Jobs To Be Done: Business Raison d’Etre

Addressing the jobs that need to be done is true raison d’être for every business, product or service. Knowing what’s the job to be done implies truly understanding the customer and their needs or desires.

In the Strategic Blueprint for Business World Domination I outlined three fundamental questions for each business that wants to achieve sustainable growth. In this post we expand on the first question: the opportunity question.

jobs to be done

Jobs To Be Done

While academics and business leaders have discussed the topic of business fundamentals for decades and likely centuries, I have not come across any theory as simple yet complete as Clayton Christensen’s Jobs to be done.

The Jobs theory links the customer and product by the underlying action, the job that needs to get done. A job usually includes a functional aspect but can also be emotional of nature. The customer who needs to get a job done goes on the market to “hire” a product or service that gets the job done. On the market there are usually a plethora of products or services that get the job done. What gets “hired” to do the job will depend on the customer preference in terms of price, quality, reliability, convenience, or any other factor.

Just like with any other job, your product or service can get “fired” from the job if the performance does not meet the customer’s standard or expectation. Your product or service can get fired after the first-time use or after years of use, if a competitor develops a better offer.

Example 1: McDonald’s Breakfast Milkshakes

mcdonalds breakfast milkshake

One of the most famous examples to demonstrate the thought process behind the jobs to be done is Clayton Christensen’s McDonald’s Milkshakes story.

The case sounds simple: how can McDonald’s improve their breakfast milkshake to increase sales and profit?

This should be particularly straight-forward considering McDonald’s is one of the most successful marketing companies in America. They have all the groundwork done. For each product on their menu, they compiled a detailed profile of the target customer and their likely purchasing behavior. Based on the work of the marketing department, the research and development could then enhance the product on all dimensions of performance of the product. Alas, there was no improvement in sales or profits.

Clayton and team then tried another approach. They camped out at one of the restaurants and made meticulous notes whenever someone bought a milkshake. It turned out that about half the milkshakes were sold before 8.30AM, that it was the only thing the customer bought, that they were always alone, and always got in the car and drove off with it.

So, that begs the question: what job are they hiring this milkshake to do that early in the morning?

The job to done was very simple. All customers have a long commute ahead of them and they needed something to do whilst driving so they wouldn’t fall asleep. Furthermore, they knew that they’d be hungry at 10:30AM if they didn’t eat something before. The milkshake offers exactly the features that get the job done. First, due to the drink’s high viscosity it takes quite some time to empty the cup. And second, thanks to its ingredients you weren’t hungry until lunch time.

Are there no competing products for this job? Sure!

  • Banana: gone in 2 minutes and what to do with the peel?
  • Donuts: crumb all over your clothes and makes your fingers gooey
  • Bagels: too dry without condiments, too dangerous to put on the cheese cream while driving
  • Coffee: it can easily spill if you drive over a bump in the road

While all the products listed above are genuine substitutes or even competitors of the breakfast milkshake, none quite meet the needs of the customers on the product attributes or performance dimensions they care about.

Example 2: Google Ads

google ads

In the age of the world wide web, small domestic businesses sell to customers around the world in a global marketplace dominated by multi-national corporations. An important job to get done for any business, small or large, is to attract new customers. While large corporations usually have the advantage of deep pockets and strong brand recognition, small businesses are limited and must carefully deploy its communications to the right target customer.

The job to get done is to help small businesses reach the right customer within their advertising budgets. The job requirements include:

  • Clear and transparent link between advertisement spent and resulting sales increase
  • Highest probability of reaching the target customer so that no dollar is spent on customers that are not interested in the product
  • Total advertising cost that is bearable for a small business

Traditional advertising channels include direct mail, broadcast television, magazines, newspapers, radio, and billboards. To use any of these channels you need to hire an advertising agency that helps you publish your communications in the relevant media. The advertisement agencies are usually expensive to work with, implying a large up-front cost. Furthermore, this up-front cost does not include the ad placement cost. Furthermore, the channels have very limited advertisement space available meaning there’s competition will drive up the cost for the placement. In other words, this service is not viable for “hiring” to get the job done.

On the other hand, Google Ads offers exactly the features a small business requires to reach potential new customers around the world. Not only are you able to specify very detailed what type of customer you’re after in which region (down to city level), you can link the marketing campaign to your online web store to measure traffic and resulting sales, and to top it all off you can start from a measly budget of US $5 per day.

Imagine going to an advertising agency thirty years ago and telling them you’re a small American business trying to sell to vegan aspiring athletes in their early twenties from Latin America, and are willing to spend $5 per day. What do you think would’ve been the response?

From Jobs to Business Strategy Formulation

To get a full perspective on all aspects relating to the job to be done, you can ask the following questions:

  • What is the job to be done?
  • Are we able to get that job done?
  • Are others already getting that job done?
  • How are they getting the job done?
  • Can we get the job done better?

Once you understand the job to be done, the relevant and important performance dimensions, and potential competing products and services, you’re ready to take the next step and formulate your business strategy.

For those who would like to learn more about Clayton Christensen and the jobs to be done, I highly recommend watching his talk at Google from 2016.

Clayton Christensen: “Where does Growth come from?” | Talks at Google