Companies often define the markets they serve around the technology in their product offerings or the products themselves. This is a convenient way to simplify communication to outsiders. It is easy to explain, for example, that your company is in the drivetrain market, or the lithium ion battery market. However for purposes of long-term growth and innovation, this can be a tragic mistake. That’s because technologies come and go and all solutions will one day become obsolete. What will become of the newspaper, taxi and yellow pages markets? Many companies today find themselves threatened by technological disruption. But there is a way to ease that threat.

Define your markets around the customer’s job-to-be-done

A market, which is the target of everything a company does, should not be defined around something so unstable that it is only valid until the next product iteration. It should be defined around something that is stable for decades, making long-term strategic investments more attractive and providing the company with a vision for the future. This is why the Outcome-Driven Innovation (ODI) process defines a market as “a group of people” + “the job they are trying to get done.” Caregivers who are trying to care for seniors in their home (the job-to-be-done) constitute a market. Farmers who are trying to grow a crop also constitute a market, as does building managers who are providing clean air to tenants.

When defined in this way, there are tens of thousands of markets out there, and many of them have been around for decades, even centuries. They serve as a stable focal point for value creation and align your employees around a common vision and strategy. When it comes to getting a job done, people (job executors) don’t want to cobble a solution together from multiple, incompatible offerings. They want one solution that gets the whole job done. When focused on the job-to-be-done, a company is more likely to gradually evolve its products over time to get the entire job done and better satisfy its customers.

There is also an extremely important tactical reason to define markets this way: when the job executor and job are the unit of analysis, rather than the product or the customer, a company is able to break down the job into its component parts so it can figure out which ones are giving the job executors the most difficulty. This lens provides a new way to think about the customer journey and to define customer needs.

This thinking leads to breakthrough solutions in markets that seemingly look mature or commodity-like. Look no further than P&G’s Swiffer. Who would have thought there was a billion dollar market in the floor cleaning space? What P&G discovered is that there were still many unmet customer needs related to the job of cleaning the floor.

What job is your customer trying to get done?

Notice we do not ask, “What job does your product get done?” The job your product gets done may or may not be the job your customers are trying to get done. Herbicides kill weeds, and a herbicide manufacturer may think that’s the job its customers are trying to get done. But users of herbicides may actually be trying to get a different job done: they may be trying to grow a crop. Assuming you know what the job-to-be-done is without asking the job executor can be a fatal mistake.

To define the job, we interview several job executors and assess their thoughts on the job they are trying to get done. The goal is to define the job at a level of abstraction that encompasses all the functional tasks along the customer journey. For example, a bank might think that its primary jobs are to take and secure deposits, loan money and disburse payments. However, when looking at the job-to-be-done from the customer’s (job executor’s) perspective, a more accurate and complete job may be to “manage cash flow”. This broader job statement better represents what the customer is trying to do and opens to door for additional opportunities to pursue.

Focusing on the customer’s job has profound impact on a company’s innovation and growth strategy in the following ways.

  1. The company will see opportunities it had never yet considered, i.e., a job by definition is larger than the current solution set that helps address it.
  2. The organization will see, and be able to react to, a broader competitive landscape, reducing the prospect of getting blind-sided by a disruptive solution.
  3. The company will have the strategic freedom to explore new technologies that will solve the customer job in wholly unique ways—beyond its comfort zone.

To illustrate the power of this thinking, consider the air purification market. Most of the leaders in this market make mechanical air purification equipment and define their market in that way—i.e., air purification equipment. Looking at the market through a jobs-to-be-done lens however, the market is better defined as helping builders/building owners provide clean air to people within a building (no mention of the type of solution). This orientation can open the eyes of companies to alternative technologies that get the job done. For example, there are photo-catalytic chemicals that clean a building’s air simply by being applied on the walls and interior surfaces.

A company who rallies its resources around getting the “job” done better will look at all possible solutions as a natural part of their portfolio, whereas a company that is focused on technology is more likely to miss opportunity and get disrupted.


About Rob Schade

Rob drives client success with his deep expertise in Jobs-to-Be-Done (JTBD) theory and Outcome-Driven Innovation (ODI). He has advised leadership teams in many industries, including technology, manufacturing, consumer packaged goods, medical device, and fintech. He also has deep expertise in the area of service innovation – helping companies to innovate current service offerings or create entirely new ones. Rob is also responsible for marketing and sales efforts where he shares his passion for improving the innovation process, a commitment he picked up during a decade working in hardware and software ventures in Silicon Valley. He received both his undergraduate and master’s degree in Accounting and Finance from the University of South Carolina. Don’t be surprised if you receive a call from Rob during an ODI engagement – he is dogged in his pursuit of making sure our clients are satisfied!

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