The Ultimate Guide to Conducting Jobs-to-be-Done Interviews for SaaS Startups

Understanding your customer is not just a luxury—it’s a necessity. The Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) framework is a revolutionary approach that dives deep into the motivations and desires of users. How do you effectively conduct a JTBD interview?

The Essence of Jobs-to-be-Done

The Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) framework is a paradigm shift in how we approach product development and customer understanding. Traditional methods often focus on the product or service’s features, benefits, and specifications. JTBD urges us to look beyond the superficial.

Customers don’t just buy products or services. They “hire” them to get a job done. This “job” is not a task but a desired state or outcome. For instance, people don’t buy drills for owning a drill; they buy them to make holes. Similarly, they don’t choose a music streaming service just for the songs; they seek entertainment, discovery, or even a mood enhancer.

By focusing on the “job” customers are trying to accomplish, businesses can innovate and create solutions that resonate with their audience’s needs and desires.

Why JTDB Matters for SaaS

New technologies emerge, user preferences shift, and competitors are always on the horizon. It’s easy for companies to get caught up in a feature war, constantly adding new bells and whistles in an attempt to outdo the competition.

This can lead to bloated software that loses sight of users’ needs. That’s where the JTBD framework becomes invaluable for SaaS companies.

  • Alignment with User Needs: By understanding the core “jobs” users hire for their software, SaaS companies can prioritise features and improvements that directly cater to those needs. This ensures that development efforts are always aligned with user value.
  • Differentiation in a Crowded Market: When SaaS companies focus on the unique jobs their software can fulfil, they carve out a distinct position in the market. This is especially crucial in sectors where multiple products offer similar feature sets.
  • Reduced Churn: Users who feel a software understands and caters to their needs are less likely to switch to a competitor. By consistently delivering on the primary jobs users are seeking to accomplish, SaaS companies can foster loyalty and reduce churn.
  • Informed Product Roadmaps: With JTBD insights, product teams can craft roadmaps that aren’t just based on trends or competitor actions but are rooted in genuine user needs and desires.

The JTBD framework isn’t just a methodology—it’s a compass, guiding them towards true north in user satisfaction and product excellence.

Preparing for the Interview

By selecting the right participants and crafting insightful questions, SaaS companies can uncover their users’ deep-seated motivations and challenges, paving the way for genuine innovation and user satisfaction.

Selecting the Right Participants

While it might be tempting to cast a wide net, not every user will provide the insights you need. Here’s why:

  • Diverse User Base: Especially in SaaS, users can range from novices to experts, each with different motivations and challenges. Understanding these nuances is crucial.
  • Product Maturity: A user who has been with your product since its beta phase might have different feedback than someone who joined last week.
  • Usage Frequency: Infrequent users might have surface-level feedback, while power users can dive deep into functionalities.

Tools to Aid Selection

These are just two recommendations. You don’t need fancy tools. You can even do it manually with a spreadsheet.

  • Intercom: This customer messaging platform can help segment users based on behaviour, usage, or other criteria, making it easier to identify potential interviewees.
  • UserTesting: A platform dedicated to user research, UserTesting can help recruit participants that match specific criteria, ensuring you’re speaking to the right audience.

Crafting the Right Questions

  • Avoid Surface-Level Questions: Asking users directly, “What do you want?” often results in generic answers or feature requests. Instead, dive deeper.
  • Seek the ‘Why’: Questions like “What are you trying to achieve?” or “What challenges are you facing?” can unearth the underlying job the user is hiring your product for.
  • Focus on Past Behaviour: Instead of hypotheticals, ask about past experiences. “Tell me about the last time you…” can provide concrete examples and genuine pain points.

Dropbox’s Deeper Understanding

Dropbox might appear to be a simple storage solution. But their success wasn’t just about offering space in the cloud. By delving deeper into user needs, they realised people weren’t just looking to store files—they wanted a seamless way to access their files from anywhere, on any device. They weren’t selling gigabytes; they were selling accessibility and peace of mind.

This realisation influenced Dropbox’s messaging, feature development, and integrations. It’s a testament to the power of understanding the real “job” a product is being hired for. And it all starts with asking the right questions.

Conducting the Interview

Conducting a successful JTBD interview is as much an art as a science. It requires preparation, empathy, and keen observation. SaaS companies can unearth invaluable insights that drive product innovation and user satisfaction by creating a conducive environment, actively listening, asking the right questions, and leveraging tools like recording.

Setting the Stage

A comfortable, non-threatening environment encourages candid, open feedback, which is gold for any interviewer.

  • Physical Environment: If conducting in-person interviews, choose a quiet, well-lit room. Ensure seating arrangements are conducive to conversation, not interrogation.
  • Virtual Environment: For online interviews, ensure a stable internet connection and use reliable software. A brief chat before diving into questions can help ease any virtual awkwardness.
  • Building Rapport: Start with a light conversation. Make it clear that you’re looking for honest feedback, not validation. Assure participants that there are no ‘wrong’ answers.

Active Listening

Active listening goes beyond merely hearing words. It’s about truly understanding the speaker’s emotions, motivations, and concerns.

  • Body Language: Maintain eye contact and nod occasionally to show you’re engaged. Avoid distractions, like checking your phone or watch.
  • Clarifying Questions: If a response is unclear, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification. Phrases like “Can you elaborate on that?” can be invaluable.
  • Emotional Cues: Pay attention to the participant’s tone, facial expressions, and body language. These can offer insights words might miss.

Avoiding Leading Questions

Leading questions can skew results by subtly (or not so subtly) prompting the interviewee towards a particular answer.

  • Neutral Wording: Instead of “You found this feature useful, right?”, ask, “How did you find this feature?”
  • Open-ended Questions: Encourage expansive answers. For instance, “Tell me about your experience with…” is more effective than “Did you like…?”
  • Be Conscious of Tone: An interviewer’s tone can inadvertently lead a participant. Ensure your tone remains neutral, especially when discussing potentially contentious topics.

Practical Tip: Recording the Interview

Recording interviews can be a game-changer. Not only does it allow you to focus on the conversation without frantic note-taking, but it also provides a resource for future analysis.

  • Seek Permission: Always ask for the participant’s consent before hitting the record button. Assure them of the confidentiality of the recording.
  • Quality Matters: Use a good-quality microphone or recording device. For virtual interviews, many platforms offer built-in recording features.
  • Review & Analyse: Post-interview, review the recording multiple times. Transcribe the conversation if possible. This allows for deeper analysis, ensuring no nugget of insight is missed.

Digging Deeper Beyond the Surface

The Five Whys Technique

In understanding user motivations, it’s often not the first answer but the subsequent ones that reveal the most. The Five Whys Technique is a testament to this principle.

Originating from Toyota’s lean manufacturing philosophy, this iterative interrogative technique is deceptively simple yet profoundly effective. By asking “Why?” five times in succession, you can peel back the layers of superficial reasoning, diving deep into the root cause or motivation behind a particular behaviour or challenge.

For SaaS companies, this technique is invaluable. It allows them to move beyond the obvious, understanding the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ behind user actions.

Practical Application

Imagine a user saying they don’t use a particular feature. The Five Whys could go something like this:

  • Why don’t you use this feature? “It’s not relevant to me.”
  • Why isn’t it relevant? “I don’t understand its purpose.”
  • Why don’t you understand its purpose? “The feature description is too technical.”
  • Why do you find it too technical? “I’m new to this industry.”
  • Why are you using our software if you’re new? “My team recommended it.”

A SaaS company might glean that they need more beginner-friendly onboarding or feature descriptions from this.

Slack’s Deeper Dive

Slack, the ubiquitous team communication tool, could have easily settled with the label of a ‘chat app’. But their success lies in understanding the deeper dynamics at play.

Slack’s team delved deep into the intricacies of team dynamics and collaboration. They realised modern teams weren’t just looking for a platform to exchange messages. They sought a space where they could collaborate seamlessly, integrate other tools effortlessly, and maintain a balance between professionalism and personality.

By understanding these deeper motivations and needs, Slack positioned itself as a communication tool and a collaboration hub. Their features, integrations, and marketing messaging reflect this understanding, resonating deeply with their target audience.

Analysing and Interpreting the Data

The analysis and interpretation phase of the JTBD framework is where insights come to life. By spotting patterns, crafting customer job statements, and drawing inspiration from industry leaders, SaaS companies can ensure their offerings remain aligned with their users’ ever-evolving needs and desires.

Spotting Patterns

Once you’ve conducted your JTBD interviews, you’re left with a wealth of qualitative data. But no matter how rich, raw data is useless without proper analysis. The key lies in spotting patterns and trends that guide product and marketing decisions.

  • Qualitative Data Analysis: Qualitative data is messy, unlike quantitative data, which often comes in neat numbers and percentages. It’s filled with emotions, stories, and nuances.
  • Using Tools: Platforms like Dovetail are designed to help teams analyse and synthesise qualitative data. These tools transform anecdotes into actionable insights by tagging responses, creating affinity maps, and visualising patterns.
  • Collaborative Analysis: Encourage cross-functional teams to participate in the analysis. Different perspectives often spot varied patterns, leading to a more holistic understanding.

Creating Customer Job Statements

With patterns and trends identified, the next step is to translate these insights into actionable statements that guide product development, marketing, and more.

  • What is a Job Statement?: At its core, a job statement articulates the progress a customer seeks. It’s not about the product but the user’s desired outcome or transformation.
  • Crafting the Statement: A well-crafted job statement is specific, user-centric, and devoid of solutions. For instance, “I want to share files” could translate to “I need a way to make my work accessible to my team, regardless of our locations.”
  • Guiding Decisions: These statements become the north star for product teams, ensuring features and improvements align with genuine user needs.

Airbnb’s Shift in Perspective

Airbnb, the global platform for unique stays and experiences, offers a masterclass leveraging JTBD insights. Initially, Airbnb was a platform for affordable accommodation. But their deep dives into user motivations revealed something profound.

Users weren’t just seeking a place to sleep; they were looking for a sense of ‘belonging.’ They wanted to feel at home, even in a foreign land, and experience destinations like locals, not tourists.

Recognising this, Airbnb shifted its strategy and messaging. Their campaigns, like “Belong Anywhere,” resonated deeply, emphasising the unique, local, and personal experiences hosts offer. This wasn’t just about renting a room but about feeling connected, welcomed, and immersed in the local culture.

This shift, rooted in JTBD insights, was pivotal in differentiating Airbnb from traditional hotels and other accommodation platforms.

Implementing JTBD Insights into Product Development

The JTBD framework offers more than just insights—it provides a roadmap. By prioritising features based on genuine user needs and continuously revisiting these insights, SaaS companies can ensure their products remain relevant, valuable, and aligned with the jobs their users are trying to achieve.

Prioritising Features

Where the temptation to build the next shiny feature is ever-present, the JTBD framework acts as a grounding force. It shifts the focus from “What’s cool?” to “What do our users truly need?”

  • Aligning with User Needs: By understanding the core jobs users hire your product for, you can prioritise features that directly cater to those needs. This ensures that development efforts are always aligned with user value.
  • Avoiding Feature Bloat: It’s easy to get caught in the trap of adding more and more features, thinking it adds value. However, this can lead to a cluttered, confusing product. The JTBD framework helps teams discern between ‘nice-to-have’ and ‘must-have’ features.
  • Resource Allocation: With clear priorities based on JTBD insights, teams can allocate resources more effectively, ensuring that the most impactful features get the attention they deserve.

Iterative Feedback

The JTBD framework isn’t a one-off exercise. As the product evolves, markets shift, and user needs change, revisiting and refreshing these insights is crucial.

  • Continuous Learning: Regular JTBD interviews ensure you’re always in tune with your users. You can pivot and adapt as new jobs emerge or existing ones evolve.
  • Refining the Product: Product teams can make iterative changes with fresh insights, ensuring the product remains relevant and valuable.
  • Building Relationships: Continuous engagement through JTBD interviews strengthens user and company bonds. It sends a clear message: “We’re listening, and we care.”

Intercom’s Evolution

Intercom, a leading customer messaging platform, offers a stellar example of how JTBD insights can drive product evolution.

Initially, Intercom focused heavily on messaging mechanics—ensuring businesses could communicate with users seamlessly. But a broader picture emerged as they delved deeper into the jobs their customers hired Intercom for.

Businesses weren’t just looking for communication; they were seeking meaningful engagement. They wanted to understand user behaviour, offer timely support, and foster genuine relationships. Recognising this, Intercom expanded and refined its platform. Features like behaviour-triggered messages, user segmentation, and product tours were introduced to facilitate deeper, more meaningful interactions.

This shift, rooted in JTBD insights, enhanced Intercom’s product offering and solidified its position as a platform for genuine customer engagement, not just communication.

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

By recognising and mitigating biases, managing the interview process effectively, and leveraging tools like pilot interviews, SaaS companies can extract genuine, actionable insights without falling into common traps.

Confirmation Bias

One of the most insidious traps in any research process is confirmation bias. It’s the tendency to search for, interpret, and remember information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.

  • Recognising the Bias: The first step in combating confirmation bias is acknowledging it. Everyone can fall prey to it no matter how objective they believe they are.
  • Diverse Teams: Engage diverse team members in the interview and analysis process. Different perspectives can challenge and counterbalance inherent biases.
  • Neutral Questioning: Frame questions in a way that doesn’t lead the interviewee towards a particular answer. For instance, instead of asking, “Did you find this feature useful?” ask, “How did you feel about this feature?”
  • Revisit Data: Periodically return to raw data with a fresh perspective. Over time, as product strategies evolve, revisiting the data can offer new insights without the lens of bias.

Overloading the Interview

While extracting as much information as possible from a JTBD interview is essential, there’s a fine line between thoroughness and overload.

  • Time Management: Set a clear timeframe for the interview and stick to it. Respect the interviewee’s time and ensure you’re not dragging the conversation.
  • Focused Questions: While it’s tempting to ask about every aspect of the product, prioritise questions that align with the primary objectives of the interview.
  • Reading the Room: Be attuned to the interviewee’s cues. It might be time to wrap up or steer the conversation more engagingly if they seem fatigued or disengaged.
  • Follow-ups: If you feel more to explore, consider scheduling a follow-up interview rather than extending the current one indefinitely.

Practical Tip: Pilot Interviews

Before diving into a full-fledged series of JTBD interviews, consider conducting pilot interviews. These preliminary sessions can offer a wealth of benefits:

  • Refining Questions: Based on real-world feedback, you can tweak, add, or remove questions to enhance the interview’s effectiveness.
  • Testing Logistics: Whether it’s the interview environment, the technology used, or the timeframe, a pilot allows you to iron out any logistical kinks.
  • Training Interviewers: For teams new to the JTBD framework, pilot interviews can serve as valuable training sessions, ensuring everyone is on the same page and equipped with best practices.
  • Gathering Preliminary Insights: Even as a test run, pilot interviews can offer genuine user insights that can guide immediate product or marketing decisions.

Other JTBD Research Methods

While interviews are a cornerstone of the JTBD framework, they are just one tool in the research toolkit. By combining interviews with other methods like surveys and observational studies, SaaS companies can gain a more rounded, comprehensive understanding of their users, ensuring their products align with genuine needs and desires.

Surveys and Questionnaires

Surveys and questionnaires can complement interview data by reaching a broader audience and quantifying certain aspects of user behaviour and preferences.

  • When to Use: Surveys are particularly useful when you need to gather data from a large user base quickly or when you want to validate hypotheses drawn from interviews.
  • Crafting Effective Surveys:
    • Clarity: Ensure questions are clear and free from jargon.
    • Brevity: Respect the respondent’s time. Aim for surveys that can be completed in 5-10 minutes.
    • Open-ended Questions: While multiple-choice questions provide quantitative data, a few can offer unexpected insights.
  • Analysis: Tools like SurveyMonkey or Typeform help create surveys, analyse data, spot trends, and visualise results.

Observational Studies

Sometimes, what users say and what they do can be worlds apart. Observational studies, or ethnographic research, allow you to watch users interact with your product in their natural environment.

  • The Power of Observation: By observing, you can catch non-verbal cues, hesitations, and workarounds that users might not mention in an interview.
  • Setting It Up: Whether in-person observation or using tools like Lookback for remote user testing, ensure the user feels comfortable and acts naturally.
  • Analysing Observations: Observational data is qualitative. It’s essential to take detailed notes and record sessions (with permission) for future analysis.

A Goldmine of Insights

Where competition is fierce and user expectations are ever-evolving, standing out is both a challenge and a necessity. The Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) framework emerges as a beacon, guiding startups towards a deeper, more empathetic understanding of their users. The insights can be the difference between a product that’s ‘good enough’ and one that’s ‘indispensable.’

Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash


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