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How to use the ‘Jobs To Be Done’ framework in B2B marketing research

How to use the ‘Jobs To Be Done’ framework in B2B marketing research
Contents

What is the Jobs-to-be-done theory/framework?

Why does JTBD matter in market research?

How to apply the JTBD framework to B2B research projects

What is the Jobs-to-be-Done framework?

The Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) framework is a way of looking at customers and prospects that helps to unlock a better understanding of their needs and attitudes. This knowledge can be used to improve marketing, as well as to innovate.

The basic premise of JTBD is that, when businesses are launching a product or trying to acquire customers, they often focus on the wrong thing. Specifically, they focus on who their existing customers are, and on which products those customers are currently buying.

That means that they define the market too narrowly. For example, a company that sees itself as a car paint manufacturer might ask itself, ‘how can we create a better paint’ or ‘how can we sell more car paint.’ JTBD practitioners say that these are the wrong questions, and they make the company blind to disruption.

JTBD forces you to change your mindset and think more broadly. It suggests focusing on the ‘job’ that customers are hiring a product for.

 

“The structure of a market, seen from the customers’ point of view, is very simple: They just need to get things done… When people find themselves needing to get a job done, they essentially hire products to do that job for them. The marketer’s task is therefore to understand what jobs periodically arise in customers’ lives for which they might hire products the company could make. If a marketer can understand the job, design a product and associated experiences in purchase and use to do that job, and deliver it in a way that reinforces its intended use, then when customers find themselves needing to get that job done, they will hire that product.”

Clayton M. Christensen, Scott Cook and Taddy Hall Harvard Business Review, December 2005

The critical thing is to define a ‘job’ by its outcomes, not its features. Returning to the car paint example, some people might say that the job that people are hiring car paint for is to “paint the car.” That is not entirely correct. The actual ‘job’ is to “maintain a blemish-free vehicle.”

If you reframe the ‘job’ like this, the manufacturer’s opportunity is different. Rather than focusing on making cheaper/better paint, they could consider developing a car paint that heals itself. That isn’t just a crazy hypothetical – it already exists.

This new mindset also means a new competitive set. Competitors aren’t companies that make similar products to yours; a competitor is anything that enables people to do the same ‘job’ as your products.

Sometimes these competitors aren’t actual products. For example, Netflix’s CEO sees his company as competing for people’s time. His competitors aren’t just traditional TV channels (e.g., NBC, BBC) and streaming services (e.g., Amazon Prime, Hulu). The competitive set also includes apps (e.g., TikTok, Twitter), other forms of culture (e.g., podcasts, books), and, in his opinion, sleep.

In other words, identifying your target audience’s Jobs-to-be-Done is a critical exercise. Fortunately, you don’t have to conduct this exercise often. While products come and go, the underlying Jobs-to-be-Done don’t change. To quote the AIM Institute: “LinkedIn can help us to expand our professional connections, market our services, or even get a job. We were doing these things before we had LinkedIn.”. And we’re likely to be doing them in future, even if LinkedIn is no longer relevant.

It is worth noting that, while the actual JTBD framework is relatively new, the insight that underpins it has been around for a long time. Over the years, many successful marketers have used a lot of similar techniques and ideas to those included in the JTBD framework. So it is best to see JTBD as a framework for formalizing best practices that have been around for many years.

 

“Last year over one million quarter-inch drills were sold — not because people wanted quarter-inch drills but because they wanted quarter-inch holes. When you buy an automobile you buy transportation. When you buy a mattress you are buying comfortable sleep. When you buy carbon paper you are buying copies.”

Leo McGivena Quoted in "The Five Great Rules of Selling" by Percy H. Whiting, 1947

Why does JTBD matter in market research?

Marketing researchers should be familiar with the JTBD framework for several reasons.

First, it helps us to make a case for conducting research. Every researcher has encountered skepticism about the value of research. This skepticism is often best encapsulated by the Henry Ford quote: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

JTBD practitioners would point out that Henry Ford was one of the early users of the JTBD model. He realized that, for consumers buying horses, the ‘job to be done’ was ‘getting from Point A to Point B as quickly and effortlessly as possible.’

Second, the JTBD framework is relevant to many of the projects conducted by marketing researchers. Indeed, there is a clear opportunity to incorporate it into existing project processes:

  • Market segmentation – JTBD practitioners and market researchers agree that segmenting by demographic/firmographic factors leads to sub-optimal outcomes, i.e., 2 IT Directors in large financial services companies won’t necessarily buy the same products. While market researchers will push their clients to segment customers/prospects based on their behaviors, needs or attitudes, the JTBD framework suggests segmenting them by the ‘jobs’ they are hiring products for
  • Brand development – JTBD practitioners point to the success of ‘purpose brands’ that are built around, and named after, a ‘job to be done.’ For example, Sawzall is ‘a single blade which can cut everything it encounters (instead of having different blades for each surface/object to be cut).’ Researchers conducting brand development projects should try to understand the product/service’s JTBD so that they can consider factoring it into the final brand
  • Product development – JTBD practitioners claim that their framework can shift innovation from an art to a science. While that may be an over-claim, it is fair to say that if you are developing a new product, you should know what ‘job’ the product will be hired for
  • Gathering competitive intelligence and understanding the market structure. As mentioned above, the JTBD framework can help you to reframe your competitive set. Researchers should consider factoring the model into any market analysis to ensure the scope is not too narrow, and the final results are future-proof

 

How to apply the JTBD framework to B2B research projects

Up to this point, this article has treated the JTBD framework as a single, simple model. In reality, there are lots of different JTBD frameworks, processes, and models. While these models are rigorous and robust, some of them are not appropriate for marketing research projects.

We need to find a way to incorporate the principles of JTBD into existing processes without overcomplicating projects. For B2B research projects, this means undertaking the following steps:

JTBD 3 steps

1. Start by defining the target audience.

In consumer markets, the person who buys a product or service is often (but not always) the person who uses it. In business-to-business markets, the person who buys a product is often not the person who uses it.

Indeed, JTBD practitioners suggest splitting the decision-making unit into three buckets:

  • The core user (often called the ‘job executor’): they use the product to get the core job done
  • The support team: the people who are involved with the product throughout its lifecycle – e.g., the people who transport, install, maintain, repair, upgrade, or dispose of the product. Their’ job to be done’ varies by role. For example, an IT professional installing some new software will have a different ‘job’ than a legal professional reviewing the initial contract
  • The buyer: the purchasing manager, whose ‘job to be done’ is likely to be related to pricing and financial matters

It is essential to identify which roles fall into each ‘bucket’ and then to explore each roles’ Jobs-to-be-Done. While product innovations may only impact the core user (and some of the support team), knowing everyone else’s JTBD is still critical, as it will affect your messaging.

To define the target audience, you have two options. Sometimes organizations need to do both:

  • There is likely to be a lot of internal knowledge that can inform your analysis. Your CRM may already have a pretty comprehensive list of different personas that are involved in the purchasing process. More importantly, your colleagues in client-facing roles are likely to have a good sense of which individuals are part of the decision-making unit
  • Internal knowledge has its limits. Sometimes a company is unaware of the impact that some personas are having on decisions. That is where qualitative research can help. We suggest asking questions about which roles are in the decision-making unit, and what their internal dynamics are (e.g., what each persona focuses on, whose voice is ‘loudest’)

2. Map the Jobs-to-be-Done.

Once you have defined the target audience, you need to find out what they are trying to accomplish. Specifically, you need to map the ‘jobs’ they are hiring products for.

That is harder than it sounds:

  • Each individual is likely to have multiple ‘jobs’ as part of their role. The research needs to be as comprehensive as possible
  • Individuals may be combining multiple products to achieve one’ job’. While this is usually evidence of an opportunity – perhaps a single solution can replace these products? – it also makes it more challenging to identify what each actual ‘job’ is
  • You have to consider the different types of ‘job.’ As mentioned above, the ‘jobs’ differ by role type (e.g., purchasing managers tend to be hiring products for financial-related ‘jobs,’ while users hire them for the main product task). Then, when looking at each role, you have to account for the emotional and functional ‘jobs.’ JTBD practitioners give the example of some of the Jobs-to-be-Done that you might hire Spotify for: 1) The major functional Jobs-to-be-Done are to ‘organize and manage music for personal use’ and to ‘listen to the music.’ 2) The major emotional ‘jobs’ are to ‘organize and manage music in a way that feels good’ and to ‘share songs with friends.’ The former is more personal, the latter more social. 3) Related ‘jobs’ might be to ‘download songs from the Internet,’ ‘make playlists,’ ‘discard unwanted songs,’ and ‘pass the time’

The best way to map out the Jobs-to-be-Done is through qualitative research. Ethnographic techniques are often optimal, as they allow you to see users or buyers complete jobs/tasks in real-life, so you don’t need to rely on flawed human memory.

However, ethnography is often not possible in B2B marketing research, so the insights often have to be gathered through in-depth interviews.

Regardless of the methodology used, you need to be careful in how you frame the research questions. The most important thing is not to focus on existing products, as they often only get part of a job done.

A classic example given by JTBD practitioners is a kettle. If you ask ‘what job did you hire the kettle to do’, the answer is ‘boil water.’ But the actual job to be done is to ‘prepare a hot beverage for consumption.’ Defining the ‘job’ too narrowly opens the door for a competitor who can get the entire job done with one product (e.g., Nespresso).

To solve this issue, you must ask questions such that take advantage of this broader context. For example, ‘when you are using Product X, what is the job that you are ultimately trying to get done.’ Or ‘what is the overall goal you are trying to achieve?’

3. Identify the opportunity

The ‘job mapping’ process can lead an organization to identify an overwhelming number of Jobs-to-be-Done.

The next step is to prioritize some of these ‘jobs’ by identifying which are the most significant opportunity. Specifically, you need to explore:

  • Importance – which jobs matter most to the target audience
  • Frequency – which jobs are conducted most frequently by the target audience
  • Satisfaction – whether the target audience is happy with existing solutions for completing each JTBD
  • Competitive landscape – whether Jobs-to-be-Done are over- or under-served by existing solutions in the marketplace. You’re mainly looking for unmet needs
  • Differences within the target audience – whether specific segments of the target audience prioritize some jobs more than others, or are less satisfied with existing solutions than others

The best way to prioritize opportunities is through quantitative research.

When doing so, it is worth bearing in mind that JTBD practitioners believe market researchers should rethink some of their existing quantitative techniques. For example, many researchers currently use quantitative tools that depend on ‘trade-offs.’ For example, forcing research participants to indicate which factors are most and least important in purchasing decisions (e.g., unit price, quality of account management, etc.)

JTBD practitioners believe that forcing customers to make ‘trade-offs’ is unnecessary when you are trying to innovate. Customers want their needs satisfied. The job of the company building a new product is to make trade-offs that meet those needs, but the customer should not be asked to make trade-offs.

Once you have prioritized the JTBD opportunities, you can use this information to inform your product and marketing strategy:

  • You can identify segments of the target audience which may be the highest opportunity
  • You can align existing products with market opportunities
  • You can generate ideas for new products to address unmet needs

Summary

What is the Jobs-to-be-Done framework?

The JTBD framework is a way of looking at customers and prospects that helps to unlock a better understanding of their needs and attitudes.

It asks you to focus on the ‘job’ that customers are hiring a product for, rather than on your existing customers or prospects.

This different mindset helps to reframe your thinking about innovation, marketing and the competitive set.

Why does JTBD matter in market research?

First, it helps you to make a case for conducting research, as it explains why research can help with innovation.

Second, it should be incorporated into certain project types to improve the outputs. Market segmentation, product development, brand development and competitive intelligence projects could all benefit from incorporating JTBD principles.

How to apply the JTBD framework to B2B research projects

Applying the principles of the JTBD framework to B2B research means following three steps:

1) Define the target audience. Specifically, identify the core users, buyers, and the support team.

2) Map the Jobs-to-be-Done. Use qualitative research to explore the wide range of different ‘jobs’ that each role undertakes. It’s important to ensure you don’t define ‘jobs’ too narrowly.

3) Identify the opportunity. Use quantitative research to identify which ‘jobs’ matter most to the audience, and which are under-served by existing solutions.

  1. Christensen, Clayton M. Hall, Taddy. Dillon, Karen. and Duncan, David. “Know Your Customers’ Jobs to be Done.” Harvard Business Review, September 2016
  2. Ulwick, Tony. “Outcome-Driven Innovation: JTBD Theory in Practice.” https://jobs-to-be-done.com/outcome-driven-innovation-odi-is-jobs-to-be-done-theory-in-practice-2944c6ebc40e.
  3. Ulwick, Tony. “Reinventing Market Research To Put Jobs-to-be-Done Theory Into Practice.” https://jobs-to-be-done.com/reinventing-market-research-to-put-jobs-to-be-done-theory-into-practice-35064bfaacda.
Chris Wells
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