Jobs to be done: understanding why customers switch

Why is it that, when you give customers what they say they want, it’s often not quite right?

Many years back, when I was still a bright eyed, naive young marketeer, I learnt a number of models for the process that happens when customers switch to a new product. They were all very convincing, very rational, but they never addressed the question of ‘why’ that particular product: that was approached using tools like surveys, focus groups and sales team feedback.

And it turns out that’s a mistake, because by asking questions about the process people go through when they adopt a new product, you are in a much better position to understand why they buy what they buy.  Even – shock! – how to design your products to give customers what they really need.

The masters of this approach are Bob Moesta and Chris Spiek from the Re-Wired Group and I recently spent a day in one of their Jobs to be Done workshops, learning how to uncover the real reasons people switch products.  The basic premise of Jobs to be Done (that customers hire a product to do a job and you need to understand what that job is) is explained here, with his usual clarity, by Prof Clayton Christensen.

So the principle sounds great, right? In practise, understanding what job(s) your customer is hiring your product to do requires you to invest a bit of time in interviewing them, really getting to understand, in depth, what happened at that switching moment. Unlike focus groups or surveys, these interviews try to uncover motivation before purchase and before post rationalisation (which is why so many post purchase surveys fail completely to get at the real reasons why a product is bought).

Bob and Chris’s workshop walked us through a number of live interviews, deconstructing what was happening and the framework they were using to steer the conversation. The results can be slightly spooky: an interview like this uncovers some of the hidden triggers (and emotions) involved even in some very ‘rational’ B2B purchases like a new CRM (my chosen purchase). It also highlights how often these triggers, although they might be unexpected, are not unique.

Since then, I’ve conducted one and a half interviews (my husband described his as ‘an interrogation’ so I obviously need to improve my technique!), and they feel like a incredibly useful way to get close to your customers. I’ll definitely be trying to schedule some more.

With Bob & Chris’s permission I’ve shared edited highlights of the slides from our day here and if you want to hear some interviews being done I recommend the Jobs To Be Done page on the Re-Wired company site. Better yet, if they are doing a workshop anywhere near you (like, for example, the workshop they are doing immediately after this year’s Business of Software) run, don’t walk, to book your place.