Jobs to be done: How to find painkillers and money multipliers

The job-to-be-done (JTBD) theory is a simple, yet powerful way of identifying real opportunities for innovation through products or services in the market.

Jobs to be done: How to find painkillers and money multipliers

The best way to create valuable customer experiences that solve actual needs is to look for jobs to be done or JTBD (a technique commonly used by founders, startups, in product management and product teams to uncover opportunities and build useful products).

In a recent McKinsey poll, 84% of global executives reported that innovation was extremely important to their growth strategies, but a staggering 94% were dissatisfied with their organizations' innovation performance.


The jobs to be done framework explained

Let's start with a short jobs-to-be-done explanation: The job-to-be-done (JTBD) theory is a simple, yet powerful way of identifying real opportunities (or customer jobs) for outcome driven innovation through products or services in the market. A JTBD describes what the target customer is aiming to achieve to reach a certain desired state. This statement can then be used to inform product strategy and your product UI/UX design.

Jobs to be done theory

JTBD is based on the idea that people buy or hire products and services to get certain jobs done. For example:

  • I hire HubSpot to provide stellar customer service
  • I hire Twitter to feel connected to my peers
  • I hire an iPhone to be perceived as sophisticated

If we can help people save time, save cash, or achieve their goals faster, we've found a way to create products or services they'll want and be happy to pay for.

What we need to find out:

  1. What "people" want to achieve (the JTBD)
  2. Who those people, the specific actor, persona, or user will be (the Job Performer)
  3. How the job is currently performed or solved (the Job Process)
  4. How do the job performers measure or evaluate success (the Desired Outcome)
  5. How can you provide more value than your competitors (the Differentiation)

Jobs to be done don't get made up

JTBD or customer jobs are discovered. If there is an actual job to address, the early adopters in the market will already be trying to solve it in some way or the other. Through manual workarounds, competitors or multiple tools cobbled together.

There are 3 categories of Jobs

  • Functional: What users want to get done
  • Emotional: How users want to feel or avoid feeling by performing a certain job
  • Social: How users want to be seen as or perceived by others (think status)

Many products will address multiple or all of these categories. Someone who buys a Rolex Watch wants to see what time it is (functional), but they may also want to feel successful (emotional) and perceived as sophisticated (social).

The value pyramid from Bain & Company gives a good overview of the nature of different job types.

Value pyramid

JTBD is the vehicle for desired outcomes

Research has shown that 95% of all companies do not have an agreed-upon definition of a customer need.


We all have metrics or certain criteria for evaluating how well a product or service helps us achieve our goal. A good way to describe those metrics is "desired outcomes".

If we know how users evaluate success, we can create solutions to help them succeed.

  1. A person wants to get a job done
  2. They hire a product or service to accomplish those jobs
  3. They assess how well the product or service helped them achieve their desired outcome
  4. They encounter obstacles or problems that get in the way of their progress
  5. If our solution helps them get the job done significantly better based on their criteria or desired outcomes, they will give our solution a chance

How to find jobs to be done in your chosen market

We want to identify opportunities based on actual behavior and not assumptions or opinions. We don't want to rely on the target customers to tell us what they want us to build. We need to uncover and address real opportunities through some jtbd best practice tactics to drive the innovation process forward:

1) Go on a Sales Safari

The easiest, fastest and cheapest way to unlock valuable insights. A sales safari is especially useful when you don't have access to potential customers.

Think of a sales safari as an observation of your target customer in their wild habitat – just like a real safari. The idea is, that your target market is already dealing with their problems and trying to achieve their desired outcomes. The problems people have are already out there and we can find those instead of coming up with new ones.

The idea of sales safaris is a research technique created by Amy Hoy and Alex Hillmann. Here's what Alex says about it:

"Being able to watch people talk about their problems in their natural habitat without them feeling like they're being watched means you're getting a more genuine, a more natural, and in many cases, a much richer understanding of what the problem is."

Find the online watering holes of your market

Watering holes are the places where your target customers come together to discuss, socialize, research or work.

Good markets always have multiple watering holes with people discussing tools, know-how, problems, challenges, and ideas. A great example of a watering hole is, where real estate agents meet and discuss their hopes, dreams, tactics, ideas, best practices, and challenges.

You can find those watering holes by searching in Google for specific queries:
  • "[ Market ] + mailing list"
  • "[ Market ] + forum"
  • "[ Market ] + competition"
  • "[ Market ] + twitter"
  • "[ Market ] + community"
  • "[ Market ] + help"
  • "[ Market ] + wiki"
  • "[ Market ] + questions"
  • "[ Market ] + mailing list"
  • "[ Market ] + meetup"
  • "[ Market ] + tutorials"
  • "[ Market ] + awards"
  • "[ Market ] + blog"
  • "[ Market ] + questions"
  • "[ Market ] + customers"
  • "[ Market ] + user group"
Look for (and focus on) words like:
  • easier
  • faster
  • less
  • finally
  • more
  • relief
  • etc

Your goal is to identify possible …

  1. Pain killers: Things that eliminate or reduce anxiety, stress, risk, fears, uncertainty, guilt, or frustration
  2. Money multipliers: ways to make more revenue, reach more customers, reduce costs, increase prices or save time

At the end of your sales safari, you should hopefully be an expert in your chosen niche and understand your market so well that you not only speak their language and understand the jargon but even know their desires and predict their reactions.

All that intel gathered in your sales safari will also be very valuable when you to create you create your value proposition and other marketing material. It's also extremely useful for anticipating, addressing, and overcoming objections.

Answer these questions for finding painkillers

  • What problems or challenges do they have with their skills and abilities?
  • What skills do they want to unlock or improve?
  • What are their fears, what are they afraid of?
  • What should they be doing but avoid doing

Answer these questions for finding money multipliers

  • What is their source of income?
  • How could they increase their revenue from those sources?
  • Why are their customers buying, what are they trying to achieve what are their desired outcomes
  • What is costing them money, what could be optimized, and what's inefficient?
  • How could they find new customers or create new opportunities, What do they ignore?
  • How could they increase their prices, how could they create more value for their customers?

Sales safaris have been the inspiration for many great B2B products. They are quite easy to perform and always a good starting point to gain more insight rapidly.

2) Listen to potential customers (Discovery Interviews)

We've all heard about research interviews as a way to uncover and validate business opportunities, right? We've all heard people telling us or other entrepreneurs things like:

"Get out of the office, talk to your customers, just interview your target market."

The problem with discovery interviews

If you don't know what you're doing, it can lead you in the wrong direction before you know it. Here's why... People don't know WHAT they need. They aren't even good at knowing what is bothering them specifically. It's not their job.

Therefore it's essential to approach those interviews in the right way.

People lie and hide things

It's very important to be aware that people will tell you lies if they don't want to hurt you and hide the truth if they don't trust you, don't want to look bad, or think you'll compete with them.

Start broad and narrow down

If you don't already know exactly who you're targeting it can be a good strategy to start with a more general market segment and then narrow down to a more specific sub-niche or segment.

Example: If you are looking to build a CRM tool for health and fitness professionals you could narrow it down to health coaches with a focus on longevity.

Create an interview script

In the beginning, you should start with open-ended questions because they often yield unexpected insights and go off in different interesting directions.

To come up with useful open-ended questions use the words like:

  • Where
  • Why
  • How
  • What

If you can't phrase a question like that use things like:

  • "Tell me about …"
  • "Explain …"
  • "Describe …"

To avoid misunderstanding and get better answers make sure to provide context through:

  • Situations
  • Problems
  • Time Frames

Dig deeper with follow-up questions like:

  • "Tell me more"
  • "What do you mean by …"

Try to anchor your interviews to real behaviors like a recent purchase, projects, to-do, workflow, or occurrence. It will help you to make sure that your findings are based on reality.

Not sure where to start? Ask them what they are already buying!

  • "Did you purchase any products or services recently? What was the reason?"
  • "Did you change from one product or service provider to another lately? When did this happen? What was the reason?"
  • "Have you canceled any subscriptions lately? Why?"
  • "What software do you pay for regularly (yearly, quarterly, monthly)? What's the reason?"
  • "Why did you select [software above] over the competitors"

No purchases or events to go with them? Try this!

  • "Please tell me a bit about yourself and what you do"
  • "When did you last do [JTBD]?"
  • "What are you trying to achieve and what are the specific action steps to get there?"
  • "What are the problems you are solving or preventing with your work?"
  • "How does it make you feel while you do what you do to get the job done?"
  • "How do you know if you're doing the job right?"
  • "How do you feel when the job is completed?"
  • "What frustrates you or which part of your work is annoying?"
  • "What situations make you act different?"
  • "Which things do you hate doing?"
  • "What do you postpone or try to avoid? What's the reason?"
  • "What do you wish would be easier and why?"
  • "What other things are you trying to get done?"

Sensing emotion? Good, keep digging!

Follow up and dig deeper. Emotions are a sign of important issues for the prospect.

Stay focused on facts

Don't discuss your idea or product. Don't even mention it. It can quickly lead to a useless discussion where the prospects come up with ideas and suggestions for specific features. This will only derail you and distort the outcome of the interview.

A good question to end the interview can be something like: "Is there anything else I should have asked you?" to uncover further potential pain points or tangents.

Adjust as you go

Tune your questions after two or three interviews. Consider if the interviews are leading you in the right direction. Usually, there are specific patterns that emerge from the interviews.

If you get the feeling that the results are all over the place it could be that your segment is too broad to get useful insights. Niche down until you are getting repetitive answers and can spot patterns.

Become their shadow (Contextual inquiries)

A very powerful (and interesting) way to get real-world insight is to physically observe your target market in their natural environment performing the things they do every day.

The idea is to combine interviews and on-site observations for a deeper understanding of real behaviors and opportunities. It's much easier to spot workarounds or other things people do to accomplish a task that your prospects might not even be aware of themselves.

Real-world example:

Shadowing is an important tool for us at ottonova to get insights from our insurance agents and sales team. Product designers or product managers will sit in the room with them to observe and learn about customer pains, workflows, tasks, frustrations, and so on. This helps us build and improve our internal tools as well as our customer-facing products.

How to recruit prospects

Finding people who are willing to have you observe them for hours can be tricky if you don't know someone personally. The easiest way is to go to a public setting with a lot of people (like malls, coffee shops, etc). Explain to them what you do, build trust, and offer compensation to get them to show you how they accomplish the job.

How to overcome the fear of competition or intellectual property theft

Businesses are very cautious about sharing information with others. Here are 3 tips to deal with this:

  1. Try to use existing relationships: It will be much easier to get into a company you have already worked with in the past and a person to vouch for you.
  2. Offer a free or paid consulting engagement: You can approach past clients or new ones with the offer to work with them on their challenges. Use those insights to uncover opportunities and improve your services.
  3. Offer a pilot project: Ask the company if they'd be interested in a pilot project to innovate their space by supporting on-site research. A lot of people want to drive innovation if they care about the subject and be helpful.

Once you've reached an agreement, focus your attention on:

  • Tasks that take a lot of time: Why do they take so much time? Why are they important and what are prospects aiming to accomplish? How could you break down those tasks? Are all steps required? Are there dependencies that need to be considered?
  • Products being used: Which products are used by your prospect to achieve tasks and in what order? What triggers the use of those products and can you spot obvious pain points or limitations with these solutions?
  • Workarounds: What hacks are being used to accomplish the goal? These could be excel spreadsheets, post-its, checklists, word documents, macros, etc. Make sure to ask about the problems that made them come up with those workarounds.
  • Cobbled-together solutions: Do your prospects use a combination of tools they somehow hooked up or made work together? Are they using no-code tools like Airtable and Zapier? How much do they spend on all of those tools to accomplish the job to be done?
  • Possible alternatives: Did your prospects already look for alternatives? Aren't there any specialized solutions? Maybe they aren't aware of existing alternatives?

Again, make sure to ask open-ended questions to get interesting answers and insights. If you can observe people for more than one day you will get some very deep and revealing insights into their workflows and struggles.

Usually, the more frequent a problem, or the more influential the prospects who have those problems, the more likely that a company will want to resolve them.

Look for patterns, especially regarding certain roles or goals, and note them down. It can be very helpful to map out the user journey of the JTBD on a wall and put the insights on their respective places on the path to visualize where the opportunities are.

Customer job example journey

How to identifying the right JTBD

When starting, you want to identify a big enough general JTBD in your target market to dig into. This will define your focus on trying to bring innovation. Your research will probably surface adjacent JTBD which can be interesting to consider before you start building a solution.

Adjacent jobs to be done

Examples of jobs to be done:

  • Buy a house could be your main job
  • Getting a mortgage to finance the house is a related JTBD
  • Renovating a house before moving in is another related JTBD

Make sure you don't start too narrow to leave enough room for innovation.

Job to be done template: Identifying desired outcomes

Job to be done template
Job to be done template

Desired outcomes mostly follow a certain logic or syntax:
Direction + metric + object + qualifier

JTBD examples:

Reduce (Direction) the time (metric) it takes to create a new contact (object) on my phone while in a conversation (qualifier)


Finding a market, a customer's job to reach valuable desired outcomes for that market is the secret to unlocking real opportunities. Don't move forward until you've identified a good market and a JTBD to innovate upon. Here are 4 real-world examples of Harvard Business School for further inspiration.

Like this guide? Go get the book!

The concepts in this guide are not my own. This is a summary of my book notes from the amazing book "Solving Product" by Éthienne Garbugli.

What are you building?

My name is Sebastian and I'm a digital product designer, founder, and curious soul. My mission is to help other founders succeed by sharing what I've learned through resources, coaching, and hands-on work.

If you have any feedback, critique, or kind words, please shoot me an email at

Sebastian Scheerer
Sebastian Scheerer is a tech startup founder, digital product designer, and business consultant. He co-founded Wunderlist as head of design, a platform that earned the title of Apple's App of the Year in 2014 and was later acquired by Microsoft. Additionally, Sebastian co-founded, Germany's premier digital health insurance, renowned for it's industry leading customer satisfaction.

Affiliate Disclosure: Some of the links in this article may be affiliate links, which can provide compensation to me at no cost to you if you decide to purchase a paid plan. These are products I’ve personally used and stand behind. This site is not intended to provide financial advice and is for entertainment only. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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