The Real Job To Be Done


Customers know why they’re coming to you; you should too.

Discovering the real job to be done is the functional application that allows us—as responsible people—to make sure our clients achieve the solution or outcome they are really seeking.

What Does “Discovering the Real Job to Be Done” Look Like?

It’s easy to rush to recommend, solve, or sell because we know how our products and solutions solve the needs of our average customer. So the challenge is that if we don’t know what that problem is, we can’t take responsibility for meeting our client’s need. This idea is captured in Theodore Levitt’s quote:

“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.”

The real “job to be done” is the end result our customer is trying to achieve. To truly take responsibility for our customers, we need to understand their needs, what their problem is, and what they’re trying to accomplish.

Counterfeit Discovery

The counterfeit to discovering the real job to be done is to ask questions to sell or manipulate people, rather than serve them and meet their true need. This sometimes happens if we solve the customer’s problem from our own frame of reference, or if we rush to make a sale.

Picture someone who has been advised by her doctor to get more cardiovascular exercise so she can lose a few pounds and lower her cholesterol. This person walks into a big sporting-goods store and says to the sales associate, “I’d like to buy a treadmill.”

There are three common counterfeits we see associates default to when responding to customer requests:

  • Dazzle the customer.
  • Provide false choices.
  • Leave a false impression.

The “Dazzle the Customer” Counterfeit

“Treadmills? Sure! They’re right over here. We’ve just got this one in, the new CardioBlaster 9999, and we’re offering it on sale.”

This counterfeit response can be and usually is done with genuine excitement and interest... but it’s excitement in the product rather than the customer. There’s no empathy in connecting with or listening to the customer, and there’s no responsibility for meeting the customer’s real need.

The “Provide False Choices” Counterfeit

Another way to approach the woman is to ask what she wants and then let her make a choice, all with the intent to make a sale. “What kind of treadmill were you looking for? We have a range of them, running from $429 to our top-of-the-line model at $2,000. Are you interested in a small one or a large one? How much are you looking to spend?”

The limitation in this counterfeit is that we’re asking these questions from our frame of reference, and the questions won’t get us very far in learning her hidden story or the real job to be done. We’re still focused on the product instead of the need. Again, we’re assuming that the woman is looking for a product; the only remaining question is which one she should buy. In a sense, these are false choices.

The “Leave a False Impression” Counterfeit

“You’re looking for a treadmill so you can lower your cholesterol? This model here is a good option. Half an hour jogging on this model will lower your risk of a high-cholesterol diagnosis about 7 percent.” The woman is impressed. This kid knows a lot about these machines.

Whether he means to or not, the seller is leaving a false impression with the customer. What he’s telling her is technically true—he’s not lying—but he’s giving her less than the full picture. Is he really taking responsibility for his customer by giving her such a tiny slice of truth?

By using these counterfeit responses, we miss the opportunity to discover the real job to be done and take responsibility for meeting the client’s need.

Why Don’t We Discover the Real Job to Be Done?

In many cases, it’s easy to assume we already know what the customer needs. We’ve heard the same question from dozens of customers before, so we just jump to the answer. We know our products so well that, of course, everyone needs this model right here. And sometimes we’re right. But other times we are completely off, and we miss the opportunity to build loyalty. Shifting our paradigm from one of “having the answer” to “discovering the need” can make all the difference in our ability to earn loyalty.

A second reason why some associates aren’t discovering the real job to be done is that they are being pressured to “make the sale” or “wrap up the call.” The excuse we hear is “There simply isn’t time.” In situations like these, we have to get clarity on the organization’s priorities, and discover if our real job to be done is quicker call times, making the sale, or creating loyal customers. Meeting our customers’ real needs must become our top priority if we want their loyalty.

How Do We Discover the Real Job to Be Done?

Discovering the real job to be done begins with showing empathy and taking responsibility. We connect with our customers, listen, and learn why they came to us.

Discovering the real job to be done is as simple as knowing what our customer is “hiring us to do.”

In order to discover the real job to be done, we need to do three things:

  • Be curious, but not pushy.
  • Ask for context.
  • Lead with the need.

Be Curious, but Not Pushy

Most customers don’t want to be barraged with questions. So a simple “I’m glad to help you. Let me just make sure I understand what you need so that we don’t spend time on the wrong solution” is a great way to begin the conversation without seeming pushy.

Ask for Context

A few simple open-ended questions like “What are you hoping to accomplish?” or “What would you like this product or service to do for you?” will create a dialogue that quickly gets to the customer’s job to be done.

Increasingly, our jobs are to educate customers. More and more, we must be a consultant who takes on the responsibility of guiding, advising, and teaching.

Lead With the Need

Once we’ve discovered the job to be done, it’s time to lead with the need. “Lead with the need” is simple: it means talking about the need before you talk about the product. Leading with the need means we keep the actual job to be done in our mental foreground. Too often the fatal tendency of even the most well-intentioned service people is to keep the product in the mental foreground.

Discovering the real job might sound simple, but it requires a lot of empathy and a strong sense of responsibility. Giving customers simply “what they ask for” may sound like good customer service, but it’s only when we help customers solve their real problem that we’re truly on the road to earning their loyalty. 

Engage your team to win the heart of every customer with Leading Customer Loyalty. Register for a complimentary webcast today and learn how companies get their frontline teams to act in a way that builds customer loyalty and drives faster growth.

About the Author

Shawn Moon

Shawn Moon is an experienced executive and author with expertise in sales and marketing. He inspires others to become leaders through personal effectiveness and execution. Shawn served as FranklinCovey’s Executive Vice President, where he had responsibility for all of FranklinCovey’s director operations, including the company’s North American operations, UK, Japan, Australia offices, as well as the U.S. Government Services group. He also led the company’s Execution, Speed of Trust, Customer Loyalty, and Sales Performance Practices. He is the author or co-author of several books, including The Ultimate Competitive Advantage, Talent Unleashed, and Leading Loyalty.

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