Does this scenario sound familiar? A prospective client comes to you with a set of specifications for a project they want done. You clarify the specs a bit, quote the project, hopefully win the work and deliver? What could go wrong?
Plenty. For starters you’re doing the client a big disservice by expecting them to know what they want, rather than you, as the expert, recommending a solution. And you’re doing your own bank account a big disservice as well, since simply executing work a client gives you turns you into a commodity labourer, instead of an expert. That means your rates and ability to attract high quality clients will suffer accordingly.
So what’s the alternative? Figure out what the client really wants and the problem they want to solve.
Eric White, from Think Motile, uses a fascinating framework called Jobs-to-Be-Done to dig out why someone is looking for a product or a service, such as consulting work. Eric shares some of the tools in this framework that you can use to figure out what a client actually wants, what is prompting the client to desire this project, and ultimately how that allows you to deliver much better results for your clients and yourself.
Eric shares with us:
Eric White, from Think Motile, is a business consultant. He helps businesses solve problems and achieve their ambitions using technology and by using a framework, a way of thinking, called Jobs-to-Be-Done.
What is Jobs-to-Be-Done?
Eric thinks of jobs-to-be-done as emotional motivation for why people are buying products or services, though there other ways to look at it. A job-to-be-done is a struggle that someone has in his or her life and it has become so important that they want to solve it.
This framework is client centric. When Eric is using the jobs-to-be-done framework, he isn't thinking about the function of a product or service. He is thinking about what a person must be struggling through and how that person envisions their life and world for the better once a solution is found.
Eric has applied this framework to competitive analysis and product analysis. For example, he looks into the people who will have demand and get excited for the product or service. He wants to know how the product can help people solve specific problems in their life. For a product getting read to launch, his key question is: what are people currently using and why would they switch to the new product. For a product already on the market, he is interested in what motivates people to buy the product or service and what situations cause the consumer to think that the money is worth it for that product or service.
The nitty gritty:
To better understand the framework, lets explain the concepts around an example. Lets say a client is launching a new product that addresses back pain. From a jobs-to-be-done perspective, the struggle in someone's life is back pain and it has become so problematic that they want to get rid of it.
Let's dig in.
Let's look at a few of the concepts used in jobs-to-be-done.
The Forces of Progress
There is a situation or problem in a person's life that is driving them to look for a solution and make a change.
In our example, the push for this person suffering from back pain is that the back pain has passed a certain threshold and is no longer tolerable. They are worried that they won't be able to walk soon. They are missing work because the pain is so severe.
The appeal of a particular solution that can solve the person's problem.
In the back pain example, the appeal of taking pain killers is that the pain killers relieve pain allowing the person to sleep better at night and enabling them to function normally day-to-day and at work.
What fears does the client or customer have about particular solutions?
There are several different solutions to the back pain problem, but each one has a downside. If the person takes pain killers for back pain, they might be concerned that they won't be able to function without the pain killers, that the pain killers aren't tackling the root of the problem, or that they will have to increase the strength of the pain killers as the current dose becomes less effective. What's the end game? Another solution is to go to a chiropractor for the back pain.
The Pull is that going to a chiropractor gets to solving the root of the problem, but the anxiety is that they will have to take time off work to go because chiropractors only operate during work hours and they are afraid that taking more time off work will be a red flag to their boss. Chiropractors are also expensive and not covered by insurance.
2. Habit of Presence
The current solution to the problem, though it might not be perfect, is fine for now. Or, something else has come up that changes the priority of the problem.
Maybe it is easier to take an extra painkiller for a while, and keep upping the dose, than to take the time off work, which could jeopardize an important project and job performance. Therefore, they can put off making the change.
How to talk to your clients using jobs-to-be-done:
So you have a new client who saw your portfolio or saw you speak somewhere and wants to hire you to build them a web app. The client has thought a lot about what they want and before you even meet, they send you a document outlining the specifications for the project. (The same thing happens with RFDs, where a client is looking for bidders on predetermined specifications.)
Has this client ever made a web app before? No, which is why they need you. Then why are they, the non-expert, handing you, the expert, the list of specifications? Shouldn't it be the other way around?
A really great place to start the conversation is with the questions: Why do you want to do this project right now? Why not six months from now or six months ago? From these questions, you will get the push. The client will start telling you about the problems that they are facing and how those problems have become urgent and they need to be solved now. You will get a sense of the overall business and how the project fits in with the big picture business goals. You can also get an idea of how other things in the business processes are dependent on this particular project.
Why a web app? The client has approached you with a solution in mind, the web app. This is the pull. The client envisions a better world, perhaps making the sales process more efficient or easier for customers to navigate and purchase online, based on this solution. The solution is appealing to them. But have they looked at other solutions? Is this the right solution for them or just something that caught their eye? It is your job to figure that out based on your expertise.
Why is the client considering hiring you? What would make them reconsider hiring you? This is where anxiety comes in. The client has anxiety about whether the web app is the right solution, which is why they came to you as the web app expert, to verify their solution, or not.
Quick aside: Saying that the web app is not going to solve their problem, but that they should consider doing something else is completely acceptable. If you build a web app for the client, knowing that it isn't going to generate any value for the client, you'll end up having a disappointed client who may never use the app. And you have wasted your time as well. Sometimes saying no is the best option.
The client also has anxiety about coming to you. This is something that happens to freelancers a lot. Let's look at if from the client's perspective. How do I really know that this freelancer can get the project done for me? I have never worked directly with them before and I am only going off their reputation and that webinar my assistant watched. What happens if the freelancer gets sick? Does my project fall by the wayside? Will this project get done by the deadline or will it drag on for 6 months? How much of my time do I need to commit to this freelancer to make sure everything gets done? How do I manage a freelancer? Does the freelancer expect me to provide all the content?
I don't know about you, but my stress level just went up reading that list. Imagine how stressed out the client is, hiring a freelancer for the first time! This is where you come in and soothe the client's concerns. Try to fish out what their specific concerns are from the start and address them up front. Make it the safe, no-brainer, choice to pick you because you know what you are doing and can provide them with lots of value, you spent the time talking to the client about their concerns (how many of your competitors do that?) and you have figured out solutions to your clients concerns.
Here's another anxiety that the client might have: what will my boss think? Wait, you aren't talking to the boss, the one who will actually make the final go or no go decision? You need to try to understand which voice has the most influence and try to talk to the person who actually makes the decisions. This is where you really need to be stubborn and insist on talking the owner or VP. Similarly, there might be a lot of emotion and internal politics going around when you are working with a large company with many stakeholders on the same project.
Anxiety is really important to pay attention to because it tells you the most about how a person is going to make a decision.
So you've had all these discussions with the client and figured out that the web app is a good solution and you send the client an official proposal. Radio silence. Or maybe you are three weeks into the project and you send an update to the client. Radio silence.
This is where habit of the present may have come in. Habit of presence can get in the way of a project at any point along the project..
So what's with the radio silence in our example? Maybe something else came up for the client that changed the priority of the project. Maybe the web app is part of a long term business plan, but there is a conference happening in a month that the client is rushing to prepare for so the web app got placed on the back burner. Maybe one of their employees took a web development course and thinks they could make something that's good enough to meet their needs. Maybe using sticky notes and paper airplanes to communicate in the office is too hard of a habit to break for the client to use the new system.
You always need to be on the look out for these habits that can derail the project. If you can't reassure the client, then it might be a timing issue or you and the client aren't a good fit.
Ultimately, jobs-to-be-done is a way to think about how your work can improve your client's business in a meaningful way. By getting to the root of the problem, you can understand what the best solution is for the client and address the anxieties and habits that might stop the project from completing, or even starting. You can provide meaningful value to the client, which not only helps the client, but also helps you get paid what you are worth.
Ready to give Jobs-to-Be-Done a shot? Check out the resources below!
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