Using Jobs to be Done in a B2B context

Evelien Al
July 31, 2017

While giving workshops on Jobs to be Done, and discussing the Milkshake example from Clayton Christensen, we’ve heard the same question coming back: But what about Jobs to be Done in a B2B context? All these examples are in a B2C context, but how do I go about using the framework when I’m dealing with other companies?

That’s a very good question. Being in a B2B rather than a B2C setting changes how you can best use Jobs to be Done. We’ve heard it coming back with teams we’ve coached, and we’ve experienced it ourselves in our research on innovation in corporates. I’ll describe here the biggest differences and how to deal with them.

User ≠ buyer

In a B2B context the user of your product will often not be the one responsible for buying it. And they will probably have different (maybe even conflicting) Jobs to be Done. Take for example office equipment: Employees use it, but a office or purchase manager buys it. The former cares most about comfort, the latter probably looks and price.

But also in our research we’ve seen it. Corporate innovation teams want to innovate faster and want to use tools to help them do that. But other departments like IT and legal are more concerned with minimising risk. It’s a reason why getting new experimentation software approved can be so damn hard.

A team we were coaching was struggling with different Jobs to be Done as well. They were making software to help surgeons in hospitals execute their work better. But management had to decide on buying it or not. The pity here is that you can make a product that can serve your user’s Jobs to be Done perfectly, but if nobody buys it they will never get to use it.

How to deal with this?

Don’t just focus on the Jobs to be Done of your users, but also of the people who are responsible for buying your product (or service). With their Jobs to be Done in mind you can pick your channels to reach them, and choose your words to convince them of how your product can help them as well (assuming your product can help them in some way).

If you don’t know yet who your buyers are you can do some general research to find out. Searching online can help you, but doing interviews is a great tool as well! More general interviews allowed us to get a clear picture of all the parties involved in corporate innovation, and their roles in adopting new innovation tools. After that we could start zooming in.

If you know your buyer is somewhere up in the management you can also take a look at a company’s mission statement. As it’s made public they often have to stick to it, so if you can find a way to serve these with your product it can be very convincing.

A small window of opportunity

Now you might wonder “if I know my buyers are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, how the hell am I going to arrange an interview with them?” Like our fellows at the Innovation Studio of ING phrase it, ‘in B2B innovation projects the window of opportunity is limited’. There are only so many people you can possibly interview for your project, they are likely to be surrounded by a thick organisational layer, and probably very busy.

How to deal with this?

What we’ve experienced is that it helps to offer something in return. Some people might let you interview them out of sheer interest, but this is rarer in B2B contexts than B2C (because of their ‘busyness’). So you should convince them it’s worth their time. By for example phrasing the interview as a way of co-creating a product that could possibly help them. Or sharing your research findings with them afterwards. We’re still experimenting with this as well, but asking for an interview *in combination with *a concrete pitch helped us to get to talk to people who are not our clients (yet).

It’s also good to realise that trying to arrange interviews with these people is an experiment in itself. If they don’t reply to your invitation the need to get that Job Done is probably not high enough. Although I wouldn’t give up after one try (it can help to send a reminder a week later), after five times the message should be clear..

Another option for if you have some resources is visiting conferences on your topic, or going to dedicated meetups. You might even be able to do some impromptu interviews there for your project!

And when you’ve finally been able to arrange some interviews, try to use them to the fullest! Especially because it’s harder to find and reach those people. I’d suggest to go the extra mile (literally) to meet them in person, and try to schedule in an interview of at least 45 minutes (if possible). Another reason for doing so is that B2B situations tend to be more complex, so you might need some time to understand it all. For our research we needed at least half an hour to understand the context before we zoom in on specific experimentation tools.

Businesses fear new solutions

As described in one of my previous posts, there are different forces at play that make someone either hire a new solution or stick with an old one. Someone might be fed up enough with the current solution to go out and look for a new one, but before they will hire a new one they still need to overcome their anxiety of the new solution. And this is an especially big force in large businesses.

Think about it: If you buy a product that does not turn out to work well, you might lose some money and time, but in most of the cases not too much. However, when a business starts using a product that doesn’t work well.. First of all, products will take way more effort to integrate into the organisation, because they need to adapt their processes to it, other software or products, train people to use it. And in highly regulated and privacy-sensitive businesses, like banks and insurers, the leaking of customer data is a major concern that can lead to a huge dent in their reputation. And the employee responsible for buying the product could face being fired, losing her income, etc.

How to deal with this?

Make sure to, during your interviews, focus on uncovering pains related to anxiety of the new as well. These will often take the form of ‘what could happen’, negative outcomes they’re currently trying to avoid. We’ve for example heard “I want to make sure teams don’t do anything stupid” and “we cannot afford to get into the news with a bad experiment”. Naming these worries and explaining how your product can alleviate them is key to getting your product accepted.

Getting your product to your users

Using Jobs to be Done in a B2B setting is challenging, but worth it. Your product can solve the Jobs to be Done of your users perfectly, but if you don’t take care of your buyers it will never get used. Knowing their Jobs to be Done can help you to gain empathy for your buyer, and market and sell your product with them in mind as well. And get your product to end up where you want it to be.

If you want to get started with Jobs to be Done yourself you can read our previous JTBD posts or contact us for a Jobs to be Done workshop. We can also run custom Jobs to be Done research for your products. And if you’re already an experienced JTBD practitioner I’d love to hear your experiences and learn from each other!