Jobs-to-be-done: The Cure for B2B Myopia

Harvard professor Levitt began the JTBD discussion by teaching that the railroad industry should consider itself as the transportation industry..

Modern “Jobs-to-be-Done” (JTBD) thinking began with the most popular HBR article ever written: Ted Levitt’s “Marketing Myopia.”

It begins this way:

“Every major industry was once a growth industry. But some that are not riding a wave of growth enthusiasm are very much in the shadow of decline. Others, which are thought of as seasoned growth industries, have actually stopped growing. In every case the reason growth is threatened, slowed, or stopped is not because the market is saturated. It is because there has been a failure of management… The failure is at the top.”

Levitt goes on to say that though railroads were in decline, the need for moving people and freight kept growing. Further, the failure of the railroads was that they saw themselves as the railroad industry as opposed to the transportation industry. In other words, they defined themselves in terms of their product instead of their customers’ job-to-be-done.

Why is this 60-year old article so enduring?

Is it still relevant for the modern B2B enterprise? Levitt’s article is evergreen because companies still think it’s all about “them”. Their products, their services, their technologies, or even worse, their brand.

The article lives on because this delusion persists. Here’s the harsh truth: Customers do not care about products, technologies or brands. They are only loyal to what products, services, technologies, brands – can do for them. Only loyal to their own jobs-to-be-done.

This is absolutely still relevant for the modern B2B enterprise. Perhaps more than ever.

As a B2B supplier, you need to know why customers hire your product. Selling adhesives? Your product helps customers to “Bind objects together.” Thickeners to the paint industry? Your product helps customers to “Thicken paints” (Yes, sometimes it’s that easy!). Solar cells? Your product “Generates power.”

Plastic bottles? Medical services? Hydraulic hoses? Pneumatic controls? Food ingredients? Woven textiles? Packaging materials? Pumps?

What job does a customer hire your product for?

What is “B2B Myopia?”

Regardless of your technology, if not familiar with the jobs that customers hire your product for, then you might have B2B myopia. “Myopic” because your company thinks in terms of products instead of what customers really care about: their jobs-to-be-done. But why is this a problem? Can’t we just be better at our technology than our competition? Isn’t that a path to success?

Ignoring customers jobs, JTBD, jobs-to-be-done leads only to business decline
Ignoring customers jobs-to-be-done leads eventually to business decline

A product-focused myopia leaves your company vulnerable to weaknesses that eventually, your competition will exploit. Think about it. Technologies are ever changing. Imagine you sell plastic for DVD production. Plastic sales are declining along with DVD sales. Why would customers want to store a DVD when they can stream movies? Blind allegiance to a technology will not end well.

Second, by focusing on the product, you’re not focusing on customer jobs. And therefore, you will not understand their world. You’ll not see problems in the proper light. Imagine your company sells nylon fabrics to tent manufacturers. Tents have been made from nylon for decades. Surely, that isn’t going to change.  You focus on quality. The number of colors. New patterns. Trendy stitching designs. Why not? The future looks bright as the tent business continues to grow. With anticipation, you increase nylon capabilities. You grow the R&D nylon-tech center. A perfect plan. You will dominate the nylon business for outdoor use.

The Power of the “Jobs-to-be-Done” Focus

The job-to-be-done of nylon is “Keep the tent user dry.” And that, not the properties of the nylon, is how your customer sees your product.  Instead of thinking about nylon, imagine if you asked your customers, “What challenges do you have keeping users dry?” You might get answers like:

• After the seams are stretched, water leaks through the stitches
• The silicone coating degrades over time, resulting in leaks
• Some users have dogs, which can puncture holes in the floor with their paws

Nylon executes the JTBD (job-to-be-done) of protect campers from the rain. This is the "job-to-be-done."
Nylon executes the JTBD of protect campers from the rain. This is the “job-to-be-done” for this fabric in this application.

How does Jobs-to-be-Done help?

When focused upon jobs, you find real opportunities for R&D and new products.  But also, it’s a guide to evaluate competitive threats. If your competitor develops a laminate fabric that doesn’t require the leak-prone silicone coating, you know that you need to act, and quickly. Or, maybe a start-up has a  novel idea. Can you say, “Acquisition target?” You can add the new tech into your arsenal while your competitors still believe that “loyalty” is enough.

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In truth, these are just a few examples of JTBD benefits. Perhaps the biggest is that your customers will naturally come to know  that you are interested in them.  Not just their business.

A jobs-perspective is strategic. It provides perspective, vision, and empathy. It will be a true guide to build  a promising pipeline, to grow relationships and to build real loyalty.

Getting Started with JTBD

On the journey to become more customer-focused? Or even better, more customer job-focused? Look up Levitt’s 1960 HBR article “Marketing Myopia.”  And check out the link between JTBD and New Product Blueprinting. The good news is that your competition likely has a bad case of B2B myopia. Therefore, any step towards job-based thinking will elevate your growth path. Grab and share Levitt’s article. It’s time to start the revolution!

What have you read on JTBD that you’ve found useful? Do you have  the tools to put it into practice?

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