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    How to Use the JTBD Framework to Have (and Coach) Better Sales Conversations

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    Ever since reading Jobs to Be Done: Theory to Practice by Anthony Ulwick, we’ve been applying many of its principles internally at Membrain. We are learning as we go, but one thing that stands out for me is how valuable this framework can be in helping prospects and customers shift the way THEY think about how they are engaging with your offerings.

    Using a Jobs To Be Done (JTBD) framework in this way can help your salespeople have better conversations with all of the stakeholders within prospect organizations. These conversations can add more value for the customer and help them become more confident and secure in moving forward with your offering.

    What is the Jobs To Be Done framework?

    The Jobs To Be Done framework is a lens through which to view innovation, marketing, sales, and more. Specifically, it takes the focus off of what is being produced or even the problems that need to be solved, and puts it on the outcome that is desired. The classic example is that instead of thinking that customers need drills (the product), you realize that customers need holes (the outcome).

    (To add to this classic example, I’d argue that they don’t want the hole in the wall either, but to hang something on their wall to improve their mood and express their personality.)

    You can read a more thorough definition in this Brief History of JTBD.

    In Jobs To Be Done: Theory to Practice, Ulwick explains what does, and does not, constitute a “job,” the types of jobs to be done, and how to find the right level of granularity for the questions you’re trying to answer. In order to understand how use JTBD to have better conversations with customers, sales professionals need to understand some key features of a “Job To Be Done.”

    What a “Job To Be Done” Is - And Is Not

    A “Job To Be Done” is not a problem to solve or a need, but rather a concrete task that must be accomplished. Ulwick suggests describing your Job To Be Done in terms that would have worked even 50 years ago, before the advent of modern technologies, and following this pattern: verb + object + clarifier.

    For instance, in sales, one of our “Jobs To Be Done” is to generate more revenue. This was true of sales 50 years ago, and it’s true today.

    Contrast this with the way we often think of things we need to do such as “find the right software,” “integrate AI into our process,” “improve automation.” These are methods to do the job, not the job itself. In other words, these are drills, not holes.

    For customers and prospects, the Job To Be Done is not “buy a product to solve a problem” or even “solve a problem.” It’s whatever they are trying to actually accomplish, the outcome they are seeking.

    Follow this pattern for writing job statements: verb + object + clarifier.

    So, for instance, if you are selling trucks to a mining company, your prospect’s Job To Be Done is not “buy a construction truck.” The Job To Be Done is something more essential and timeless. For instance, perhaps the Job To Be Done is to move mined materials from the mine to the dock.

    If your salespeople think the prospect just needs to buy a construction truck, they will ask the wrong questions. They’ll begin by inquiring what kind of truck the buyer wants, how many they want, what features they want.

    If, instead, they recognize that the Job To Be Done is to move mined materials, they will start with digging deeply to understand what the requirements are to do this job effectively. Then they can match their recommendations to the Job To Be Done instead of potentially arbitrary specifications.

    Importantly, even the buyer often doesn’t know what the Job To Be Done is, until the salesperson guides the conversation to uncover it. This leads to the salesperson creating value for the buyer as the buyer takes the journey of understanding their own Jobs To Be Done more clearly.

    How to Use Jobs To Be Done to Differentiate Value

    When you dig into the Jobs To Be Done for a prospect, you can uncover areas where your offering can differentiate itself by providing unique value in getting that job done.

    For instance, a Swedish manufacturing company makes heavy construction equipment for the mining industry. Specifically, they make trucks to transport materials to be shipped. They compete in a market where most buyers are looking for the heaviest, biggest truck, in order to transport the largest quantity of materials possible at a time.

    This manufacturer’s trucks are smaller than many of their competitors’ trucks. This could be viewed as a competitive disadvantage. But when viewed through the Jobs To Be Done lens, it becomes a competitive advantage.

    Prospects may reach out to ask for a quote on “the largest truck you have.” They may even specify specific sizes and weight limits. Instead of responding directly to these requests, salespeople initiate a conversation to uncover the deeper Job To Be Done.

    When salespeople respond directly with a quote per the prospect’s declared specifications, they often lose the sale, because the buyer thinks they’re looking for the best price on the biggest truck. This manufacturer can’t compete on that measure.

    To have better success, the salesperson has to dig beyond “the drill,” which is “I need to buy a fleet of heavy trucks.” Instead, they uncover, with the prospect, that the JTBD is transporting materials (the hole). Then they are able to uncover ways that a fleet of smaller trucks will actually get the job done more effectively. For instance:

    • When one breaks down and requires repairs, it doesn’t impact the total operation by very much
    • It’s easier on the roads, so it reduces road maintenance costs
    • Loads can be moving constantly instead of intermittently

    The book dives deeper into how you can go up and down levels of granularity to define Jobs within Jobs and find opportunities to create value that doesn’t currently exist in the market.

    What Are Examples of How Jobs To Be Done Framework Can Change the Conversation?

    Shifting the lens from what a customer thinks they’re looking for to the Job To Be Done can help almost any seller elevate the conversations they’re having and find value differentiators. For example:

    One: Buyer is looking for a marketing automation platform

    Shift the lens to the Job To Be Done, and discover that the “hole” is communicating more effectively with customers.

    Potential value differentiating questions include:

    • Where is our offering strong in supporting effective communication?
    • What can we do that no other solution on the market does?
    • Can automation sometimes cause more harm than good?

    Instead of more automation (which everyone offers), value can be added by offering a streamlined interface that makes it easier for marketing teams to see what matters and focus on the conversations that will move the needle.

    Two: Buyer is looking for a sales trainer

    Shift the lens to the Job To Be Done frame, and discover that the “hole” is improving seller effectiveness.

    Potential value differentiating questions:

    • Where does the marketplace not effectively support seller effectiveness?
    • How can we help the buyer improve seller effectiveness in ways no one else does?
    • Training has a tendency to be forgotten, how can we introduce ways to make it stick?

    Instead of more training or slicker presentation methods, value can be added by offering a technology platform that helps buyers execute on training to actually improve seller effectiveness.

    Three: Buyer seeks AI tools to improve forecasting

    Shift the lens to the Job To Be Done frame and discover that the “hole” is establishing a disciplined “way of selling” and proper qualification.

    Value differentiating questions:

    • Output from AI is only as good as the data that you feed it... Do you have a strucutred framework of how to qualify deals in place?  
    • Does your sales teams share way of selling that sets you apart from the competition and keeps your win rates high?

    Instead of selling bells and whistles like everyone else, value can be added by building a milestone-based sales process with a built-in qualification framework and appropriate dashboards and reports.

    Questions for Sellers to Ask to Uncover JTBD Value

    Coaches and sales leaders can teach salespeople to start uncovering JTBD value differentiators through the questions they ask prospects. Examples include:

    • Why. Why do you need the heaviest truck? Why are you investing in marketing automation? Why are your forecasts off? Why is this important to you and the organization?
    • How are you currently accomplishing this task? Why is it not sufficient?
    • Who will be involved in getting the work done and why is this important to them?
    • What are you buying this for? What purpose will the purchase serve? What are the mission-critical tasks it will support? What are the outcomes you want to achieve?
    • How will this purchase help you accomplish that task?
    • How could you accomplish this task differently? What else would serve the purpose?

    I would love to hear from you how you are implementing or might implement the JTBD lens within your organization and especially within sales conversations and enabling buyers. What questions should salespeople be asking  your potential buyers?

    George Brontén
    Published March 8, 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