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People don’t buy quarter inch drills, they buy quarter inch holes

In his classic article on marketing, Marketing Myopia (1960) Theodore Levitt pointed out that when customers buy quarter inch drills what they really want are quarter inch holes.  It seems like an obvious distinction yet many businesses think of themselves as being in the business of manufacturing products versus being in the business providing the means – through products and services – in solving peoples’ problems – in this case – making holes in materials.

So why is that distinction so important and what’s wrong with thinking about your business from a product perspective?  For our drill company the danger is going out of business as soon as a better means of making holes in invented – perhaps electric discharge machine (EDM) technology could be a better solution for a large set of “hole making” problems.

Or perhaps people don’t even need quarter inch holes but rather need the means to fasten objects together – and currently they are using quarter inch bolts to get the “job done” and maybe not to their satisfaction at that (i.e. too expensive, time consuming, too much skill required, lots of retightening required, etc.).

When companies become too product and technology focused they run the risk of offering more features and function to their current products in the belief that their customers want more and better of the same thing. When companies do this, they often solve the wrong problems, improving their products in ways that are irrelevant to their customers’ needs.  The result is added cost and little customer value translating into marginal new growth.  They have overshot the requirements and now are competing on “featurism,” a no-win strategy to avoid.

For a product or service to be successful, it must match the needs of the people who use it. So the question comes down to “what jobs are people trying to get done” and “how satisfied are they with the results they are getting?”  This is what Clayton Christensen describes as the “Jobs-to-be-done” marketing lens.

The Jobs-to-be-done marketing lens consist of three distinct views:

The jobs customers are trying to get done (jobs-to-be-done)

  1. The task or activities customers are trying to carry out. Customers not only want to get more jobs done but they want to do specific tasks faster, better, or cheaper than they currently can.

Outcomes customers are trying to achieve in doing these jobs.

  1. The metrics customers use to define the successful execution of a job. The key is to capture a set of metrics that measures value. These metrics help the development team understand what it means to the user in getting the job done perfectly.

  2. According to Tony Ulrich of Stratyegn in his book  “what customers want: For most “jobs” there are typically 50 to 150 or more “desired outcomes” – not just a handful. Companies must captured information about all the desired outcomes because you never know which may be underserved.

Constraints that may prevent customers from adopting or using a new product or service to get a job done – and/or get the job done better.

  1. Overcoming constraints can provide a terrific opportunity to introduce a breakthrough product concept.  Understanding how a new technology can overcome a specific constraint is a great strategy in defining winning solutions.

Constraints often cited as reasons for non-adoption of technologies and new services include:

  1. Complexity- customers find the solution too complex and believe they lack the skill set to “hire” the product and service

  2. Cost – the cost is too much for the customer to “hire” the product.

  3. Time Consuming –  it will take too much time for the customer to justify the service. Time to learn and time to execute are some examples.

  4. Convenience – it’s just not convenient enough for a customer to “fire” his old sold solution and hire a new one.  It may be to inconvenient to switch out an old technology for a new technology because the potential pay-off isn’t seen or understood.

Framing a business opportunity through the lens of “jobs-to-be-done” helps us early in the vetting  and design process to define our core hypotheses that we can test and discover what customers’ are really trying to accomplish in their daily activities and what it will take to make them more productive and ultimately happier.

Rather than guessing and hoping we got the right functionality for the right customers for a problem we think they have and want solved, we can use the jobs-to-be-done marketing framework and iterative design to guide us in developing solutions for real customer problems.

In future blogs we will continue to explore “how” to use the jobs-to-be-done marketing lens and iterative design to discover what customers really want and how to use the inputs from our market vetting to develop great products and rock solid business models to achieve market success.

Stay tuned,


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