Monday, February 14, 2011

Solutions Are Your Job

It seems that Clayton Christensen is in the process of writing a new book. You may recall that Christensen is a professor at the Harvard Business School and the author of popular business books like “The Innovator’s Dilemma.”

His new book will be on the topic of “jobs-to-be-done” marketing. You can read about it at the Harvard Business School site.

In summary, Christensen’s point is this.

1) Most marketers currently target their offerings based on either customer segmentation or product segmentation.

2) This methodology is flawed because it looks at people or products, rather than particular purchase decisions.

3) The reality is that people purchase something because they want it to do a job for them. When it comes to segmentation, the particular job desired from the product is more important than the person buying it or the product category purchased from.

4) Therefore, marketers should segment based on jobs to be done.

I wholeheartedly agree that basic premise. People spend money because they want something in return. And in most cases, what they want is not the stuff they buy, but what the stuff will do for them.

For example, people don’t buy Slimfast milkshakes because they are the best milkshake. That isn’t what they want. They don’t hoard them in their refrigerator because they like collecting cans of Slimfast. No. What they want is weight loss. That is the job they want the Slimfast milkshake to perform.

If the Slimfast milkshake is not getting the job done for them (that is, not causing them to lose weight), they don’t switch to a McDonald’s milkshake. No, it’s not about milkshakes. They switch to a different item which claims to do the job of weight loss better. It could be a diet pill, joining an exercise club, surgery, hypnosis, or any number of other things which have nothing to do with milkshakes.

It’s all about the job the person wants to get accomplished. Sometimes the job is rather esoteric, like wanting to improve the prestige of their image with their peer group. For this, they may consider luxury cars, fancy clothes, the latest in technology gadgets, going on an exotic vacation, or many other things.

The point is that if you don’t know what job someone wants to accomplish with their spending money, then it is very difficult to convince them to spend that money on you. Therefore, when building a strategic position, frame it around a job for which you can own superiority. Once you own that job, work to strengthen that ownership, even if it means abandoning old products for something entirely new.

For example, Bausch & Lomb wants to own the better eyesight solution. That’s the job they’ve chosen—to improve your vision. Originally, that meant manufacturing lenses. However, now there now many other ways to improve eyesight, so to fulfill the mission of their job, they have diversified their product mix to include eye surgery products, eyesight related medicines and vitamins and other such products. Although the product mix has diversified, the focus on the job to be done is still the same. They’re just finding better ways to do that job.

If you stick with an old product too long (like Kodak did with analog film), then you will be made obsolete when someone else finds a way to do the job of personal imaging better by using something which does the job better (digital imaging). Focus on winning the job rather than perfecting the obsolete.

Although this is a great concept, it is not a new concept. Marketers (and strategists) have been using it for decades. I’ve used the concept since back in the 1980s. The only difference is that instead of calling it “jobs-to-be-done”, I called it “solution selling.”

Back in the 1990s I wrote a book on strategy and devoted an entire chapter to the topic. You can read it here. Or, you can check out these prior blogs I have written on this topic (here, here, and here).

However, it seems that Christensen has found this to be a relatively novel new idea. Perhaps, that is because his specialty is Operations Management, not Marketing. It’s as if he just discovered that marketing can have value.

Well, regardless of whether this is new news or old news, it is valuable news. Frame your strategy around superior solutions to consumer problems. Find a place where you can perform that job better than anyone else. That, my friends, is the job-to-be-done for strategists.


  1. Gerald Nanninga,

    This post is a real example of getting new fruits from old roots. The concept is old, but rephrasing it allows us to see it from a different perspective.
    I would add to your great post the five-whys (which I extended to eight-whys). Why do you want the job done? Asking the relevant questions AT DIFFERENT TIMES may disclose different answers. In the case of Kodak they were prey to their longstanding assumptions. Had they kept asking at intervals, they would have realized that getting the job done or finding the most feasible solution changes with time.

    I love this post as it frees me from the jail of old assumptions.

  2. great article!! I love reading your work :-)