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Why People Buy – Part 1 – JTBD for Innovative Products with Alan Klement

Part 1 of 2: Alan Klement wrote “When Coffee and Kale Compete: Become great at making products people will buy.” The book provides a new way of thinking about your business: people don’t buy your product for features, they hire your product to do a job: to make their life better.

Klement’s “Jobs to Be Done” (JTBD) idea is game-changing, transforming how product marketers approach and understand products and customers.

Klement’s perspective on “Jobs to Be Done” (JTBD) is game-changing, transforming how product marketers approach and understand products and customers.

Episode 1: What is “Jobs to be done” theory?
Episode 2: A deeper dive: how to apply JTBD to your business.

Episode transcript:

Andreas: Welcome to Product: Knowledge, the podcast about creating and marketing products that improve people’s lives. I’m Andreas Schwabe, director of media services at Graphos Product, with me as always, is the president and CEO, Laurier Mandin.

Andreas: Now, most product marketers have heard the name Alan Klement. If you don’t recognize his name, you’re probably familiar with the ideas from his book, “When Coffee and Kale Compete: Becoming Great at Marketing Products People Will Buy”. If you don’t know the name or the book, this episode of Product: Knowledge could be a turning point in how you think about marketing. In fact, the conversation was so good and enlightening, we just kept recording until we were out of things to talk about. As a result, we’ve split the conversation into two parts. In this first part, we learn what it means to say that a product has a job to be done in the mind of the consumer.

Andreas: In part two, we’ll get more granular with the details of thinking about that. Alan Klement is an entrepreneur, author, and speaker. For years, he’s explored the root of why people make the buying choices they do. His conclusion, people buy things to improve their life. The process of using a product to turn an existing life situation into a desired one is something Alan Klement calls a Job To Be Done (JTBD), and he’ll explain that in just a moment.

Andreas: We spoke with Alan Klement from his home in New York City, on the 4th of July. Here’s part one of our conversation with Alan Klement. Welcome Alan. How are you?

Alan: I’m doing great.

Andreas: Great. You’re in New York, right?

Alan: I am in New York.

Andreas: And how is New York right now?

Alan: New York is hot and it’s actually 4th of July weekend. It’s Independence weekend, so it’s very deserted right now, but in some ways that makes it kind of fun to walk around.

Andreas: So you didn’t go out of town for the weekend or anything?

Alan: No, no. I had a lot of work to do

Andreas: Oh, there you go. Okay. Now I just realized on the website, you’re actually giving the book, When Coffee and Kale Compete, you’re giving it away.

Alan: Yeah.

Andreas: And you’re not even asking for contact information. So why are you doing that?

Alan: Yeah. So I’ll have to admit, when I began this, there was no big strategy in mind. It was always I have an experience doing businesses, and then I went the route of working for other people, and then learned a lot of stuff. And then before I kind of jumped back into starting another business, I wanted to sit down and really reflect upon what I’ve learned.

Alan: And a great way to do that is to force yourself to write a book. And so I did that, and I just figured, “Well okay, well I’ll just share what I learned with the rest of the world.” And there you go. Hopefully people will find it helpful. If not, if anything, it was at least helpful to me to defrag my brain, as people like to call writing.

Alan: There was never really a intention to build a new kind of business out of it. It was not like a marketing thing. It was purely selfish. And then if other people find it helpful, great.

Laurier: Well, and you’ve become someone, a go-to person in product marketing as a result. And I came to to know about you… I’m trying to think, it was many months ago when I bought the book online on Amazon. And a lot of people have referred to the book. I was at a podcast conference, just two weeks ago, and a guy named Justin Jackson, who’s a product guy, well-known, he put your book up on the screen and suggested the people at that conference read it.

Laurier: So you’re easy to find online, when someone’s searching for Jobs To Be Done (JTBD), you’ve done some podcasts of your own.

Andreas: I appreciate the altruism of it too. Because for people like me who are always looking for new ideas, it’s always a downer to have someone who has a really good insight, and then you have to pay to get access to it. That’s a little bit frustrating, you know?

Alan: Right. Yeah. Well the other thing too, and maybe I’m kind of aggrandizing myself here, but thinking back, like some of the best… Like ideas and knowledge should be free. So what you pay for should be the delivery of that. Whether it’s like a workshop, or a physical book, or a Kindle that I read on my device. That’s what you kind of should pay for. But I think that if we all kind of believe that knowledge should be free, and shared freely, then I think that’s how we should operate too. So I kind of had that in my mind as well.

Andreas: Well and that leads us to the first big question, which really defines the entire thing, which is tell us what job to be done actually means?

Alan: Well simply it’s this idea that consumers adopt a product because they’re trying to make some change in their life. So it’s not about focusing on the product it does necessarily, or even how you interact with it, but how your life changes, how things around that product change as a result of adopting it.

Alan: And so then that the job to be done is well what change is your consumer hoping to make as a result of adopting the product? And it’s called jobs to be done because as we’ve been investigating this phenomenon and learning more things, we’ve learned once you shift your thinking in that way, you start to kind of recognize other characteristics that are happening.

Alan: So like for example, it’s called jobs to be done because once you recognize that it’s actually the change that consumers want, you de emphasize the product and what it does. And then once you do that, you recognize, well actually consumers don’t really want your product, nor do they really want to use it. So really what’s going on is well they’re actually hiring your product to do this job of making the change for you. And it’s much like the relationship between an employer who has a job, and they hire an employee to do their work for them. So that’s kind of why it was called jobs to be done.

Laurier: In marketing, we talk a lot about that from the point of view of our client. Because our job isn’t just to create marketing and create pretty images and fancy wording for them. It’s to take that client to what their desired future state is. And that’s why they come to a marketing agency, is they want to achieve progress and to be in a better place when the campaign is done, than they were in now.

Alan: Right. Yeah. I think that’s a better way to think about it. Think about the product as an enabler. Right? You know that it’s a change agent, right? It’s a change device and that’s kind of really what I want. What I want is… So when you’re selling a product, you’re not, quote on quote, “selling the product,” you’re really selling to the consumer some change in their life, and your product is just some sort of enabler, some sort of feature that makes that change happen.

Laurier: Yes. And I like in the book that you say that when the buyer purchases the product, they’re hiring that product to do the job, and they’re also firing another product at the same time in order to do that.

Alan: Yeah. So That’s interesting. I’m going to change that wording a bit in the future. I tried to keep it simple by having it be zero sum like that. It’s not always like that. Probably a more precise or correct way of saying it is, well they’re firing some old way of living and working, operating, and hiring a new way.

Laurier: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. They may be firing a system that wasn’t very effective, or very efficient to use a product that brings it all together. Right?

Alan: Right. Exactly. Exactly. And I think actually it’s kind of funny, you used the word system. That’s what we call it now. We call them solution systems. Actually if you want to get to that kind of our technical thinking of it, we don’t… We actually say that consumers adopt solutions systems, not really even say like products because it’s very rare that anyone just uses a product entirely isolated by itself. It always kind of interacts with other things or it connects with other things also.

Laurier: Yeah. Well and that brings us to another point about when you talk about that interaction, there’s always the risk factor when you have those dependencies, and you refer to those as fragile interdependencies. Can you tell us a bit about what those can look like?

Alan: Yeah, so this actually happens a lot. Actually there’s two businesses I’m talking with right now who are facing this problem. One is very established, and has been around for a while, but they’re kind of running into this problem. And another one is a startup. And basically these companies had had built their business proposition upon like very functional thinking, right?

Alan: So like I’ll use… One of them actually uses insurance for landlords for an example. Right? It’s a very functional thinking. “Oh, landlords want to buy insurance, or want to make sure their tenants are insured, so we need to help them do that. Or tenants need to make sure that their apartments and things are insured, because of laws or because they’re worried, or whatever, whatever, whatever. So let’s just offer some solution for that.” So it’s very like functionally driven, but then they… And this always happens, they realize that, that only takes them so far, and that’s because they were really just offering, not really even a coat…

Alan: Well, here’s what it was. They had no vision about what progress that they were delivering to consumers. Right? What new me? And they had themself, no vision about what their customers should be like. So they were just looking at landlords, for example, we use this, and thinking, “Oh, landlords have this problem, so let’s just make some product that solves that quote unquote ‘problem.'” As opposed to thinking, “Well wait a minute, how should landlords protect their properties? You know, like what should they be doing? What technologies should they be having? Should they have insurance or is there another way of doing it? Should they have electronic stuff in there? Should they have monitoring?” You know, all this kind of stuff. And I think that’s kind of like having that vision is really how you get around that.

Alan: So coming back to your original question about the fragile interdependencies, that usually happens when you build your product around… Usually offer like a feature or based upon like someone else’s feature, or someone else’s failing, or someone else’s platform. Usually because you’re just kind of like filling a gap somewhere that someone else has created for you.

Laurier: Yeah.

Alan: As opposed to what you should be doing, which is having a vision for what you want your customers to become. And then thinking about, “Okay, well how are all the different ways that we can do that? Here’s ten ways. Well, we have limited resources so we can’t do ten, so let’s choose one and start with that one.”

Laurier: Yeah. I think of when I go and stay in a hotel room sometimes, they’ll have a speaker system, and it’ll have a docking port for like the old iPhones, that type of thing.

Alan: Perfect.

Laurier: And to me that’s a fragile interdependency, where that speaker is now absolutely irrelevant because of a change that was not within the control of its manufacturer. Right?

Alan: Yep, yep.

Laurier: And stores, we’re stuck with thousands, or millions of those things when that change was made.

Alan: Yeah. Yeah. That’s it. And I think that kind of comes from a very kind of a… I call it problem focused thinking as opposed to solution focused thinking. Which that’s a very interesting topic to go into, if you want to? But people like Apple or these other organizations, which are really great, they are actually, I would say they are solution focused, right? They’re always thinking about, “How should people listen to music?” Right? “How should computing be? How should your reading experience be? How should you be using the internet?”

Alan: So it’s very solution focused as opposed to problem focused, which is really problems are just created by the design of the system of today, right? So you’re always looking backwards and kind of going back to your thing, it’s like, well someone identified a problem. Ah, you know, there’s no easy way to dock my phone to the speaker, so let me just create something for that. But you’re just responding to how things are designed today and then if things change in the future, which they will, you’re going to be SOL.

Andreas: You’re listening to product knowledge, the Graphos podcast about marketing products that improve people’s lives.

Laurier: For someone who’s developing products, obviously to me the answer to that is not to develop solutions that require something else in the middle, or that are just responding to the problem of using an existing product. Even when you have an integration that, I think of there’s so many tools, and with with websites, we integrate Google maps into all the websites we build, and then Google changes its API and now thousands of websites are broken. You know, and around the world, it’s millions of websites again. So you have these interdependencies, that you’re building around things as if they’re static. But the thing is people are graduating all the time, right? And products are graduating.

Alan: Yep. Unless if I could, before we move on, I will comment, that’s not necessarily a bad strategy, unless as long as you understand what you’re doing, and that maybe you can make your business around that. Like for example, I think there are hardware manufacturers, who their business model is to actually like make dongles. Like that’s what we do.

Laurier: Yeah.

Alan: So we understand that we’re in the business of making adapters, but we know that our businesses is not to make one particular adapter, our business is actually to make sure… It actually is. It’s really more job syncing, right? We’re in the business of just making adapters, we’re actually in the business of helping customers, make sure that all their stuff always works together, even if they’re asynchronously buying stuff.

Laurier: Exactly. And if that’s what your business is, then every time there’s a change it’s a new opportunity. Right?

Alan: Yes.

Laurier: You can sell the existing adapters, plus whatever new one is needed.

Alan: Yep. Yep.

Andreas: Is the jobs to be done process, like when you’re thinking about product and product development, is it sort of an iterative process? So I got into 3D printing about a year ago, and got my first printer. It was fine. It was good. It wasn’t a great piece of hardware and it failed, it died. So I got a new one and it had a couple little pieces that were updated and changed. And they were better, and then it died, and I got another one replaced.

Andreas: The difference between the first version and the third version was completely night and day in terms of the user experience, and it was actually much more a pleasure to use, and it was answering a bunch of questions that I had about 3D printing. There were just issues that sort of the new version solved. If you’ve developed your product thinking in terms of outcomes and goals, targets and things like that, how do you shift? Like how do you iterate your marketing to focus more on Jobs To Be Done?

Alan: Yeah.

Laurier: I want to add my own bit to that question. Do jobs to be done change as the world changes? You know as… Because obviously as Andreas is saying, his need with 3D printing, even buying the same device, it’s kind of upgrading it in realtime, as his needs are changing. And he’s not going to put up with low resolution, and he’s not gonna put up with as much time as it used to take. And you know?

Alan: Those are two great questions and I’ll have to kind of tackle them separately. So the first one, actually I want to comment on that because you’ve… I’ve actually just recently, I’m about to give a talk on this, or actually I recorded it a few days ago and it’s going to be live, I don’t know, in a few weeks from now. I think they’re editing it right now.

Alan: But it’s a talk I just created. It’s like I do it for like 15, 20 minutes. And so if you watch me on Twitter, you’ll find it, you’ll find me tweet about it again. But it’s important to recognize that there’s different types of value that consumers want, and that we should not be reducing value to just a list of needs. Right? Or kind of like looking at it just kind of through one dimension. Now, where am I kind of going with all this?

Alan: Well because you mentioned the word about like goals and targets and outcomes. So in my kind of trying to understand and find better language around this, I can of had to dive into the psychology of goals because I figured I’m sure there’s people thought about this and figured all this stuff out. Which is true, over a hundred years, there have been, who knows how much research on goals and all the different types of goals and whatnot.

Alan: So the first thing I’ll say, and I’ll kind of skip a lot of the interesting stuff and just kind of jump to what’s most relevant right now, is that I think in the context of product design, we should be thinking about two types of goals primarily. One, I call them usage goals, which in the technical sense if you’re talking to a psychologist, they’d be called outcome goals. And then the other type of goal, which are called process goals technically, and I call change goals.

Alan: So kind of in our language think about usage goals and then change goals. So jobs to be done is about change goals, right? I’m trying to make some change in my life. Here’s how I want that to be like. Whereas usage goals are, well how good, or what are the means, like how well or how easy is it to use the means by which I’m enabling those changes and maintaining those changes?

Alan: And the biggest difference between the two was that usage goals or outcome goals are like very short lived, and maybe you repeat them over and over again, right? I don’t know. Making sure… Oh goodness, I can’t even think of a good one.

Alan: Like, okay, like for example, winning the Super Bowl, right? That’s like an outcome goal, right? I want to win the Super Bowl, but really that’s just like an outcome goal. Or like what the team really wants to be, is they actually, they want to be football champions, right? That’s actually the process goal. That’s always ongoing, and that’s how they want to think of themselves because once they reach and win the Superbowl, they don’t just, “Oh, good job guys. Well let’s… ”

Laurier: “I guess we’re done.”

Alan: “Let’s close down. Yeah, let’s close up, Patriots. Goodbye, we did it.” Well, no, they want to win next year, and then win the year after that, and the year after that. So they want to be champions. So I think that’s, when you’re thinking about value and designing your product, you need to keep both in mind. Right?

Alan: Well what are the change goals that we’re helping create? Like going back to our kind of dongle example, well we are in the business of making sure that our customers can always hook all their gear together, no matter what they update. But then the outcome goals might be like more specific. Like, well you know, I can connect this computer to that computer, or it’s easy to unplug an up that, or whatever.

Laurier: Yeah, yeah.

Alan: So, I think that… Go ahead.

Laurier: The job is to provide connectivity wherever that that user is, right?

Alan: Yes. Yep.

Laurier: Wherever they need to hook onto, they have the dongle they need.

Alan: Yep. Yep. What was the second thing you were asking about? It was also very interesting.

Laurier: I think we were talking about, as the world changes, as your needs change-

Alan: Oh, yes. Yes.

Laurier: How the job to be done changes as you use, as you utilize the product. So it’s not static.

Alan: Yeah, yeah, exactly. So that was actually, I think an early version of my thinking about Jobs to be Done was… And I used to say this, actually I think the very first draft of the book, I said that jobs don’t change. But then after doing more research and thinking, discovering, I’ve changed my mind on that.

Laurier: And they evolve, right?

Alan: Yes, exactly.

Laurier: They don’t tend to change suddenly, unless the need disappears, which can happen. But-

Alan: Yeah. Well the thing is is that we should… It’s better to think about, and it’s actually more accurate to think of a job to be done as a regulation process. So that the job to be done is help me become someone who can… And we’ll use the dongle example. Help me become someone who can always keep all their gear connected no matter what.

Alan: And so once they make that change, then the job is done. Right? They’ve made that change and they are now that way. However, if maybe circumstances change. Maybe like there’s a new… Apple creates a new laptop and they’ve totally changed all the outputs, and I buy one of those laptops. Well now guess what happens? That job to be done, which I used to be done, is now like undone, and I have to do it again. So now I have to re regulate that goal of being someone who can always connect everything.

Alan: So I think that’s the way to think about is that they kind of like… You know, the job to be done, it’s like I have some goal in my mind, some process goal, and then once I achieve that, then the job is done, it kind of goes away until, right? You know, maybe it doesn’t become relevant or maybe because some other disruption in my life happens, which kind of reactivates that. And that could be maybe my personal goals changing, kind of like going back to two to 3D printer, your expectations changed.

Alan: So like someone somehow move the goalposts for you. So that created a new job to be done for you. Because version one of you was like, “Oh I want to make sure that I can create a coffee cup.” That was like version one of you. Then you did that, job is done. But then maybe you see someone like, “Oh my gosh, I can… I don’t know, print smells or something crazy.” Right? Someone introduces a new way for you of thinking about how you could and should be, and that kind of reactivates demand in you again.

Alan: So I like thinking about job to be done is like, it’s a demand for change that I want to make, but I can do right now.

Andreas: What are ways that people can identify the job to be done for their product?

Alan: So when you’re doing, when you’re identifying jobs, basically you’re looking at what are the jobs to be done in the market today? Meaning, what are the changes that consumers are currently paying for, right? And wanting to make? And where are they putting down their money and buying things? And so when you phrase the question that way, it kind of becomes self-evident of how you search for them, and that is well you investigate why people bought a product, right? So you want to go from, well wait a minute on Monday you were fine driving a sedan, but then on Thursday you bought your first minivan, well what happened, right?

Alan: So basically you want to find out, well how was that job to be done created? I’m going to exaggerate. Well on Tuesday I got married, and on Wednesday I had my first kid, and then on Thursday, I had to have a minivan. Like okay, well there you go. Like you understand how demand got generated, how that job to be done came to be. So we investigate consumers choices they make in the market, about why they’re hiring a product for a job. And we do that because we want to focus on consumers revealed preferences, right? What they’re actually doing, not what they say they want to do.

Andreas: That’s all for part one of Product: Knowledge and our interview with Alan Klement. Graphos, you can catch us on Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, and Twitter @GraphosCanada. You can also visit our blog at We’d love to hear from you. Subscribe, like, or share the podcast with a friend or colleague. You can reach us at [email protected]. Product knowledge is the podcast about creating and marketing products that improve people’s lives. I’m Andreas Schwabe.