What job does your product do for the customer?

The jobs theory introduced by Clayton Christensen, a Harvard professor, in his most recent book “Competing Against Luck,” offers company leaders an interesting viewpoint.

Christensen is not new to the publishing world. His 1997 book, “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” discussed the difference between sustaining and disruptive technology. His jobs theory offers a disruptive view of how companies should think about their value propositions.

The jobs theory builds from the notion that customers purchase products and services for the explicit reason of getting a job done. From the customer’s point of view, the job-to-be-done is driven by one of two fundamentals.

  • What is gained when the job is completed?
  • What pain or risk is avoided when the job is completed?

In our company, we learned that our grocery customers struggled to manage volatile produce commodities in terms of demand and supply. If they purchased too much, it spoiled before it sold. If they purchased too little, they ran out of stock before they could replenish. Consequently, customers were disappointed.

Understanding the job-to-be-done allowed us to talk to large grocery chains and explain the value of using our company as a secondary supplier to manage inventory shorts. We could help customers reduce their spoilage in the warehouse and eliminate stock outs on their store shelfs. The more volatile the commodity, the more sense it made to use our company as a secondary supplier.

Taking this approach, we talked to our customers about the total cost of the supply chain instead of the price of the product. Once they saw the benefits of purchasing 85 percent to 90 percent of their demand direct from growers and supplementing the final 10 percent from our inventory, they improved the customer experience and reduced their overall supply chain cost.

In an age where customers are more informed, information is at their fingertips and competition is fierce, the jobs theory offers a strategy that increases the depth of your value proposition by engaging the customer in a higher-level discussion. In doing so, you increase customer retention, satisfaction and value.

The jobs-to-be-done theory builds around nine basic ideas.

1. People buy products and service to get a “job” done.

2. Jobs are functional, with emotional and social components.

3. A job-to-be-done is stable over time.

4. A job-to-be-done is solution agnostic.

5. Success comes from making the job, rather than the product or the customer, the unit of analysis.

6. A deep understanding of the customer’s job makes marketing more effective and innovation far more predictable.

7. People want products and services that will help them get a job done better and/or more cheaply.

8. People seek out products and services that enable them to get the entire job done on a single platform.

9. Innovation becomes predictable when “needs” are defined as the metrics customers use to measure success when getting the job done.

If your company is struggling with growth and defining a compelling proposition, pick up a copy of “Competing with Luck” and define the job your products or services do for customers.


Gregory D. Cessna is the CEO of Consumer Fresh Produce. An innovative distributor of fresh, high-quality produce, Consumer Fresh Produce is a leader in produce supply chain management. Greg has led publicly traded and privately held companies for 30 years, including successfully completing 15 strategic acquisitions and mergers. In 2005, he founded Northbound Consulting to coach and mentor family business leaders in succession planning, strategy and business analytics.