You need to look BEFORE the problem

When creating a product, too many companies focus on what people are currently buying and how they can be different or better than exiting competitors or alternatives. They use existing purchase data and as a result they define the markets that they go after too narrowly.

This path ultimately leads you to focus on the features you will make and how this features will serve the needs your competitors are serving better.

If you want to be a successful and truly differentiate yourself, stop looking at what other people are doing and making marginal improvements on that. You need to go back to the drawing board in terms of customer centred innovation.

So what is the drawing board in this case? Well what happens when we peak below all of the features and value propositions? If you ask any company they will tell you that what lies below is the customer pain point that the feature helps address.

That’s all good and they are correct. But you need to go back farther. You need to go before the pain point. So what lies before the pain point? It is a term called the “Customers' Jobs to be done”.

Customer jobs exist independently from what people are buying currently, making it important to see the world from the perspective of what the customer is trying to get done rather what they are currently buying as a solution.

The Customers' Jobs to Be Done

Ultimately people are just trying to get things done in their lives. They can employ a wide variety of solutions to get things done so concentrating marketing or product development on solutions is incorrect. Once you understand what they are actually trying to get done it becomes easier to see and predict which services and features will succeed and which will fall flat.

Focusing on jobs to be done forces you to ask the right questions rather than jumping in to make solutions. It seems counterintuitive because we hear of so many people who have had eureka moments that led to the great idea. In fact, what most often leads to that moment is reframing of the problem. You look at it from a different perspective and suddenly it all becomes clear. Breakthroughs come from reimagining problems, not continually improving a product.

Customer jobs exist independently from what people are buying currently, making it important to see the world from the perspective of what the customer is trying to get done rather what they are currently buying as a solution.

So to truly serve your customer we need to look at what our customers are trying to get done as a starting point. Then we need to understand WHY they do those jobs. What motivates them to get those jobs done.

The 2 levels of Customer Jobs

Functional Jobs

Typically this plays out in two levels of the customer’s job. First the functional job. In general satisfying functional jobs means focusing on solving real jobs, satisfying those jobs for a particular customer in a particular use case, and designing solutions that prioritize the overall job instead of the feature.

I think eventbrite solves functional jobs incredibleywell. In a previous job I had at an entrepreneurship centre, we put on a lot of events and workshops for startups. My jobs to be done in the context of events when it came down to logistics involved getting registrations and doing something with that info. Normally I would need a portal to have people register to get their name and email. Then I would download a csv of those people, and remind myself to send  a reminder email to them 24 hrs before the event. Sometime we want name tags so I’d go into word and mail merge nametags and print them off. At the event we want to sign people in so we know who showed up and who did not. After the event we would go to excel and run some pivot tables not he registration and attendance data.

All of these were jobs that I had to get done. What impressed me so much is that in the span of a couple of years eventbrite was able to see that many of their customers were doing these exact same things. Now in eventbrite you can take your existing registration data and automatically sends reminder emails (remove the possibility of me forgetting), it has a one-click solution to automatically create name tags based that you can print directly from the browser. It has a check-in tool built on your registration data and it incorporates it into its powerful analytics tool.

Emotional Jobs

Most companies will focus on functional jobs and don’t venture into the land of emotional jobs. They can be difficult to articulate and product centred founders have a hard time understanding how their solutions can satisfy emotional jobs.

In my experience working with many startups, emotional jobs and motivations are where the biggest insights come from. Take two people who both have pristine lawns on your street. When you talk to them you realize that for one, lawn care is a therapeutic activity. They like to put in a podcast and pull weeds to get a break and get in the sun. When you talk to the other their parents come over for dinner every Sunday and their father always kept a perfect lawn and they wanted to impress them.

You can see those two people have completely different motivations for the  same job to be done. You can also see just how knowing something like this can inform your marketing later down the line. These motivations or “Job Drivers” help prioritize the customer jobs as well.

What you do

So which jobs do you focus on?

The sweet spot lies in focusing on jobs that are important but are still unsatisfied in the eyes of the customers. The last part of the sentence is important. In the eyes of the company they may address it but in the eyes of the customer it is still not being addressed.

Do you decide which jobs these are? No! When you talk to your potential or existing customers you will start to see a pattern in what they are saying. Talk to 50 people about the jobs they do in the context of what you offer and if a handful if people are saying the same kind of jobs then you know it is important.

Your next step is to dig into their current approach to getting those jobs done. How exactly do they do it? “Walk me through the last time you did that”. “Uh-huh, uh-huh, oh wow that sounds like it takes a long time, mhm, mhm, and you hacked that excel sheet together yourself to solve it? Wow, interesting.”

Talking about how they go about completing their jobs right now will make those pain points come up. Dig into those. Why is that a pain point? What are they doing to try to deal with that pain point? Are they paying or a solution? Are they hacking something together? What would the one-click solution to this look like in their wildest dreams?


Understanding the jobs the be done is only the starting point in the customer centred innovation journey. In future posts I’ll be diving into the next steps. Specifically unpacking their current approaches and pain points, charting and understanding roadblocks and obstacles as well understanding what value you bring to the table and how you beat the competition.

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