A Paradigm Shift to a Demand-First Approach

Jobs to Be Done: A Paradigm Shift to a Demand-First Approach. By Greg Engle, Founding Partner, The Re-Wired Group

Ancient people believed that the Earth was the center of the universe. They looked at the sun rising in the East and setting in the West and the movement of the stars across the sky, and they naturally believed that everything moved around the Earth.

The concept that the Earth revolved around the sun was an enormous paradigm shift but an important one. A similar paradigm shift needs to occur in product innovation. 

Most businesses view everything through the lens of their product; it’s the center of their universe. But when you shift your paradigm to a consumer-centric view, suddenly a whole new world opens. 

Greg Engle, Co-Founder of The Re-Wired Group, looks at the limitations of a product-centric approach…

The Limitations of a Product-Centric Approach

Think of health care as an example: What job is an urgent care or virtual care medical provider being hired to do? We asked our client who ran a major health care conglomerate this exact question. 

We help people get healthy,” they told us. 

Does everybody who comes to see you want to be healthier?” we asked. 

When we sat down and talked to their customers, “health” was not a word they used, and when they did use it, “health” had at least five different meanings. Instead, patients talked about getting antibiotics for their sinus infection, so they would be well enough to go to a party on Saturday night: “Get me in and out,” they said. Then there were patients trying to solve the same simple sinus infection but who lived with a larger, chronic medical problem: “Don’t screw me up,” they worried.

Neither person talked about getting healthy. It was about solving the problem in front of them based on their context. If you think about it, these two consumers were not hiring the provider to do the same job.

  • Job 1: When I’ve had this problem before and want to get on with my life, help me get an appointment quickly so I can get back to doing what is important to me. 
  • Job 2: When I have an ongoing health concern and don’t want to make my existing situation worse, help me find a provider who understands my medical history so I can preserve my long-term health while getting relief.

But by focusing on getting people “healthy,” our client viewed their product from the supply side and put everyone through the same experience. As a result, there was a mismatch of expectations between the doctor and patient, leaving both sides frustrated. 

As product innovation consultants, we see this mindset repeatedly in clients who come to us struggling with product innovation. They don’t view their product through their customers’ eyes, which limits their approach and ultimately causes it to fail. In fact, according to the Harvard Business School, eighty percent of all new product launches fail. Why? I don’t believe it’s a product problem but a mindset problem—just as the Earth is not the center of the universe, neither is your product at the center of the “job” your customer is trying to accomplish.

Now, ask yourself the following: 

  • Am I looking at the world through the lens of my product or service? 
  • Do I find myself trying to convince people to buy my product or service?
  • Am I focused on the features and benefits of my product or service or my customer’s context?

When companies put too much weight on the value of their product or brand it causes two problems: 

  1. They think their role is to convince people to buy. 
  2. They “feature load,” adding more and more features in an attempt to attract more customers. 

Let’s unpack both of these a bit… 

Trying to convince someone to buy your product or service is a recipe for disaffection. When you find yourself in this mindset, it’s time to take a step back and realize that if you must resort to pressure tactics, you don’t truly know your customers well enough to help them make progress. It doesn’t really work anyway, right? At least not in the long run. The person makes the purchase but because they only had aspirations, as opposed to real desired outcomes, they’re ultimately dissatisfied. 

Now think about the last time you were looking at a product packed with features. It was confusing, right? It sometimes appears that a product can do everything under the sun, and you think, “How could it do all of this? Am I paying for something I don’t need?” There’s an element of disbelief.

When you put the product first—supply side—you view everything through the lens of your product or service: “Our product can do these things; our product has these features and benefits.” You end up talking to consumers through that filter and therefore only pick up on insights that match the supply side; the supply side viewpoint clogs the demand side takeaways too soon.

Disconnected from demand, you focus on what you think or assume the customer wants—as the health care conglomerate did in believing all urgent care and virtual care patients sought to become healthier.

The Benefits of a Customer-Centric Approach 

Now let’s flip the lens and put the customer—the demand side—in the center: 

  • What progress is your customer trying to make? 
  • How do they judge satisfaction? 

This requires you to remove your product from the conversation and understand the customer’s context and outcomes. When you start with the customer’s outcomes rather than your product, suddenly you see solutions you did not see before.

Now work backward and build your solution from that outcome. When you take this approach, the customer is naturally pulled toward your product (rather than the uncomfortable push needed with the supply-side approach) because it fits in their lives; it’s a win–win for everyone. When you look at people from a demand-first perspective and then look at your product, you know where it fits—you know the boundaries. 

Ultimately, your customer doesn’t care what the solution is; they just want their problem solved. Your goal is to understand demand at the micro-level, so that you understand how your product or service fits into the customer’s life. 

This customer-centric approach starts with studying the consumer’s life; eighty percent of the conversation should be about their lives, not your product. And when you talk about the product, it should only be in terms of how it relates to their overall satisfaction.

In fact, diving deep on attributes should only happen after you have shaped demand in its purest form. Learn more about consumer behavior consulting from The Re-Wired Group or find out how to work with Greg directly via his executive coaching and JTBD advising.

So, what drives demand?

Demand is driven by three sources of energy or motivations for why people buy: functional motivations, emotional motivations, and social motivations. Let’s look at each of the three as they relate to our health care client.

  1. Functional Motivations: This is about what the product or service does—think ease of use as just one example. Consumers of our health care client trying to satisfy Job 1 are concerned about the speed of the interaction; they want to get in and out. For these people, the functional component of the service matters a great deal toward completing the job to be done (JTBD). 
  2. Emotional Motivations: This is about how people feel; it’s internal. For example, if I’m the person with a complex medical condition, Job 2, I’m nervous about seeking out urgent or virtual care because those providers don’t know me; they might make my bigger issue worse, so I would rather wait for my primary care doctor. The health care conglomerate needs to speak to these internal drivers to complete their customer’s JTBD. 
  3. Social Motivations: This is about how consumers want other people to see them; it’s external. For instance, if I’m sick, I can’t go to the office coughing without people judging me (even pre-COVID-19). I may seek medical attention not because I am terribly sick, but because I want the symptoms to stop so that people don’t view me as irresponsible. Completing the JTBD here is about addressing these external drivers. 

Avoiding the Common Pitfalls to Uncovering Demand

A common pitfall in development is to take an insight—“I want to be healthy”—and try to build a strategy around that insight. But “healthy” doesn’t tell me anything about what’s going on with the person: What does “healthy” mean to them? Why do they want to be healthy? It doesn’t tell me anything except what they are trying to get done. It’s just an insight. It’s not the whole JTBD. 

To get beyond insight, you must put yourself in the path of the consumer and listen without bias; but that’s hard. At the core, most people bring their own knowledge into conversations. If someone says, “I want to be healthy,” it’s natural for me to instinctively apply my own definition of health and make assumptions as a result. 

But to understand your consumers’ JTBD you can’t do that. When you do, you take in less of what the person thinks and more of what you think, which puts you right back on that same, old treadmill building the same supply-side products rather than listening to what people want first.

Applying Demand-Side Knowledge to Your Supply-Side Approach 

Let’s look again at the two “jobs” we were trying to satisfy for our healthcare client.

  • Job 1: When I’ve had this problem before and want to get on with my life, help me get an appointment quickly so I can get back to doing what is important to me. 
  • Job 2: When I have an ongoing health concern and don’t want to make my existing situation worse, help me find a provider who understands my medical history so I can preserve my long-term health while getting relief.

The underlying technology to satisfy both these “jobs” is the same, but to help our health care clients meet their customers’ needs, we needed to speak to each of these “jobs” independently.

As we built out the virtual side of the business, we called out the functional parts of the job explicitly to address the needs of Job 1: “You can do virtual visits 24/7; it takes fifteen minutes, so you can get on with your life as quickly as possible.” 

To address Job 2 in virtual health care visits, we talked about staying connected to our larger system: “If your primary care physician is part of our health care conglomerate, they will be copied on communication every step of the way.” We also highlighted the triage system and how we could spend more time with more complex patients. 

At urgent care, we established patient surveys specifically targeted at identifying whether a consumer was in the Job 1 or Job 2 category. Based on their answers, the medical provider would know their JTBD and could customize the care. If the patient wanted to get in and out of the office quickly, they would no longer take a detailed history. For patients with a more complex background that’s uncovered by the survey, the provider would devote more time and would reassure them that a note would be sent to their primary care physician. 

Final Thoughts…

The problem people run into when applying JTBD is that they think of it as just another tool, as opposed to a shift in mindset. The truth is that understanding your consumer’s JTBD involves a complete paradigm shift in the way you approach innovation; you must think of demand first and eliminate your supply-side biases. When you fail to do this, you end up falling back into the same routine, focusing on what you know best—the supply side. But when you allow yourself to stop thinking about supply and focus on the demand first, you will find that it opens up new avenues for innovation.

Saying you’re demand-centric or consumer-centric is easy, but doing it is hard. Often, people will think they are customer-centric when they’re not. 

  • Supply-Side Thinking: “We talked to the customer about what they want. If we do this, we can convince X percent of the population that they need our product.” 
  • Demand-Side Thinking: “This attribute will work well for people in this context but not for that one.” 

When you’re demand-centric, you understand why this group picks that product and why another group picks a different one. 

So, how do you know if you’re truly demand-centric? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Did I know what consumers were struggling with when they bought my product or service?
  • How did it help them? 
  • What trade-offs did they make?
  • What did they have to overcome to buy my product or service? 

If you’re struggling with JTBD and need help thinking differently about shifting your mindset to a demand-first approach, feel free to reach out to the Re-Wired Group