People don’t buy a product, they hire it to make progress in their life. Yet, this progress is not about rolling dice, it is about dominoes. By understanding and unpacking customers’ progress motives and steps, SaaS companies can reframe their reference point for sales. Bob Moesta, one of the living legends of JTBD, introduces us to a whole new approach for customer research-driven sales.
Bob Moesta is a founder, maker, innovator, speaker & now a professor. Currently president & co-founder of The ReWired Group, a Detroit, Mich., Innovation consultancy & incubator, he is also a fellow at the Christensen Institute.
Bob happens to be among the principal architects of the Jobs to be Done theory in the mid-90s along with Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen. He continued to develop, advance and apply the innovation framework to everyday business challenges.
So far, he is the author of 3 amazing books related to sales and JTBD.
As he mentions, “Sales is the hardest thing of running any business, and yet you don’t learn it at school! That was the thread that I pulled. I wanted to be able to deeply understand what sales are. Over time, I realised that the framework which helped me innovate is actually a way to start framing sales.”
In his book “Demand-side Sales 101” he literally advises readers to stop selling and pushing their products. He encourages them to understand their customers and truly help them make progress. It presents a lot of JTBD tools and techniques that Bob has built from the innovations’ perspective, now applying to sales.
Bob describes 2 dominant perspectives that help understand sales and innovations. One is called the Supply-side of the world, which is the side where companies build products. The other is called the Demand-side, which is about customers that buy products.
As Bob underlines, the problem with those 2 perspectives is that there is this huge wall between them. This wall leads companies on the Supply-side to compete with each other instead of competing with the market. At the same time, customers on the Demand-side, are struggling to find real solutions to make the progress they need.
As Bob boldly states, in Jobs-to-be-done terms, people don’t buy a product. They hire it to make progress in their life. That very struggling moment they face is the seed for all innovation.
He continues: “If you think about it, consumers innovate, as much as companies innovate. And that is because there is a mismatch between technological innovation that we have on the product side, and consumer innovation that want to make progress on their side.”
As Bob explains, by studying the Demand-side of the wall you can see that people already use a current product, there is always a habit that’s in place. Yet, there is some context they find themselves in, that causes a struggling moment. That struggling moment basically makes them realise they can’t do what they want to do/ what they used to do.
When they actually accept that, they start thinking about new desired outcomes. And eventually, they start looking for candidates that will help them bring those new outcomes. Those candidates have hire and fire criteria and make trade-offs.
So, consumers look over that wall and start searching for companies, brands and products on the Supply-side that will help them cope with their struggle.
Bob brings on an everyday life example:
“ I have 4 children and I am a horrible picture taker. My kids play sports and I want to take pictures of them while playing. The result is almost always blurred pictures. When I decided that I really want to make progress, I started looking for a better camera. All of a sudden, I entered that world full of cameras that have all these features full of technical language. I literally had to educate myself and dive into this world just to take one picture of my kids that will not be blurred! Becoming familiar with camera features would not even be enough as there is also software that I have to learn how to use in order to make the pictures look good.”
So at a struggling moment, Bob jumped to the supply side to find a solution and he literally had to educate himself before buying a camera to take a shot.
After all, the main problem of this “wall” is that people jump over to get solutions, but all they ever find are companies that compete with each other and not with the market.
Apple came to bring the solution to people who wanted to take a picture and they didn’t have the equipment or the technical knowledge to use a camera full of features. The only thing that the user had to do, would be to just push one button. No language, no special features, just a button and extremely user-friendly software that does everything they might need to do.
The result is that Apple dominates the market against companies such as Canon or Sony that were in the market for many many more years.
If we take a look at this specific industry, there are 1.3 trillion pictures taken per year and camera sales are 90% off. This only happens because companies focus too much on the product and competition and not on the progress that customers are trying to make.
As Bob says, when we think about sales, we start to realise that the focal point of sales is really around the product. We use the product as a starting point and then we begin to think about “Who, Where, When, Why, How and How much”.
Yet, people who are really good at sales think different.
As a starting point, they think about the consumer and the progress they are trying to make. They also try to understand their struggling moments and trade-offs. So they focus on consumer progress, which is about “Who, When, Where & Why” to then move on to figuring out “What, How and How much.”
Bob is actually talking about moving from “selling a product to somebody”, which is a mindset that is all about features and product benefits, to the point where you really ask “What do I gotta do to help people make progress, to help customers?”.
This way, you focus on understanding this Demand-side.
Changing your point of view begins with understanding how people make progress.
Humans are mostly creatures of habit. So how come they buy new things? People have to struggle to basically get to a point where they look at something new. If you are trying to sell something to somebody, just because they fit the demographic or just because they are interested in relevant things, it doesn’t mean they will buy it.
As Bob underlines, we need to understand the causality. People don’t buy products, they hire them to do a job and make progress in their life. So we need to understand and define their problems and their Jobs-to-be-done. By framing their world and the process they need to make, it is much easier to sell them something.
There is always a struggling moment, something that gets people on the waters’ edge. This is the point where people just complain all the time but they don’t do anything about it. When they actually see something on the other side, when they see the potential of a better outcome, they are driven by countervailing forces. By analyzing those forces, we can understand how much they are willing to invest to make this progress.
A way to understand the customers is this notion of forces. In every struggling moment, there are pushes of the situation and pulls of a new solution that promote a new choice. On the other side, there is the tug of the present habit and the uncertainty surrounding a new choice that blocks change. In customers’ language, we have “pains and gains”.
So the question is how do people eventually make this progress and what pushes them?
“How people make progress is about dominoes, it’s not about rolling dice.”
– Bob Moesta
As Bob says, we need to realise that there is a process by which consumers innovate. There is a very very stringent phase-based process of action and activities.
What are the dominoes that have to fall for customers to make this progress?
Bob explains, “I don’t think about this procedure as a dice game, I more think about it as a dominoes game. To me it’s taking this notion of that timeline and unpacking it to a great level of detail, to then understand what people say and do. The biggest thing here is that people are the ones who make progress. We don’t make progress, we help people make progress.”
So what inputs do we provide to help people create the “first thought”?
As Bob mentions in his book, there are only 4 ways to inculcate this “first thought” to customers. One of them is to ask somebody a question and don’t answer it! As Clayton Christensen said, “Questions create spaces in the brain, for a solution to fall into”.
This space that’s in their brain has to build energy in order for people to go through change. Change is not easy and ultimately we need to actually have enough energy to figure out how to make it throughout the process. So, buying a new product requires a lot of energy from customers’ part.
That being said, it is very important to truly understand how to design the experience as people move on from first thought to passive looking and on to the rest of the progress steps.
We should make them feel that they can actually make it through the process and that they will eventually make the progress they want to make.
As Bob mentions, there is a functional, an emotional and a social energy that motivates people to do things. Progress is formed by all those 3 kinds of energy. We need to understand and unpack those motives to actually be able to make the irrational consumer behaviour, rational. Customer research is the only way to deep dive into consumers’ perspectives. By understanding customers’ problems and Jobs-to-be-done, SaaS companies will not only unlock customer research-driven sales but will truly contribute to both customer progress and product innovation.