In my last article, we talked about “jobs” having both a functional and an emotional dimension to it. We examined how a photographer can focus on the emotional dimensions of important jobs to differentiate themselves from the pack, and become the “image maker” of choice.
But what if customers only buy functional jobs from us?
Some companies have business model focused on selling commodity products, typically in the early part of the value chain. Perhaps not totally fungible (example corn and crude oil are fungible products), but pretty much undifferentiated and available from multiple sources.
There isn’t a lot of emotional investment involved when a purchasing agent places an order with suppliers of commodity products. As long as the supplier has a good track record on delivery, quality and price, it’s basically a no brainer. “Give me your best price and deliver date, and if it’s better than your competitor, I will hire you,” a buyer is likely to rationalize.
In this scenario, competitors are said to be competing in a red ocean where they try to outperform their rivals to grab a greater share of existing demand, usually through marginal changes in offering level and price. Products become commodities, and cut-throat competition turns the red ocean bloody.
But is this really their only game option? Is shipping goods as cheap as they can their only play? Or are there other important jobs they can get done for existing customers within the job chain? Or other ancillary jobs existing customers want to get done? Or creating new customers with modified existing solutions? There is a good chance other jobs and desired outcomes can be uncovered that will help a commodity firm create valuable differentiation to create new customers.
Highly specialized tech firms have more to offer than just meeting specifications
Another familiar business model are firms that supply highly specialized technical solutions. These companies sell custom and semi-custom solutions, often in the early part of the value chain as well. For example, microwave communication product company that supplies subsystems for high-rel and military applications. These solutions require a high level of technical expertise and capabilities.
These firms typically get onto the buyer’s bid list (the buyer could be the final contractor or sub-contractor) and respond to request for quotations (RFQ’s) that are sent to other competing firms with similar solutions. Specifications are typically defined in the RFQ. So the job to be done is in theory spelled out in great detail.
Thus, the functional dimension of getting the customer’s job done is the primary focus for these firms. But because there is a high level of intellectual property and know-how involved, these firms can appeal to the emotional jobs buyers have in hiring them over the competitor.
Companies not only want to hire the functional dimension of the job, but also want to get the emotional job of looking good in the eyes of their bosses and peers, as well as their end customers. They too are trying to get important jobs done including hiring the right firm to get the job done at the best value. They want to be assured that the solutions they get will be reliable, on time, and with no surprises deep into their integration efforts.
Unfortunately, many tech firms’ business models have evolved to being the lowest cost producer. Companies who play in the early part of the value chain can become too tactical or parochial on why people hire their products and services. For example our microwave product company might think their job to be done is to build and ship microwave modules specified on a purchase order at the lowest cost possible.
But is this the entire job that their customer wants to get done? Or is there something else that customers want done when they hire a specialist tech firm? Are they just looking for the cheapest purchasing cost? Or are customers looking for reliability and overall system performance including support? And maybe a good night’s sleep!
Looking at the entire jobs-to-be-done map
How might a specialized technology company re-frame their customer’s true jobs-to-be-done in a more strategic perspective? Where could a tech company leverage its design and process expertise into the customer’s product development and manufacturing processes to create more value? Can the help their customers shorten their development cycle time? Perhaps help them reduce their overall manufacturing cost and ongoing customer support cost?
So what makes your company unique?
What separates you from the rest? Why do customers hire you over your competitors? What experience do you provide your customers when working with you? Do they buy from you because you are the cheapest? Or do they buy from you because you are the best?
These are important questions to explore with customers. Answering these questions will lead to discovering how to create more value for your customers, resulting in customer loyalty and top and bottom line growth.
Look beyond simply being a supplier of tech goods, but rather helping your clients get their important jobs done of creating value for their customers. Become a valuable partner in your customers’ quest of market success by helping them get more of their important jobs done better, faster and cheaper.
Here’s to moving up the value chain!