Defining the “Human Problem” Behind the Business Problem

Written by
Nate Fleming
Nate Fleming
multiple authors
Updated on
May 29, 2024 6:49 PM
How a quest to boost lackluster sales led to a revelation rooted in human connection and emotion.

In 2006, Bob Moesta, an innovation consultant, was hired to help boost sales of new condos for a Detroit building firm, targeting retirees and single parents. Despite luxury features and strong marketing, sales numbers were underwhelming. So, Bob set out to interview buyers to better understand the “job” the condos need to do.

Through conversations, he discovered the significance of the dining room table as a symbol of family and realized the hesitation to buy stemmed from the emotional challenge of letting go of meaningful belongings. Moesta's search for a deeper understanding of the condo buyer shifted the focus from selling homes to "moving lives.” This insight led to changes like highlighting and expanding dining table spaces in the condos, as well as offering moving and storage services. 

The company started providing services that competitors couldn't replicate, raised prices by $3,500, and grew business by 25% during a market downturn. 

Bob knew that the solution to the firm’s business problem lay in finding what strategist Mark Pollard calls “the human problem behind the business problem.” And, to get to the problem, Moesta used the Jobs To Be Done Theory (JTBD).

JTBD Theory proposes that in order to develop a product or service that’s attractive to customers, it's crucial to know the criteria customers use to evaluate success. These criteria are "desired outcomes" with distinct traits (quantifiable, manageable, consistent over time, independent of solutions, versatile) that make them an ideal input when exploring creative solutions.

Overview of the "Jobs To Be Done" framework:

- Job: In the context of the framework, a "job" refers to a task, problem, or need that a customer is trying to address. Jobs can range from simple tasks to complex challenges. In the story above, the job was finding a suitable space in which customers can see themselves living and making memories. 

- Functional Job: This represents the practical or functional task that the customer wants to accomplish. It's the core activity that the customer is looking to achieve. The functional job for the condo customers was finding a place to live. 

- Emotional Job: In addition to functional needs, customers also have emotional needs associated with a job. These emotional needs can include feelings of accomplishment, 

security, status, and more. In the example, the emotional job was finding a home for their belongings and seeing a joyful future for themselves there. 

- Context: The context includes the circumstances and situations in which the customer is trying to complete the job. This context can heavily influence the customer's decision-making and choices. The condo sales people at first thought they were competing against other condos based on built-in features and accommodations. After gaining more understanding of the customer, they realized they were competing against their customers’ emotional attachments. 

- Forces of Progress: The forces of progress are the driving factors that push a customer to make a change or seek a solution. These forces include "push" factors (unmet needs, frustrations) and "pull" factors (desires, aspirations). The push factor for the condo buyers was needing a new place to live, while the pull factor was wanting a condo that was designed to fit their belongings, so they didn’t have to leave them behind. 

- Solutions: Customers seek solutions that help them complete the functional and emotional jobs more effectively or efficiently. These solutions could be products, services, or even changes in behavior. Moesta’s solution was creating more room for dining tables in the condo floor plans, as well as adding on services to address customers’ ancillary concerns. 

How to Apply the JTBD Framework

1. Identify the Job: Start by defining the specific job that customers are trying to get done. This requires a deep understanding of the customer's needs, context, and challenges.

2. Segment Customers: Recognize that different customers might be trying to achieve the same job, but for different reasons. They could also be trying to achieve a different job entirely. In either case, segment customers based on the underlying motivations and context.

3. Understand Functional and Emotional Needs: Dive into the functional tasks customers are trying to accomplish, as well as the emotional outcomes they seek. This often requires interviews, surveys, and direct engagement with customers.

4. Map Forces of Progress: Identify the forces that drive customers to consider alternatives or change their current approach. This could include pain points, unmet needs, new opportunities, and emerging trends.

5. Evaluate Solutions: Consider your existing products or potential solutions through the lens of the functional and emotional jobs. Are they effectively addressing the customer's needs? Are there areas for improvement?

6. Innovate: Use the insights from the framework to innovate and improve your offerings. Create products, services, or experiences that better align with customers' goals and motivations.

7. Communicate Value: When marketing your products or services, focus on the outcomes and benefits customers will achieve by "hiring" your solution for the job. Highlight how your solution addresses both functional and emotional needs.

What Makes the JTBD Theory So Impactful

The Jobs To Be Done framework is a customer-centric approach that helps teams gain a deeper understanding of their customers’ “human problems” and develop more effective and relevant solutions. 

The framework provides a guiding light powered by customers' core needs and desired outcomes. By deconstructing tasks into measurable facets of the human experience, Bob unearthed the keys to addressing customers' unmet needs.

In an era of innovation, finding the human problem behind the business problem is the key to unlocking the hidden desires of humans and crafting solutions that truly matter.

The story of Bob Moesta's work was also featured in Harvard Business Review in 2016.

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