Demand-Side Sales 101 - The Best Book about Jobs to be Done

Last year we started experimenting with the Shape Up methodology. A big part of this approach is about product people properly defining or "shaping" the work before the development team starts working on it. So, how do you properly shape the work?

To a large degree that's the art of being a Product Manager. But there is one piece of concrete advice on how to start the shaping process: use the Jobs-to-be-Done framework.

What is Jobs to be Done (JTBD)?

I always explain JTBD using the following story:

When I go to the bank for a mortgage, I actually don’t want a mortgage. I want to build a new house. To be honest, I don’t even want to build a house since I know nothing about building houses, and it will just be a huge hassle for me. What I really want is to live in a new house.

In other words, JTBD focuses on the end goal for people in real life. However, after reading Bob Moesta’s book, Demand-Side Sales 101 : Stop Selling and Help Your Customers Make Progress, I would explain it differently. The book has the best explanation of JTBD that I have read, and I recommend it to everyone.

So how would I change my explanation? First, we need to understand one bad habit that we have as product people building digital products. Every economic law has two parts: demand-side and supply-side. In terms of user-centric thinking, the demand-side represents the user and the problem that they are facing. The supply-side is the solution that we are offering to the user, e.g., a new mobile app or simply a new feature.

The trouble is that when we explore our users and their problems, we often focus on the supply-side. Why? Because it’s simpler. A good example is when we ask the user something like, “Hey, what’s bothering you most about our solution?” See how we are asking about the solution, not about them? We are slipping towards the supply-side. This whole book is about how to stay on the demand-side.

Demand-Side 101 for Product People

How should we make sure that we are always exploring the user, their needs, problems, and life goals?

The first distinction that Moesta showed me is that you shouldn’t think about the user's end goals, but rather about how you can help users make progress in their life.

That sounds cool, but how do we accomplish that? Well you first need to understand what progress they are trying to achieve. The best way to get this information is to listen to their story. Moesta suggests that when you talk to your customer, you should treat the conversation as if you’re a filmmaker shooting a documentary. You are trying to capture the story from day one up to the very end.

Your goal is to recreate a customer’s timeline, telling the story about the progress they would like to make. Your job as a filmmaker is to make sure that no events are forgotten and no important aspects of the story are missed.

The Story of JTBD

So, how did the original story about me and my mortgage change after reading this book? The new version looks like this:

Jane and Chris have two kids, Mike and Rachel. Mike is still a baby who is two years old. Rachel is a little bit older and will be four in a month or so. Jane and Chris have been living in an apartment with one bedroom and a small living room since they moved in together nine years ago. They love the apartment. They have nothing but great memories about the place: the neighbors are friendly, and everything—stores, restaurants, doctors, etc.—is nearby. The trouble is that, as the kids grow up, the apartment is becoming too small for them. The children will clearly need their own room soon. And the parents need some space to be alone to enjoy some peace and quiet.

Mike and Rachel are not rich, so they will have to get a mortgage…

There are more great ideas in the book that I will get into in some future article, but this is my main takeaway from the book. To understand the progress our customers are trying to achieve in their lives, we need to carefully listen to and help them articulate their story.

This is what will truly help us—product people—to understand our users. This is what will help Product Managers to shape useful solutions. This is what will help developers to build great digital products. And this is what will help us to build digital products that will enable our customers to make progress in their lives.

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