The hidden reasons why people are using your software

"When we have a job to do, we find something that we can buy or hire to get the job done. Understanding the cause of purchase, really improves the chance of success." - Clayton Christensen, Harvard researcher

I started drinking coffee in college for one reason: I needed something that would keep me up during my long classes.

At the time, coffee was a commodity for me. I'd go to a donut shop and buy a cup for a Loonie (that's a $1 coin in Canada).

Fast forward to today, and things have changed. I go to my favorite coffee shop and buy a premium cup almost every day. It costs me $3.50.

But I'm not just here for the caffeine. Buying that expensive cup of coffee serves many roles in my life.

Here are all the reasons I go to my local coffee shop:

  • It gives me a chance to get out of the office and clear my head.

  • The walk to the coffee shop gives me fresh air and exercise.

  • Social acknowledgment: having a barista greet me by name, and who knows my favorite drink, feels good.

  • The ritual: the experience of making my coffee just the way I like it is enjoyable.

  • Experiencing the atmosphere: I love hanging out in the coffee shop, because it feels like a "scene". It's a creative, bustling environment.

  • When you go to a place every day, you start to feel like you have some ownership over the coffee shop. It feels like "your place."

These are "the jobs" I'm hiring a single cup of coffee for.

Ratio is already starting to recognize some of these Jobs to be Done. Check out this Instagram photo:

They're identifying me as "part of the club." Yes, the coffee is good, but for me, the inclusivity means even more.

It's key to understand the jobs your customers hire your product to do. Unsure of which features to build next? Trying to figure out your marketing strategy? Figure out why your customers hire your product and you'll have the insight you need to make good decisions.

How to discover Jobs to be Done

"The only two people who can give you real feedback about your product are people who just purchased it and people who have just canceled." - Jason Fried

The best way to start understanding JTBD (Jobs to be Done) is to interview and observe folks who have just purchased a product.

A story about pestering my boss

Here's an example: I was working with a web development team when my co-worker messaged me:

"Coda 2 was just released, and it's 30% off only today."

Neither of us had used Coda before, but we'd heard about it previously. We knew a lot of people in the industry who swore by it. 

But probably even more important: we had been following Panic (the team behind Coda) for quite some time. 

We were fans: we read their blog posts, drooled over their design, and liked what they stood for. 

We'd always wanted to try Coda, and the sale price gave us an excuse to pester our boss about buying it. "Are you sure you two aren't just getting this because it's cool?" he asked.

Three months later, neither of us had incorporated Coda into our workflow. 

Examine the forces behind a purchasing decision

The folks at JTBD Radio have a helpful framework called the Four Forces. These are the feelings we experience during a purchase that push us toward a new solution, or that pull us back.

In my previous story, here are the forces that moved us towards Coda:

  • We wanted to change our identity, and be more like the team at Panic.

  • We were also attracted to the sale price, which also motivated us to act quickly.

And these are the forces that held us back:

  • My boss had anxiety about buying another tool.

  • My colleague and I were too committed to our existing web development habits to fully switch to Coda.

The question for Panic, and every software company is: 

What could we have done during that initial process to help the customer succeed with the product? 

Panic was able to get us to buy, but wasn't able to get us to activate. In software, it's not enough to just "get the sale."Your goal is utilization. You want people to use your software and get a benefit from it. 

 Positive outcomes for your users leads to more:

  • Word of mouth

  • Positive reviews

  • Case studies

  • Repeat customers

  • Product upgrades

  • Expansion revenue

To find out what makes someone use your product, and get a benefit from it, you can do customer interviews with folks who have just signed up, or just cancelled.

How to do a Jobs to be Done interview

After a customer signs up for your software, send them an email asking if you can connect over a phone call. You'll want to schedule 60 minutes for the call. (I use Calendly for this).

Structure your interview around the timeline of their purchase. Here are some sample questions:

  1. When did you first think about buying the product?

  2. What happened before that? When was the first time you had a thought about getting something like this?

  3. What did you do next? Did you talk to anybody about it? Did you do any research?

  4. Did you try anything else to solve your problem? What kinds of things did you try?

  5. When did you seriously think about buying? What caused you to start your search?

  6. When did the actual purchase occur? Where were you at the time? What season was it? Who else was involved?

  7. Did you have any anxiety before you purchased the product? How did you overcome that?

  8. How did you feel immediately after you'd purchased the product?

  9. How do you feel about the product now?

I talk more about purchasing timelines here and here.

You don't need a product to start practicing!

Remember: it doesn't have to be your product you're interviewing folks about. You can start practicing now.

If a friend mentions that they recently made a purchase, ask them about it!

Justin Jackson

Looking for more resources on doing Job to be Done interviews?

This article was original published on October 11, 2014. It's been updated since then.

Published on March 8th, 2019
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