Jobs-to-be-done: What it is and why it is so important for e-commerce innovations - simply explained

Fatih-Kağan Taşkoparan

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Jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) is a simple method for product development that was originally developed by Tony Ulwick as part of a process called "Outcome-Driven Innovation".

This is a framework that enables companies and teams to recognize the true motives behind customer behaviour. This opens up the possibility of developing customer-centric and innovative products.

The jobs-to-be-done approach focuses on the wishes and needs of customers, or in other words: it assumes that customers buy a product primarily because it is supposed to fulfill a certain task, a job for them.

The needs of customers span three dimensions:

  • functional needs
  • emotional needs
  • social needs

Whether a product or service is successful or not depends largely on how well it satisfies customer needs in these three dimensions. The "why" is therefore upstream of everything else, and product development is largely geared towards this why.

All too often, product development works the other way around: Service providers and manufacturers develop offerings and equip them with features that they consider to be beneficial - which they undoubtedly are. However, the crucial question is: do customers actually want this particular benefit, or perhaps something else?

The central principle of the framework is:

The JTBD framework was eventually developed further and is, for example, also part of the Value Proposition Canvas from Strategyzer.

What are "jobs-to-be-done"?

The JTBD framework attempts to shift the focus away from people's current purchasing behavior and instead asks the question: What do people want? reach?

The designers at Intercom.com have provided an often-cited practical example of this:

Or, as Charles Revson, the founder of Revlon, put it in a nutshell:

"We produce cosmetics in the factory and sell hope in the drugstore."

Charles Revson

It is therefore important not to see the product as the end goal, but as a vehicle that allows customers to fulfill their needs and desires.

This simple change of perspective gives you new insights into your customers and a wealth of opportunities to develop new innovative products and be successful on the market.

Such an innovative product can also be an online store, for example. Because an increasingly frequent need of customers is: I want to live more sustainably. You could meet this need by strengthening the sustainability of your e-commerce and then communicating it to the outside world. Customers may be able to get the products in your store elsewhere. But because you fulfill their need for sustainability, conscious shoppers are more likely to choose your offer.

Why are simple buyer personas not enough?

As an entrepreneur, you will certainly have come across the concept of buyer personas, either when developing your business model, creating your website or branding. The buyer persona is basically the profile of your ideal customer.

Buyer personas are semi-fictional representations of your customers that are based on market research and real data. They usually consist of purely demographic aspects such as age, income, place of residence and the like.

Ideally, however, psychographic elements are added, such as the behavior, needs, habits and goals of your customers and their purchasing decision processes. With such insights, you are one step closer to understanding the true motivations behind purchasing decisions and offering your customers the best possible products.

"The key to a good offer is to understand the customer and then design the value of the products and services accordingly."

Alexander Osterwalder, Swiss economic theorist

In this context, it is important to differentiate between B2C and B2B customers. B2B customers are different from consumers. Why is that? B2C customers usually know what they want, when they want it and where to find it. They also tend to buy what appeals to them personally. However, this is not the case for the majority of B2B customers.

The purchasing criteria of business customers differ from those of consumers, as they don't just look at the "what", but more at the "why":

  • Why do I need this product?
  • What are the advantages of this product?
  • Is it worth the price?
  • Am I getting good value for money?
  • Who has bought this product before me and how do they rate it after using it?

These questions often arise when companies make purchasing decisions because, unlike purchases made by consumers, purchases made by companies have to be justified to management.

If you use JTBD to provide a coherent breakdown of the background to purchasing decisions, you have the chance to stay one step ahead of your competitors.

The most important steps to determine the JTBD of your customers

  1. Find out what your customers really want, even if they don't (or can't) express it.
  2. Filter customer data to gain insights from past behavior.
  3. Explore the "why" of the customer's behavior, not just the "what".
  4. Identify "unsolved" jobs that have the potential to be solved by your innovative products.
  5. Identify important customer segments that you did not previously know existed.
  6. Develop innovative solutions for old problems and needs.
  7. Avoid common mistakes, such as the "feature war" - communicate the benefits of your products for customers and what they can achieve with them - not the technical details of your products.
  8. Observe and recognize new trends that change customer behavior.
  9. Incorporate your new findings into the design process.

Recognize the jobs-to-be-done and win new target groups

As an e-commerce retailer, you want to stand out from your competitors on the market, be perceived as an innovative market leader and, of course, offer your customers exactly what they really want - and buy. The customer-centricity of the JTBD framework allows you to achieve exactly that with simple means. By focusing not so much on product features, but on what wishes, hopes and desires the products fulfill, in short: what jobs they do, you can make your offer unique and reach new prospects.

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