Jobs To Be Done: The Secret Weapon for Boosting Cold Email Response Rates

Have you ever been misunderstood? Even in a time when you were 1,000% sure you explained yourself clearly?

Of course you have, and it can feel maddening. But still, it happens.

Unfortunately, the same thing is happening to your customers.

You think you know exactly what they’re thinking and feeling. But have you asked them?

If not, you don’t fully understand the reasons why they’re buying. If you don’t understand why they buy, then you need help.

That’s where Jobs to Be Done comes in.

Related: 11 Must-Follow Rules for B2B Email Introductions

What Is Jobs to Be Done?

Jobs to Be Done (JTBD) is a process that helps you understand what customers and potential customers want to achieve, so you understand why they might buy your product.

JTBD says that people buy things – software, gym memberships – to do specific jobs for themselves. Then they “hire” services, companies and products to do those jobs for them.

For example, a lot of people “hire” McDonalds milkshakes to stop them getting bored on their morning drive into work.

So unless you understand the job that your product is being hired to do, you may struggle to sell it.

As management guru Peter Drucker said “The customer rarely buys what the business thinks it sells.”

The Jobs To Be Done methodology is often contrasted with other ways of working out what customers might need, such as user stories and buyer personas.

These theories focus on understanding the motivation of the service user. JTBD theory says that while it’s useful to know the type of people who are buying your product, the real question is what they want to do with it, once they’ve bought it. It replaces the “user story” with the “jobs story”.

Jobs To Be Done was popularized as a concept by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen and then developed into a framework by Tony Ulwick, CEO of Strategy.

Typically a job to be done is written as a “jobs story”, like so:

When I…
I want to…
So I can…

So for example:

When I want to hang a picture, I want to drill a hole, so I can stick a hook in the wall.

When I go to a meeting, I want to take notes, so I can remember what happened.

For the first of these jobs, we hire a drill. For the second we might hire a notebook and pen. We might hire an iPad.

Let’s look at some of the key elements. In this article we’ll look at:

What Is The Jobs To Be Done Framework?

The Jobs To Be Done framework is a tool for working out what jobs your customers might need to do, and why they might want to “hire” your products to do that job. It should also help you work out why former customers “fired” your products and why they are now using other products instead.

Who’s the customer?

The framework starts by asking who your customers might be. Are they doing the job, supporting and maintaining the product, or buying the product?

If you buy a toothbrush you’re all three – the purchaser, the user and the maintainer.

With a CRM, the user is a marketer or salesperson, the purchaser is maybe the head of sales or the CEO, and the person who maintains it is in the support department.

With a school bus the user is the driver, the purchaser is somewhere in the capital team at the schools district, and the person who maintains it is a mechanic on contract.

What’s the job?

Typically there are a lot of jobs to be done with a complex product. If you use a CRM, you want to store, search, modify and share the information on it. If you’re in charge of looking after it you have to install it, learn to use it, test it, train people in it.

The framework also looks at “emotional jobs”, because it’s not enough that a product does a job. It must also make the user feel good about themselves while doing it. Shoes do the job of keeping our feet dry and comfortable, for example, but they also say a lot about our identity. Shoes which tell the wrong emotional story will not be hired.

Similarly, there are “related jobs” which happen alongside the main job. Sure, we hired a product to make coffee. But there’s a good chance we might then have to put that coffee on a tray and give it to someone at a table somewhere.

What are the customer’s goals?

So they hired your product for their job? Why? What outcomes are they trying to produce?

It turns out there are a lot, often more than 100. If one of those outcomes is not delivered by your product, that’s a constant source of frustration.

Real Life Example: JTBD Used to Sell More Milkshakes

Let’s use a real life example involving milkshakes.

Imagine a typical product meeting. Smart, high-paid people sit around a conference table with catered lunch, spitballing ideas.

No one in the meeting is a frequent milkshake consumer.

They come up with ideas to improve the features of the milkshake (better flavor, thicker consistency, larger cups, chocolate chips). The HiPPO wins.

But in this case, instead of doing conference-room-quarterbacking, the team theorized that every customer hires a product to do a job. This meant they had to go out and actually talk to people.

So they spent time with customers and watched them consume their milkshakes, asking questions along the way. And they learned some really valuable things about milkshake buyers:

  • A lot of milkshakes were sold in the morning (who knew?)
  • Consumers wanted a meal to last throughout their entire commute and kept them full until lunch
  • Parents bought milkshakes to keep their kids occupied for long periods

Not one person talked about the features of the milkshake-like flavor or consistency.

And they could only gain this insight by interacting directly with customers.

Sidenote: this process yielded not only why customers buy, but also who buys. The circumstances drove the job for parents wanting to keep their kids occupied longer, and morning commuters wanting a long-lasting meal.

And in case you’re thinking “I don’t sell milkshakes,” check out how JTBD has been a driving force for Des Traynor and Intercom. They even wrote a book about it.

Getting Started With Jobs to Be Done

Starting anything new can be daunting, but I assure you this is not. I’m going to give you a framework to ask the questions you need, and a template to fill in with the answers.

All you need to do is talk to 5-10 people in two different camps: customers who signed up in the last 60 days, and customers who canceled in the last 60 days.

Keep in mind the Three Unbreakable Rules of JTBD:

  • Always ask open-ended questions
  • Never ask leading questions
  • Listen a lot more than you talk.

If you follow these three absolutes, you’ll be in good shape. Let’s take a look at how you might conduct your JTBD research.

Interview Recent Customers

Start with your recent customers because they’re in the best position to remember the driving forces behind their purchases. When you conduct a JTBD interview, your goal is to understand your customer’s thought process and the internal and external drivers of their purchase.

Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • What was going on in your life when you first realized _____ was a problem? How did you know?
  • Once you realized you had a problem, what did you do next?
  • What kind of solutions did you try? Or not try? Why or why not?
  • Before you purchased, did you imagine what life would be like with the product? And what were you expecting?

Get the full list of interview questions here – no email required.

Interview Past Customers

Now that you’ve interviewed your current customers and found out why people are buying your product, it’s good to also understand why they leave. Churn is the bane of all SaaS businesses, so understanding why people are leaving can help you sell and develop your product more effectively.

Your main interest in speaking with past customers is not to bring them back as customers. Don’t mix contexts here: resist the urge to talk them back into buying your thing. Instead, focus on why they left and what they’re doing now.

Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • Why did you initially sign up for _______? Did you evaluate any other options?
  • When was the first time you thought that ______ might not work for you? Why?
  • Why did you cancel the day that you canceled? Why that day, and not the day before or after?
  • What are you using now? Why?
  • Even though you switched away from _________, would you recommend it to anyone? To whom, and why?

Record, Document & Analyze All Your JTBD Interviews

Let’s do some back-of-the-napkin math for a second. You’re talking to 10 current and 10 past customers for about 30 minutes each. That’s about 10 hours of conversation, and humans speak about 125 words per minute. If you’re only speaking about 20% of the time, then you’ll be gathering about 60,000 words during your JTBD research!

Now, you’ll hear a lot of the same themes repeating, so it’s not as if you’re writing a book, Hemingway. But there is a decent amount of information to manage here, so you’ll need a plan.

Whenever I do JTBD research for a sales team, I record the interviews using Skype and Ecam Recorder, I take notes during the call, and then I review the interview and my notes afterward. I repeat this process for every interview.

Review your notes a few times and themes will emerge. Your brain is a pattern recognition machine, dearest human.

As you go along, categorize your notes into the biggest themes you’re hearing. These themes should include verbatim quotes you’ve gathered from your customers (or past customers).

Get the summary tables to help organize your research here – no email required.

Rethink Your Sales Approach Based On What You Learned During Your JTBD Research

You’re a superstar! Look at all the good, productive stuff you’ve done.

You made a list of current and past customers. You contacted them. You set up meetings and interviewed them. You recorded your interviews and took good notes. Then you organized everything you learned into themes that you can use.

Now, how is this going to improve your sales approach?

You now know why people buy and why they stop buying, so use those tools to improve your messaging and boost those email reply rates.

Now there’s nothing left to do but start rewriting!

You’ll probably notice that your previous emails and other materials were not focused on the jobs your prospects wanted to get done. As a result, most of them will go in the circular filing cabinet. Great! You’re on track.

Rather than throwing away all of your previous work, take a cut at incorporating the top two or three themes you found in your JTBD research. Test it against your previous email campaigns, and you’ll almost certainly notice a lift.

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