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    A Brief History of “Jobs-To-Be-Done” and How to Use it in B2B Sales

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    People who buy drills don’t want drills. They want holes.

    This is the underlying principle behind a concept called “Jobs To Be Done” or JTBD. JTBD theory is a way of thinking about markets, buyers, competitors, innovation, and even operations within a company. It takes the focus off of what you are producing, and puts the focus on what needs to be accomplished.

    My opening example comes from Theodore Levitt who, in 1962, said, “People don’t want a ¼ inch drill, they want a ¼ inch hole.” This quote wasn’t formalized into the JTBD theory until much later, but the quote demonstrates how JTBD theory can be used to think about customers and their needs and the necessary innovations to serve them in a fresh way.

    If the customer doesn’t need a drill but rather a hole, then manufacturers and innovators are free to think more openly about how the customer can do the “job to be done” - and therefore, how innovators can create better ways of doing those jobs.

    We use JTBD internally at Membrain to plan our operations and product development, and it’s also a very useful framework for thinking about complex B2B sales.

    What is Jobs To Be Done?

    Jobs To Be Done is a lens through which to view markets, buyers, innovation, competition, needs, products, services, and more. It takes the focus off of what is being produced and puts it on the purposes that need to be served.

    According to Tony Ulwick, the primary pioneer of the Jobs-To-Be-Done theory, the key aspects of JTBD theory are:

    • The unit of analysis is not the customer or product, but the core functional “job” the customer needs to get done
    • Markets are defined as groups of people trying to get a job done
      Customers aren’t buyers, they are job executors
    • Needs are the metrics that customers use to measure success when getting a job done
    • Competitors aren’t companies that make products like yours, they are any solution that can be used to get the same job done
    • Customer segments are defined based on how customers struggle to get a job done

    A Brief History of Jobs To Be Done

    Some historians trace the origins of JTBD theory back to 1962, to Theodore Levitt’s quote about drills. But it was much later before the concept underlying that quote was drawn out into a full theory called “Jobs To Be Done.”

    In 1984, Tony Ulwick was inspired by the failure of an IBM product to create a product innovation process that would mitigate the risk of future failures. By 1990, he had recognized the genius of the “create a hole, not a drill” approach, and began applying it to innovation.

    Between the 1990s and around 2003, this lens went through many iterations toward the modern JTBD theory. Ulwick called an early version of it the “CD-MAP” and formed a company to put it into practice. This process was used in 1992 to create a new line of angioplasty balloons.

    By 1999, the process had been renamed ODI, and Ulwick introduced it to Clayton Christensen at Harvard University. In 2002, Harvard Business Review published Ulwick’s work introducing ODI to a wider business audience, and later that year named it an “idea that will profoundly influence business.”

    It was Clayton Christensen who coined “Jobs To Be Done” to describe the approach in 2003, and formalized it as a lens for viewing customers and their needs. Over the next 13 years, Harvard Business Review and others helped spread the word and popularity of the framework, which Ulwick and others continued delivering to companies with outstanding results.

    In 2016, Ulwick published Jobs To Be Done, Theory to Practice, making the framework widely available to any company wanting to use it to improve their innovation strategy. Since then, the theory has been widely applied to a range of situations to improve not only innovation but also strategic thinking around operations and other business functions.

    How to Apply JTBD to Complex B2B Sales

    The complex B2B sales world is an area where JTBD theory is especially rich and helpful. It can be applied both to the buyer’s side, to understand how buyers buy, and to the sales side, to understand what sales teams need to do in order to achieve their goals.

    Differentiate your brand not by features, but by HOW you sell.

    When you apply JTBD theory to the buyer journey, you can untangle some of the common problems sales teams face. For instance, you can begin to see that buying isn’t a linear process from step A to step Z, but rather a tangled web of decisions that are being made within often disconnected groups of stakeholders.

    In JTBD theory, you start thinking about the jobs that the customer needs to get done in order to make a buying decision, instead of just what steps they need to take.

    Gartner has done a lot of thought leadership and research on this topic, and defines six key JTBD by buyers before they can make a buying decision:

    • Problem Identification
    • Solution Exploration
    • Requirements Building
    • Supplier Selection
    • Validation
    • Consensus Creation

    In a complex sale, these JTBD may be performed by stakeholders in different parts of the company and in different ways. For instance, requirements building by a CEO will be different than the requirements building done by a manager or an end user.

    Some stakeholders may be involved in supplier selection, while others may only be involved in validation.

    When you equip a sales team with an effective JTBD map of the buyer’s world, you equip them with the ability to engage different stakeholders effectively according to the jobs they need to get done. Doing this helps reduce stalling out by the customer, because your sales team can coach and guide them through completion of all their jobs to be done in order to make the decision.

    On the seller’s side, you can likewise identify the JTBD by your sales team and appropriately assign them to various team members to ensure everything is completed in order to prepare to bring new customers onboard.

    Using the JTBD framework in this way enables you to shift your internal perspective away from products and solutions, and into actually helping customers get what they need. It allows you to differentiate your brand not by features, but by HOW you sell. And, of course, we think Membrain is the best possible tool for enabling your salespeople to actually execute on the JTBD framework.

    George Brontén
    Published February 1, 2023
    By George Brontén

    George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills, and processes. George is also the author of the book Stop Killing Deals and the host of the Stop Killing Deals webinar and podcast series.

    Find out more about George Brontén on LinkedIn