Marketing 101: Jobs-To-Be-Done Theory

In the technology industry, we loosely refer to this concept as “solution-selling.” In theory, the sales rep is supposed to understand the client’s problems and use technology to solve them. But the trouble with solution selling is that your supervisor never asks, “What problem did you solve?” They only ask, “Did you close the deal?”

I faced this dilemma early in my career selling voice and fax messaging systems. I didn’t bother to understand the problem the customer was trying to solve. I was only interested in selling technology.  I was a hammer and everything looked like a nail.

Then something clicked in me. I had a net new prospect that was desperate to buy a fax broadcast solution for a new marketing program they were about to launch. The prototype they were testing had failed and they desperately needed an alternative right away.

I had something to sell them but I was reluctant to propose it. My technology would have cost them over $500K and I knew that they could do what they needed for less than $15K using a third party device called a Brooktrout fax card and a small Unix server.

So I intentionally walked away from the sale (but made a friend, I guess). My sales manager was not pleased. But I felt compelled to do the right thing. The customer had a job to do and I didn’t have the right tool for the job.

That was quite a humbling experience. I realized then that I cared more about crafting the right solution than I cared about getting a fat commission check. I quit my job just a few months later. That was my first and last sales job.

Interestingly, a year later I ran into the guy who took over my old sales territory. He told me that this customer was so grateful that they eventually handed him their entire voice mail business, worth over $5M!

I hope this last example illustrates why it is so hard to implement a Jobs-To-Be-Done strategy (or if you prefer, a Solution-Selling strategy). Sometimes the short term goals (meeting a sales quota) can undermine longer term behaviors (solving the customer’s business problem).

Luckily, I work in an environment today where we engage in sales campaigns that take months, sometimes years, to close. The buyers are a lot more sophisticated and the competitors are a lot more aggressive. If the seller and the buyer are not closely aligned in their respective objectives, there is no chance of winning the business. Mutual respect. We should all be so lucky.

I hope my old sales manager is reading this 😉

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