We keep hearing that innovation is the lifeblood of every business, and yet we know it’s difficult to do. There are two videos on this very topic here, but a few pointers need expanding.

You can argue that it’s better to deeply understand your product or service, get really good at it and leave innovation to others. That’s really about starting something in a field you don’t know. We don’t advocate that either. But we do advocate improving your offering to your customers and so expanding that customer base.

The limitations of Big Data

One of the issues is big data. We are supposed to need it to understand our markets better. We are not fans, especially for small businesses. Most small businesses can’t get enough data for it to be useful, and if they could they couldn’t afford it. And even then big data has serious limitations, particularly in driving marketing and innovation. It’s too easy to simply describe customer segments in terms of demographics and then expect, because you’ve sold to some of those segments already, that you can sell more to more of those, if only you could find them. We are all good at reading into things what we want to see. It’s called confirmation bias. Focusing on correlation is simply taking us in the wrong direction. We just won’t know enough about our customers to make this level of connection. If you want examples, here’s Clay Christensen’s and others excellent HBR article.

The job to be done

In the videos we talk about the job to be done – why someone is buying your product or service. They are not buying it for its beauty or even because they like you, although all of that helps. They’re doing it to fix some problem that they have got. And that problem can be the same, or at least similar, to people in different walks of life of different ages and different job types.

So if everything is that vague, how on earth can you find people who want what you do or sell?

Even when you get people to ask for a quote or a meeting, even though you’ve done a fantastic job in describing what you do and how it can help them, you don’t get the sale.  What are you (or we) all doing wrong? Are the features and benefits that we’re selling just not good enough, or are they in some way a poor fit?

Or do we simply not know what job is really needing to be done?

How are you changing lives for the better?

As a practice, although it may sound pretentious, we believe we are in the business of changing people’s lives for the better. We do this by taking away worry (the regulatory burden). Importantly we help people align their personal objectives with their business objectives so that they value the benefits they get.

And I think the job to be done in whatever field is summed up like that. How are you changing someone’s life for the better? That may not be in a big way but it does mean you have to understand what is driving them. You have to be very personal in your approach and ask a lot of questions to discover the things which are truly important to them so that you can provide something which will address that and satisfy their needs.

Who else can you help?

Non consumption is another thing we mention in our innovation videos where we ask – who isn’t buying and why not. And I don’t mean buying from you, I mean buying from anybody. There are vast numbers of jobs and tasks that people want to avoid. What small irritations, workarounds and nuisances can you remove? These do make changes for the better, even if small.

The real job to be done

Most of us start in business for a number of reasons, which commonly include doing something better for our customers. Thinking of how much better it can be should involve the experience the customer has. I don’t simply mean the customer journey or the user experience, though that is important.

Think about the experience the customer is trying to create by buying your product or service.

The old story is no one ever buys a drill bit because they want to make a hole – they need the hole for a purpose, maybe to hang a picture. What’s the real job to be done?

So there’s no need to make your product perfect –  to you. Make it good (enough) for the customer. That depends on their circumstances, not yours, and certainly not your features and benefits. Getting a job done isn’t just a function, it’s much more about emotional and social aspects. Deeply understanding the job allows you to innovate without having to guess about the workarounds or trade-offs that your customer is going to have to endure already or, worse, after buying your product.

How to find workarounds

Try Facebook, as a start. People are constantly posting how they fix things. Can you produce something so that they can fix it better, or, so they don’t have to? If that’s not your market, it’s still a good way of getting into the mindset. And you use workarounds yourself, all the time. What’s annoying you? It’s sure to be annoying someone else too. You will have customer experience stories of your own, when you were the customer and had to deal with something that didn’t quite do what you wanted.

Once you develop the product knowing that the customer will want it, and it will fix a problem, you’ve got to develop the experience that goes with the product. This is the way you get repeat business and a better price. Get into the detail, walk-through what your customer will experience through every aspect of the buying process and, crucially, the using process. As we have said before, the moment of truth is not just when the purchase is made, but when the product or service is used. That’s when you get satisfaction and fans – not before. And fans tell people like themselves who have the same problem, which brings in more business.