Marketing 101: Jobs-To-Be-Done Theory

by Asif Khan

On a sweltering summer day a couple years ago, I took my aging Lexus to the dealer for scheduled service and to prepare it for trade-in. The A/C was blowing warm air so I asked them to check it out, hoping it would be a minor fix.

Of course, the dealer claimed I needed a whole new A/C system: condenser, compressor, etc. the cost? $1,800. I politely declined and promptly took the car to a couple of local mechanics to get a cheaper estimate.

After I got the estimate down to $1,100, I asked the sales rep, “Will you provide a money back GUARANTEE that the A/C will blow cold air if I agree to this price? He diverted and dodged like a politician being asked a yes-or-no question. So I thanked him and went on my way.

As I was driving home, I realized that I was approaching this problem all wrong. I didn’t necessarily want to buy a new A/C, I just wanted my A/C to do the job it is supposed to do. So I turned around and went to Knight Automotive. Roger Knight is a Master ASE-certified badass in San Diego.

Roger is the guy the dealers call when they have questions. He’s not cheap but he is the best. I didn’t think my A/C needed replacing so I simply told Roger that I wanted my A/C to blow cold air. He said he would charge a $95 diagnosis fee but that he thought he already knew what the problem was.

A couple hours later, Roger charged me an additional $85 for parts and labor and I was driving home with cold air blowing on my face…all for less than $200!

In the 1960’s, Theodore Levitt, renowned economist and Harvard Business School professor wrote, “Customers don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They need a quarter-inch hole.” To paraphrase this idea, every business transaction is made because the buyer has a specific job in mind that they need to do. If the seller understands what the buyer is really trying to do, they are much more likely to win the sale. In other words, to a hammer, everything looks like a nail…don’t be a hammer!

This is a simple concept but has profound impact if practiced correctly. In my case, I didn’t want to buy an expensive new A/C unit for my car that I was about to trade-in. I just wanted cold air blowing on my face during that hot summer. The first few mechanics tried to sell me a “quarter-inch drill.” But Roger understood that I just needed a “quarter-inch hole.” Insert Beavis and Butthead joke here.

In 2003, another Harvard Business School professor, Clayton Christensen–author of The Innovator’s Dilemma–wrote about this concept in his next book, the Innovator’s Solution. This concept suddenly gained immense popularity and picked up the unfortunately-named moniker, “Jobs-To-Be-Done” Marketing.

NEXT PAGE:  Solution Selling

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