Robot vacuum innovation using JTBD

Robot vacuum innovation using JTBD

Too fast? Slow down. Too hot? Cool down. Too little? Add more. Too long to wait? Make it shorter. Maybe.

Waits are complainable for a couple of reasons. Fairness, if someone enters a line later but finishes sooner. Ambiguity, if the wait duration is unknown. Comfort, if there’s somewhere to sit, charge a phone, or entertain us, waits can be wonderful.

Not all problems have “symmetrical solutions”. Changing something else might change the main thing. Even better, sometimes something else is easier.

For instance, we bought a Roomba. It is loud. Rather, it is Loud AF.

Too loud? Make it quieter. Maybe. But loudness has layers like, how much noise I can hear. One change is quieter. Though that tradeoff makes it more expensive.

Another approach is to hear it less. The Roomba does just that! The vacuum has a scheduling feature and integrates with smart homes. Want a quieter Roomba? Run it when no one is home.

Asymmetry is at the heart of Alchemy. Rory Sutherland wants people to see that problems are asymmetrical and then use psychology (in this case, technology) to solve the problem in a new way.

The idea of symmetry is from Bob Moesta in episode 7 of the Circuit Breaker podcast. The idea of tradeoffs is from episode 2. One of the Roomba’s competitors is non-consumption, episode 13.

The Sandler Rules (a short review)

It is helpful to think of The Sandler Rules: 49 Timeless Selling Principles and How to Apply Them like Parenting Teens with Love and Logic. Both books suggest shifting from helicopter parent or pushy salesperson to more of a consultant. For Sandler it’s principle 39. 

For Sandler, for sales, the customer’s progress is all that matters. It’s not how hard you worked. It’s not the feature. It’s not what you think. It’s not the last time this happened. 

It’s. Just. The. Customer’s. Progress. 

To find that the salesperson must be honest, a contradiction to the caricatures. “When interacting with prospects and clients, your objective is to uncover the truth, even if it’s not something you want to hear.” 

One obstacle, ironically, on the path from honesty leading to truth is knowledge. You can know too much. So, act like a dummy (Rule 17). Remember, selling is not about telling (Rule 14). 

Doctoring is a helpful analogy. Dermatologists don’t digress into the sciences  – they diagnose damage. The sales system differs from the medical one and strictly comparing the two makes the man on the moon mistake, but the philosophy is the same. 

Author David Mattson does a nice job of collecting the principles and assigning interesting ideas to each. My favorites: 

  • Rule 2: Don’t spill your candy in the lobby. Get information don’t give it.
  • Rule 4: Explain ‘no’ is okay. Aim to uncover the truth – even if it’s something you don’t want to hear.
  • Rule 13: No mind reading, don’t assume and clarify vague responses.
  • Rule 14: “‘Selling’ is not about “‘telling.’”
  • Rule 22: Defuse bombs right away – bring up the problem.
  • Rule 27: “You can’t sell anybody anything, they must discover they want it.”
  • Rule 37: “All Prospects Lie, All the Time… but why, and about what.”
  • Rule 38: The problem they bring you is never the real problem, “diagnosis is the salesperson’s responsibility”.
  • Rule 41: Whatever is happening is your responsibility
  • Rule 48: A life without risk is a life without growth

Sandler was suggested in Bob Moesta’s book Demand Side Sales. This book is an aligned sales system to the JTBD approach. Rules 37 & 38 (“all prospects lie, all the time” & diagnosis is the salesperson’s job) fit well with the curiosity inherent in JTBD.

The Sandler Rules: 49 Timeless Selling Principles and How to Apply Them is a fast read, best for the JTBD curious and those looking for some sales support. 

Here’s the review for Parenting Teens…

And the JTBD series

Start with No (book review)

In his 2016 book, Never Split the Difference Chris Voss suggests Jim Camp’s, 2011 book, Start with No

To Voss, ‘no’ is progress. Too often ‘yes’ is said for appeasing purposes and ‘maybe’ means we haven’t clarified what’s important. But ‘no’ is firm, it’s progress. 

Camp explores this idea deeper. He, like Voss, dislikes win-win negotiations. First, they lead to unnecessary compromises. In an effort to let both sides ‘get something’ negotiators compromise too much and on the wrong things. A 10% discount in exchange for a longer contract is good only if it’s important. Too often, Camp writes, people compromise on things which don’t matter. 

Second, win-win is considered fair. Who judges what’s fair? There’s no master evaluator. There are ethics though. Camp’s model is analogous to sports. Prepare, train, and play as hard as you can within the rules for the full period of time. Once the event is over, shake hands and respect your opponent. 

Third is the idea Voss runs with, a ‘no’ is progress, it’s “a decision that gives everyone something to talk about.” 

If ‘no’ is so important, why write a book? This coulda been a tweet. 

Well, no. There’re better ways to get to ’no’. And this book is really about something else entirely.

Our second house was a for sale by owner. A nice family with a nice home. We sniffed around each other like dogs with our initial questions and when asked about his timeline for building their next house the owner said, ‘I’m in no rush, I’ve got a house now’. 

That was good. He conveyed un-neediness. Being needy is Camp’s first warning. Do. Not. Need. A. Deal. Both Camp and Voss frame themselves against the classic negotiation book, 1981’s, Getting to Yes. Their books, they say, highlight what GtY gets wrong. Fair. But Getting to Yes presents the BATNA: best alternative to a negotiated agreement. That’s essential to un-neediness. 

The heart of un-needines, and of good negotiations is the secret message of the book. Start with No is really about our ego

Being needy is ego. Camp’s second rule is to act like Columbo. Disarm the adversary. In other words, put ego aside. Don’t try to be impressive, smart, or IN CHARGE. Don’t elucidate and don’t use words like elucidate. Camp warns about trying to be liked (chapters 2, 3), to be smart (6), or only talking about your side (4, 7, 8, 9). 

It’s hard to Start with No when you start with yourself.

The role of ego varies in size and scope. A successful negotiator finds the right balance of their own and their adversary’s point of view. This is the root of Camp’s system. It’s also the heart of copywriting and JTBD

Good negotiations are difficult and rare, Camp writes. That makes sense! To be a successful negotiator (according to Camp) we have to check our ego – a problem humans have been dealing with for hundreds of years. 

Camp tells a lot of ‘me’ stories. They’re about his big deal big deals, his awesome son, his business. It’s a little much (Voss’ stories are better). But hidden in those is a wonderful exploration of our ego and what we can do about it. 

Ego is tricky because like picking our nose, we don’t notice. It’s part of us. But when someone contrasts another way it makes us pause and consider that. For instance, “the most important behavioral goal and habit you can develop is your ability to ask questions” or “The self-image of the individual in the selling role traps him or her in a neediness mode and often leads to bad deals.” That frames our behavior and leads to questions like do I ask enough questions or am I needy because I want to feel smart, impressive, helpful, or whatever?

Camp’s book introduces his perspective, and that’s a good start to good negotiations.

Made up start up: Sandbags

A business succeeds by doing three things: creating something people want, getting it to them, and communicating the value. We call this: product, placement, promotion. 

Hey Siri, search ‘sandbag workout’

Workout sandbags are an interesting product because no one wants sandbags. The product is the sandbag but the JTBD is looking like this guy. Or at least more like this guy

Sandbags are also interesting because of their distribution opportunity. DTC opens opportunities blocked by traditional retail and neutralizes the TiVo problem. Channels like Amazon are okay, but shift the comparison metrics to price and stars. Companies that offer good-enough inexpensive options do well on Amazon – not a good tactic here. 

Lastly, the ‘people also ask’ sandbag section seeds great copywriting. These customer queries reveal wants. And customers want clarity. Searches are full of ‘program’ or ‘workout’ or ‘plan’. People are searching for what Bob Moesta writes are the ‘little hires’. Someone has bought a product, the ‘big hire’, but don’t quite know how to use it. That’s interesting too. 

People take action when their current situation stinks enough, a new solution looks good enough, there’s not too much ambiguity aversion, and their habits aren’t too strong. In his book Moesta puts it this way:

[Push of the malaise + Pull of the solution] > [Anxiety of ambiguity + Habit of the moment]

If LEFT > RIGHT then action occurs. 

Push: everyone wants to be in better shape. Like that guy? Who knows. 

Pull: sandbags are kinda weird, kinda bro. This may be an opportunity. 

Anxiety: people don’t know the ‘little hires’. Big opportunity. 

Habit: the workout (or not) of the moment. 

In Unacceptable, the book about the college admission scandal, parents hired help. The aiding advisor advertised high-school-test-prep ads at coffee shops and gyms near the schools. The customer wasn’t the student going to college, it was the parent paying for it. The consumer and ‘little hire’ were different from the customer and ‘big hire’. 

Successful products serve both groups. This makes the Unacceptable story tragically funny, some students didn’t know, what, or care what their parents did! 

This is spitballing. We’d also need to find: 

  • Where are the ready people? Maybe: in Google searches, Instagram fans, on Reddit forums, listening to personal development podcasts, and so on. What’s our version of the coffee shop?
  • What does ‘zombie revenue’ tell us about why people who buy it but don’t use it? 
  • What workout email helps customers make progress? 
  • Why are sandbags so bro? Is this an opportunity? 

Every business is a trade off. Doing one thing makes other things easier/harder. A team that plays offense fast has less time for their defense to recover. There’s a good way to sell sandbags. Is this it? Only the market knows. But it’s a good mental lift. 

The Mom Test (book review)

“It’s not anyone else’s responsibility to show us the truth. It’s our responsibility to find it. We do that by asking good questions.” – Rob Fitzpatrick 

The best way to think about The Mom Test (Amazon) is as a field manual for JTBD. Bob Moesta explains that JTBD is the balance of supply-side innovation and demand-side innovation. It is the innovation balance between what we can build and what the customers want. 

Often innovation is unbalanced, oriented more from the supply side. One way to judge is the language. Is a product or service explained in the company language or the consumer language? 

Oooooohhhhh. Got it. So just ask customers what they like and change it! 

Nope. 

Fitzpatrick’s book guides the shift from supply-focused to demand-focused. It’s an informational puzzle. 

To shift, an organization must focus on good questions. Fitzpatrick dubs good questions “The Mom Test”. If a question is so good even your mom answers truthfully it’s a good question. Failed startups often failed The Mom Test. Yes, our friends say, that’s a great idea

Good questions find signal in the noise, which comes in different flavors. 

  1. Social context. People will be nice, so questions must be precise. 
  2. Vague questions. Good questions focus on behaviors. Show me your calendar and checkbook types. 
  3. Lack of listening. Take a page from Chris Voss and reply with sounds like, looks like, and seems like

Good questions focus on aspects of a person’s life, not ideas about a product. 

One difference between Fitzpatrick and Moesta is the structure of these question-and-answer sessions. Moesta tells his interviewees to think of it as background for a documentary. He reduces the stakes and that leads to a better signal. Fitzpatrick suggests reducing the stake further. Any conversation can include The Mom Test. If you want specific conversations Fitzpatrick has advice for that too. 

To see if The Mom Test helps every conversation leads to a next step. There are no good or bad meetings, writes Rob, only successes or failures. 

A good examiner will get out of their own way. “You’re searching for the truth not trying to be right.” 

If you want to get better at creating things people want, or like a bayesian update to be more demand focused, check out 1,000+ reviews on Amazon.

Meth COGS

In profession problem solving we looked at how careers craft thinking. Let’s add DEA agents.

In his podcast with Jocko Willink, Joe Piersante talks about his time working in Arizona and dealing with hundreds of meth labs. If I told you I was in 500 labs, Joe says, it would be an understatement. Meth was the drug of choice in Joe’s region and between the cost to create, the large rural area, and proximity with Mexico it was difficult to police.

“It was bad at first because there was so many,” Joe says. It was too easy. What “put a dent into it,” was the 2005 Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act, which restricted access to pseudoephedrine, a precursor chemical to meth.

The COGS increase changed the business model.

Later in his career and the episode Joe talks about his time in Afghanistan. “We would not go after the poppy farmers because they were made to grow the opium,” Joe said, “The Taliban came in and they had the biggest stick at the time. It was a case of ‘you’re going to grow this or you’re going to get killed.'”

There were no better incentives to offer this group of laborers. “We knew they weren’t reaping the benefits so we tried to find the people getting the money.”

A lotta problems are multi-dimensional. Think about the field of addiction, said David Nutt, it’s about the drug, the person, and the society. Each of those is a lever. Profession problem solving is too. How would an economist solve this? How would a marketer? How would a coder? Each leads to a different island in the archipelago of thought. DEA agents think a bit like business owners, and we can add this approach to the set.

I also learned what Smurfing is/was, a unique JTBD.

Snickers and Milky Way

Snickers and Milky Way

Reframing our perspective is a powerful thinking tool. ‘Sleeping on it’ is reframing. Reading books is reframing. Comparing novel things is reframing. 

For a business owner, thinking of time of day, place in life, and what happened prior is reframing.

Bob Moesta notes “context creates value”. Time and place create more or less value. Birthday gifts have one value on birthdays and another value when it’s not. 

But we miss this because of average lies. Average computes easily, is sometimes helpful, but is a crude tool. Sometimes we NEED this one thing RIGHT NOW! 

Contrast Snickers and Milky Way. Graphically: 

Commercially (2011):

Snickers is a chewy pick-me-up energy bar. Milky Way is a treat-yo-self deep breath of sweetness. The context creates value

According to Bob Moesta, the context for eating Snickers is that I’m hungry and I want something filling, tasty, cheap, and fast. Applying average thinking, there’s not a constant demand. Find when customers consume a product reveals that product’s JTBD.

“Context creates value” fits well with Alchemy too. Channeling Rory Sutherland, it wasn’t that Snickers needed to be tastier, rather reframed. Alchemy is about solving problems with psychology rather than physics. Instead of making travel faster, make it more enjoyable with wifi, charge ports, booking flexibility, a table for tea, someplace for the kids to burn off energy, and so on. Faster is only better when the process sucks. 

Consumers and customers have untapped wants. They’re hiding behind time, place, averages. They’re served by JTBD & Alchemy. 

Fifteen minutes could…be the JTBD

The central point of JTBD is that innovators over index on what they can build and under index on progress the customers wants. Too often innovators ‘scratch their own itch.’

This doesn’t mean verbatim bequeaths . Do that, said Ford CEO Jim Farley, and you get The Homer.

No, successful JTBD innovation uses the customer’s language.

One mistake, writes Frank Lutz in his book Words that Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear, is explaining in actions rather than outcomes. Actions are what I can build whereas outcomes are the progress.

A business that offers same day responses resonates more with customers than one that has “agents standing by”. How a customer describes their issue outlines the progress a customer wants to make.

An example of customer language comes from GEICO’s advertising start. GEICO executives told their marketers that, on average, phone calls took eight minutes and customers saved about 18%. Good numbers.

But when the marketing staff listened to the customer language they found the numbers were too good. “Research pointed out,” said Ted Ward on NPR, “that ten minutes wasn’t long enough to talk about something like car insurance but fifteen minutes was, and twenty minutes was considered way too long.” Eighteen percent was too good too, hence the 15 minutes to save 15% or more.

Customer words are the breadcrumbs along the JTBD path. Innovators settle into metrics which may not be helpful but are familiar, easy to collect, and seem important. But those metrics aren’t how the customer sees the world. For instance:

  • Best Buy Geek Squad formerly shared the average wait time. That led to disappointed customers. They switched to 90th percentile waits and customers became a lot happier.
  • Netflix used to offer star ratings (3.2, 4.1, etc.). That didn’t resonate like sub-genres like my favorite, ‘one last job then I’m out’.
  • Temperature can be Celsius or Fahrenheit but each has different fidelity. Laymen like Fahrenheit whereas scientists subscribe to Celsius.
  • Canada gets avalanche descriptions. Americans describe a class three avalanche as medium ‘relative to the path’, whereas in Canada a class three ‘could bury a car, destroy a small building, or break trees.’
  • This same effect exists at Disney. Touring Plans creator Len Testa noted that if his app says a time that’s too far from the Disney estimate people won’t believe it.

Each of these is an example of Lutz’s subtitle: it’s not what you say it’s what people hear. When people heard 8 minutes they knew it wasn’t enough time to get a legitimate car insurance quote.

Don’t miss any of the Job to be Done posts.

Demand-Side Sales 101 (book review)

Demand-Side Sales 101 opens with a foreword from Jason Fried, from his time selling shoes: 

“I noticed that when people browsed shoes on a wall, they’d pick a few up and bounce them around in their hand to get a sense of the heft and feel. Shoes go on your feet, but people picked the shoe with their hands. If it didn’t feel good in the hand, it never made it to their foot.” 

Authors Bob Moesta and Greg Engle of the Rewired Group wrote this book to explain how sales fits under the JTBD umbrella. Rather than selling, Moesta (whose voice I read this in) wants sales staff to be more like a concierge

Sales isn’t about bringing the product to the person. 

Sales is about helping the person make progress. 

Investors get this. An investor is only able to maneuver to the extent their limited partners allow. An educational endowment may not invest in companies whose business is distasteful to their staff, students, alumni, etc. Other investors can take advantage of this restricted action section. In the words of Seth Klarman: I want partners who cash checks when I write them and write checks when I ask for them

Consumer good businesses get this too. It makes no sense to ‘sell to’ people who don’t want the product. Moesta wants to take this spirit and distill it: move past selling to helping. 

Products that help have to start with what the customer actually needs. This is demand side (rather than supply side) innovation. Supply side tends to be features a business can create. Demand side tends to be the progress a user needs. 

This orientation may lead to novel solutions. Channeling Theodore Levitt, Moesta writes: 

““I need a drill, because I want a hole.” “I need a hole, because I want a plug.” “I need a plug, because I want a lamp.” “Why do you want a lamp?” “Because it’s hard to see, and I want to read better.” Now, we are beginning to understand the customer. They don’t need a drill at all; they need a Kindle.”

Think of your product, Moesta and Engle explain in their Circuit Breaker podcast, as the mustard on a sandwich. That’s how important whatever it is you do. The iPhone is the greatest product created, but it too is just the mustard. The elemental arrangement (a book about that) of sand and plastic is great – but only because it allows progress like emailing, photo taking, and reading Bob’s book. 

There are four forces that affect change: Push of current situation, Pull of the new solution, Anxiety of the new solution, Habit of the current situation. 

Moesta is dyslexic and sees these four aspects as an equation. Customers act when [Push of old + Pull of new] > [Habit + Anxiety]. A lot of copywriting works this way. ‘New’ and ‘Best’ are aspects of pull while money-back-guarantee is an aspect of anxiety.  

Diet can be seen this way. The way we look at the scale is the push of the current and the pull of the new is the vogue diet of the moment. Anxiety is fear of failure and the ambiguity aversion of the unknown. Habit is what mindlessly eat. 

Oh, and a wedding is coming up. 

Understanding the four forces isn’t quite enough to make sales. Customers travel through time, and six stages: 

  1. First thought. In a competitive market it helps when there is no name for a thing because names mean competition. Meanwhile a business has to create the question that leads to progress. “Questions are places in your mind where answers fit. If you haven’t asked the question, the answer has nowhere to go. It hits your mind and bounces right off.”
  2. Passive looking. Buyers consider actions. Push and Pull don’t yet outweigh Habit and Anxiety. 
  3. Active looking. Something happens. I’ve had it
  4. Deciding. What do people really value? Everything has trade-offs. Successful organizations sync their strengths with the customers’ wants. 
  5. Onboarding. A sale occurs.
  6. Using. How well something performs (relative to their(!!!!) expectations). This is 100% subjective. It’s not what you can build, it’s what they want to do. 

The 2011 Betty White Snickers commercial is how Mars used demand side sales to sell more Snickers. 

“When Snickers reframed their product from competing with Milky Way—supply-side selling—to solving the customer’s struggling moment—demand-side selling—they created pull for their product by helping people make progress.”

Milky Way is a treat and competes with glasses of wine and Oreo. Snickers is a snack and competes with Red Bull or Clif Bar. 

“But great salespeople don’t sell; they help. They listen, understand what you want to achieve, and help you achieve it. A better title would be “concierge.””

Netflix DVD JTBD

If I listened to my customers, Henry Ford lamented, they’d have asked for a faster horse. Let’s peel back this meme.

Superficially, Ford noted, customers do not know what they want. It takes visionary God-given insight to make things for people. Maybe.

What’s happening is that customers share a suggested solution. Ask the right questions to find the problem.

Prior to streaming in 2007, Netflix mailed DVDs. The business worked better than Blockbuster because movies came right to the customer, who returned them whenever they pleased. Life was good.

Mostly. People told Netflix they wanted new releases faster. That was the suggested solution. Instead, Netflix asked questions. If some customers got their newly released movies right away and others did not, would customer churn differ between the two groups?

And it did!

But not by much. At least not by enough to justify the extra cost of 2004’s The Machinist.*

But people wanted more new movies. Right?

Here Netflix got into the problem part of Ford’s words. Customers ask for one thing but what do they really want?

What the Netflix customers really wanted was any movie faster. To address this JTBD Netflix did two things.

First, they built more shipping centers so more movies were geographically closer to more people. During this expansion, Netflix went from ~20 centers to ~100.

Second, they changed the website so ‘local’ movies were presented on the homepage. A customer might log in to see Shrek 2 rather than The Incredibles.

Customers said they wanted newer movies, but what they wanted was faster movies.

*That’s another Netflix find. We tend to like Adam Sandler movies more than Drama/Thriller