Find the real “jobs to be done” by analyzing what prospects do

Photo by Todd Quackenbush on Unsplash

Why do people buy a new solution? They are often dissatisfied with an existing way of solving their problem, need to solve a new problem, or see something brand new that looks cool. Clayton Christensen calls this search to find a substitute product “looking for a job to be done.”

People don’t simply buy products or services; they pull them into their lives to make progress. We call this progress the “job” they are trying to get done, and understanding this opens a world of innovation possibilities. (Christensen Institute)

The Jobs To Be Done framework is a way to enable the buyer to explain the purpose that caused them to buy new software. It also lets the selling company better align the underlying work required to match the capabilities that the company offers through its software to the real work the buyer needs to be done. We call it a “Job to Be Done” because like a person you would hire to do this work, you have specific requirements and a way to fulfill them to feel satisfied that this software is a good fit to solve this problem for your organization.

The “job” in the case of software often spans the needs of multiple people:

  1. the person who immediately needs the job to be done (and who would otherwise be using some other substitute to finish the work)
  2. the other people in the organization who work closely with that person and supply inputs and receive outputs from that person
  3. the economic buyer who is deciding whether or not to purchase

On the surface, this software buying process seems relatively straightforward. It’s often messy because it’s informed by people indicating what they want to do, not always duplicating what they’ve done in the past. The “software” is really a stand-in for the match between the buyer’s idea of the capability needed and the seller’s assessment of how to match the software to that result.

The team at Intercom created this buyer journey diagram to track the experience of a prospect from initial awareness through consideration to buying and beyond. It does an excellent job of summarizing the timeline for that journey in terms of the stages the customer transits.

Intercom on “Jobs to be Done”, p.18

What’s missing from this diagram? The process the customer is using today to get the work done, or their description of the process they propose to get the work done. The critical path to deciding what will be good enough to “hire” your product for the Job to be Done is not always described by the job to be done.

Challenges with the Jobs to Be Done Framework

Frameworks are tools and are not complete playbooks for every situation. We know this to be true because the results are not consistent across the board among teams that are trying to innovate. For example, “84% of global executives reported that innovation was extremely important to their growth strategies, but a staggering 94% were dissatisfied with their organizations’ innovation performance.” (“Know Your Customers’ ‘Jobs to Be Done’”, Harvard Business Review, Sept 2016)

What’s the real driver of innovation? Some combination of a good frame, willing and effective facilitators, and people in the organization who want to change. John Cutler, a product evangelist at Amplitude, writes: “You want a framework that describes what people should do when they should do it, and how they should do it.” But that doesn’t usually work, as Cutler describes in this article.

TBM 39B/52: Crawl, Walk, Run, and the Fragility of Frameworks(opens in a new tab)

What’s really going on here?

Change management (the selection of a new product) requires people, process, and technology to be coordinated to select the right job to be done and the product to do it.

People overweight the benefits of the solution they have. Innovators overweight the value of their solution. Multiplying these factors gives you a need to produce a really big change to nullify these effects. Gourville’s “Eager Buyers, Stony Sellers” explains it this way:

Gourville’s “Stony Buyers, Eager Sellers” from Intercom’s Jobs to Be Done

The process that you follow works when you focus both on breaking through the resistance of the existing solution and identifying the results you need to call the job done. These results are not usually bound by technology, but by the prospect’s belief that you can solve the problem better than they are doing today. To build this trust, you need a safe place for people to explore while getting fast feedback.

This is hard because it’s a leap of faith. For people who want to get their hands dirty and do the work themselves, it means giving them enough access and skill in the platform to prototype a solution and make it work. For people who are not going to do the work themselves, they need to gain confidence that the proof of concept you are building during consideration.

Buyers need to know why the new thing is better. They need to know they can solve the problem they set out to resolve. And they need to stop worrying about the things that could go wrong.

How to find the real Jobs to be Done

Given the constraints that make it hard to follow a framework perfectly, what should you do to enable your prospect (and your sales team)? The prospect needs the space to explain how they want the problem to be solved. You need to know how to translate these requirements into tangible tasks that you get done in your software.

To find the real Jobs to be Done, you need to remove barriers and objections from the prospect.

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Prototype a proof of concept similar to the desired solution: if possible, use something that already exists as a model
  2. Build in a low-stress environment: don’t write changes to any production system
  3. Prove that you can deliver the result as a proof of concept: produce the result you want to see in production, and do it in a sandbox

When you demonstrate a solution to the buyer that uses their data, looks like a solution they would use, and delivers a favorable result? That’s the Job they want Done.

What’s the takeaway? Jobs to Be Done is a helpful framework to think about delivering results for the prospect while making software selection a buyer-centric process. The framework alone won’t do the trick: you need to align the prospect’s needs with the solution to overcome the 9x effect.

What is Data Operations and why should I care?

How do you define the world of Data Operations or more broadly, the importance of data in a revenue organization?

Most people start by looking at the data points itself (e.g. data quality), then the coordination of data between teams (e.g. data compliance and governance) and don’t always mention what I think is a key element: the motion created by people in different departments using shared data to drive shared goals.

Data operations is the intersection of these different actions and the role of activating, aligning, and shaping this data to facilitate the rest of the organization’s work. Most of the time it’s only noticed when it’s not working.

Here’s a sample visual of how data operations relates to the rest of the business:

You Need Data To Run Your Business

You need to identify key data points to run your business. These markers are going to be different in each business, but they need to provide a North Star that everyone looks at to see how things are going. Is it 12-month trailing Revenue? Is it the New Customer Count? Is it churn rate? Is it initial signups?

It’s probably going to be some combination of the above that forms the basis of weekly, monthly, and quarterly conversations to see how you’re doing. These ought to be things that can be easily tracked, are relevant to the business, are specific enough to act on, and not too hard to create.

Once you have the “North Star” metrics, each department has sub metrics (inputs) that they track to control the part of the business they influence.

Examples of these include:

  • Sales Development Representatives track new meetings
  • Customer Service reps track happy and sad customers
  • Product teams track shipped features
  • and Salespeople track closed-won deals

Making these inputs work together to tell the story is the reason we align data between systems. If you can’t compare the outputs from one department to another, it’s a bit hard to make sense of how the business is doing.

Activity != Communication

Have you ever seen a situation where one department is hitting metrics and another department wonders what they are doing?

This could be the result of activity without communication.

A good metric measures activity and suggests progress toward a shared goal. A great metric is understood by the whole company because it is either easily matched with a shared goal or is accompanied by continued communication about the achievements of that team.

Activity on its own can look like a rocking chair: measuring energy and movement but not going anywhere in reality.

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

The Traffic Light Theory of Communication

If you’re familiar with this problem, you are likely the person who knows the most about your data and what it means on a microscopic level. You also intuit that your boss knows somewhat less detail about the data, and their boss a bit less.

So how do you make this information relevant? You need to have a shared understanding, something like “this measurement means we’re green, this one means we’re yellow, and this means we’re red” to help the rest of the business orient to the information you know in detail.

Think of this as a A/B testing of your message to other departments within your company. If they don’t understand the importance of things you think are important, they literally can’t speak to you (and you to them) on the same level on business data where you need to collaborate.

If your idea is not simple, make it simpler. It needs to be a 30 second pitch – 1 to 2 sentences that almost anyone in the company will comprehend and then have an idea how to relate what they are doing to the data you’re sharing.

The Company Needs You to be Right … When Asked

Activity + Communication = the potential to be right. Now, which problem are you solving? Hopefully it’s one the company needs you to solve. Urgent and important problems are the ones to focus on here, not just the loudest or the biggest problems. This might mean keeping a list of the “things to solve next” to avoid getting distracted from the things you need to solve right now. By the way, the things you need to solve right now might not be the most interesting. But they are probably the most important.

When you get asked? That’s the time to shine. Take your metrics, your activity, the relevance to the situation, and the demonstration that the effort will make a difference to the company’s bottom line. That’s the recipe for a winning project.

What’s the takeaway? It doesn’t matter if you have a great metric if no one knows what it means or how it will help your company.

Every data picture tells a story

Recently, an image about data went viral on Linkedin. This grouping of LEGOs, organized by Mónica Rosales Ascencio, uses these colorful bricks to remind us that data itself is not all that useful until we explain it.

from @rskudesia on Twitter

That Lego meme has been going around as a way to explain why data or story alone do not tell a good data-driven story. Here’s another version from Reddit that reminds us that the story itself needs to have a hook or a reason for the reader to believe to make it meaningful.

Designing your story so that it conveys a “why” is even more important than writing the story. Who’s the intended audience? What do they want to learn? Why should they be paying attention to what you have to offer?


Where is this evident almost every day? In slides, visuals, decks, presentations, and whatever we call them these days.

What you want to do in slides

In slides that you are building to share ideas, have one idea per slide. Really. That it’s it. Everything should flow from the idea and be immediately obvious to the person you’re asking to review it.

One way to do this is to have a single thought accompanied by a beautiful image. Yes, a great image is worth a thousand words, partly because we process visual information so much faster than hearing or reading and translating words into feeling and action.

For your next slide presentation, think very mechanically at first on every slide about the following:

  1. What’s the point of this slide (the one thing you need them to take away
  2. What is your supporting evidence (yes, the #data.)
  3. How are you illustrating that data to prove your point?
  4. Now, think of a one line elevator pitch you would give if you were in the room with someone reviewing your slide. That’s probably your title.
  5. Next, think of any reasons the person reading the title of your slide might see something else on that slide and not feel the information is congruent. Fix those things.

Of course excellent grammar and consistent tone and voice are important. But also avoid font crimes (you only need one or two fonts and two or three point settings in most illustrations).

(A bonus pet peeve: align your objects. Left aligning, center aligning, horizontal or vertical – just make it all align to a grid. Future you will thank you.)

Need some great examples?

What you don’t want to do in slides

There are many negative examples of what not to do in Powerpoint. This is one of my favorites, exhibiting what Lincoln might have used to share the Gettysburg Address.

The Gettysburg Address as Slides, by Peter Norvig

Here are a few rules to avoid in your slides.

Don’t tell everything in a single slide. Don’t provide endless detail in a slide. Don’t use a million fonts, colors, and sizes in a slide. Just the facts, presented in a clear and concise way, with one idea per slide.

Telling the story of your data

What’s the one thing you want someone to get from your slide? Does your data back that up and bolster it, while staying easy to understand?

Telling the story of your data is not always straightforward, even if the data seems like it makes sense to you at the time. Start with the idea, then point to the information.

If your data is contradictory, lead with questions that you want to resolve to move forward. Ultimately, the goal of using data in a story is to drive a decision.

What’s the takeaway? Stay simple when you make slides. Focus on one idea that you want to bring home, and align your data (or call out inconsistencies in your data) to bolster that idea.

A few things, done easier

Have you recently read about a product and thought: “it does too much?” Yet it’s also easy to disqualify a product or service as too narrow and “not for me”. How do you split the gap and build for the people who really want (and need) what you are selling without simply disappearing into the noise?

Taking a look at an everyday need (daily frequency, high recall, habit-forming) is a good frame for thinking about product decisions. Take the mundane experience of drinking coffee (sorry tea drinkers, this applies to you as well but the parameters might be different.)

As a coffee drinker, I want to have a hot beverage that stays warm, is true to taste, and (ideally) doesn’t spill. It would be great if that was a portable container, and was reusable. Bonus points if the container was nicely designed, had a good feel when held as a cup, and was durable.

I can imagine what you might be thinking at this point: why bother having a design discussion about a coffee cup? It’s exactly because the discussion is mundane that it’s important. Design decisions about materials might be optimized for heat retention (stainless steel liner) or grip (handle, or grippy finish) or the top (does it have one, and how easy is it to remove or drink out of) or price (is the target market $5, $10, or $50).

This coffee cup wins for me because it does a few things really well:

  1. Keeps the coffee warm for a long time
  2. Doesn’t spill easily
  3. Easy to hold

Note that it doesn’t have a handle. The traditional mug design wasn’t followed here. It also isn’t the cheapest coffee mug I have. Yet it’s the one I use every day.

What are the lessons you can take to your next product or design decision? Do fewer things well, and buyers will find you. Be open to changing long-held beliefs, especially around habit-driven items. Measure the results based on input goals and output results. And enjoy your coffee!

On blocks and facing the empty page

I wrote and deleted this post several times before continuing to write. It’s not easy to think of yourself as a writer and not have the words to say what’s in your head. It is easy to delete the draft, go back to what you were doing, and go another day without writing.

The empty page is a metaphor for a lot of things. When the page is empty, you have a hard time beating yourself up for what you wrote. When the page is empty, there are no commitments for what you will do next. And when the page is empty, you haven’t taken a stand or offended anyone.

That’s exactly the right time to start writing. I guarantee it won’t be exactly the thing that’s in your head. But once you get going the writing will start to take shape and you’ll realize what was rattling around in your head in the first place.

For me, writing blocks almost always indicate that I am not facing something in my life or that I haven’t yet worked through a challenge I am thinking about. And writing about it almost always helps me face the challenge. Maybe not always head-on, but at least better than ignoring it.

Today I am thinking of the challenge of being a parent of a teenager. Yup, it’s not always easy. Or maybe it’s almost never easy. Maybe being a teenager is a bit like looking at the blank page. When you’ve tried few things in your life you don’t know which ones are going to be the ones that make people happy and which ones you might regret.

Either way you have to start by starting. In this case, it’s probably not the best writing I have ever done. Or will do. However, it’s now out of my head and forces me to commit to doing it again the next time I feel blocked.

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