpts he downloaded on other professional advancement topics.
  3. And that iPhone, it was never competing with the new model or with an Android, it was competing with the same model, but with more memory.

So How Does That Change How I Market My Product?

  • Once you realize what your product is competing with, you realize you can confidently make the case for it, by keeping your messaging sharp to address the job rather than generalizing it.
  • Once you realize a job for which your product was hired, you can decide whether to keep making it, whether to sell it beside other products that do the same job, or whether to modify the product to nail the job even better.
  • Once you realize the few jobs for which your product gets hired, you can create other offerings around it that cater to the connected jobs. Think of the job your newsletter gets hired for, or what your consulting services get hired for, and how they’re a stepping stone toward your product.

So how do you find out the Job-To-Be-Done of your product? There’s an interview technique that aims to trace back the story of the purchase. After talking with five to ten buyers, you get a pretty clear picture of the types of jobs your product was hired to do. Reach out if you’d like to learn more about that interview technique.

Be on the lookout for articles in the next weeks for a deeper look at the Jobs-To-Be-Done theory. We’ll look at the one universal competitor for all of your products, the forces at play in the mind of your buyer, and what your buyer is firing when they’re hiring your product.

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