Have you ever had that quiet intuitive voice whisper to you when you hear something put out there? You agree with the concept in principle. But there is this a lingering feeling that there is something more or different. That it doesn’t really fully capture what you think.
I’m that way with the concept of uncovering customer problems in order to feed your customer personas, innovations, and marketing messaging. Everywhere you look, someone states this as the true north star of customer discover.
Maybe it’s because I have a passion for innovation and startup methodologies. I prefer a different approach. Seeking instead to discover what’s called “jobs to be done”.
Maybe it’s because I love the old saw if the only tool you have is a hammer you view the world as a nail. Though I reframe it as if you view the world as a nail, then the only tool you use is a hammer. I find focusing on customer problems to be such a nail. And it’s too easy for a lot of people to jump to considering the customer as a problem. (Yes, a lot of people secretly do.)
Focusing instead on how you are going to achieve the desired outcome opens up innovative solution spaces.
Coined as a phrase by Clay Christensen, in the Innovators Dilemma, jobs to be done theory is that customers hire a product to do a job for them. An outcome they want to achieve. Yes, this might mean to solve a problem or get past a pain point. But it can be more that problems.
When the focus shifts to the outcome, we often find there are multiple ways to achieve it. Sometimes things haven’t even thought of before. Sometimes problems actually disappear with the new solution.
Recall, the quote attributed to Henry Ford: if I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.
I suggest if Ford had asked people their problems, they would have come up with a lot of distracting problems. The cost of feeding horses. What happens if a horse got sick, or even died. Where to stable the horses. How many horses did you really need. How far can you travel before needing to rest the horses.
Framed as an outcome, what they want is to get from A to B, as fast as possible, at a moment’s notice. Hence the need for faster horses.
So, what does this mean to us.
I don’t think we are going to get away from the inclination to consider customer problems and pain points. And there is value in knowing those. Yet, we then need to quickly move on to jobs to be done.
Maybe identifying problems is a step we need to take to get there. And so might the customer on their journey. They often join you because they resonate with the problem description first. They they following you into the solution.
I use both when strategizing. In defining a customer persona, I consider what moves a customer to come to me. Which is usually because they have a problem they want help with. I reframe problems to consider the job to be done underneath it. Only then, do I think of my solution. How I propose to do the job or help them do the job.
Here’s to a problem free world. Not because we solve all our problems. But that we shift our focus instead to outcomes.
For me, focusing on jobs to be is about looking forward rather than looking backward.
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