Developing Your Nose for Energy

I’m the pig and the energy is the truffle.


Yesterday I had a chance to jump on the phone with Ryan Singer of 37Signals and catch up on how we’ve both been using Jobs-to-be-Done recently. During the conversation he said to me:

In some interviews it takes me 45 minutes to uncover the actual energy related to the switch. Then I feel like I don’t have enough time left to get all of the details that I want.

It turned into a fantastic discussion about how we can identify and articulate the tricks that we have at our disposal that can lead us to the energy that caused the consumer to change their behavior.

I can’t express in words how important this ability is. If you can pull this off your interviews will be rich with detail that you’ll be scrambling to act on. If you can’t … well let’s just work on making sure that you can.

Because most of us are product people, we get caught up in the product:

Tell me about your old mattress. How did it compare to the new one? Was it softer/harder/lumpier? Now tell me about the mattress you have now …

The truth is, I don’t care about the mattress. I care about the situation that he was in that caused him to think about abandoning the status-quo.

It got to a point where I would be up at 4am searching online for mattresses because my back hurt so bad that I couldn’t sleep.

Holy cow! There’s some energy! I can sell to that. I can craft marketing messages around it.

But before we find that kind of gold we need to start our conversation with them and begin to zoom in. Below is a diagram that I sketched out to start to outline the questions (tricks) that I use to start at a high-level and begin to zoom in one the Jobs-to-be-Done timeline: the moment when they had the first thought that they needed to make progress, all the way through purchasing and using the product.

At the beginning of the interview I don’t know where that timeline is, and I have to set out to find it. Everything before it is status-quo (normal behavior) and everything after it is status-quo (the new habits/behaviors have been set / progress has been made).

If the rust colored areas are the status-quo (business as usual), how do we ask questions to bracket the switch so that we can start to hunt for energy that is useful to us?

I always start by trying to set the right bracket:

What exactly did you buy? Do you remember the brand? What else do you remember about it? (model/features?)
When did you buy it? Was it a weekend or weekday? Do you remember if it was before Thanksgiving or after?

Then move to the left bracket (much tricker to find):

When did you have the first thought that you needed something new? Do you remember a moment when you said to yourself, ‘this mattress just isn’t cutting it?’

From there it’s up to me to decide if I believe them or if I need to keep moving back in time (the first thought that they shared with me isn’t really the first thought — it’s just the one that they remember most easily and I need to keep probing).

Next Steps

I know that with this post we’re just beginning to scratch the surface of the tricks that are available to us. Over the next few weeks we’re going to work to unpack the things that we do unknowingly to try to make them more concrete and usable for you.

If you have tricks of your own, let us know.

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