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How To Use Jobs To Be Done To Perfect Your Positioning

Claire Suellentrop

Head of Marketing, Userlist.io

For SaaS marketers, I run https://forgetthefunnel.com/ w @ggiiaa // For self-funded SaaS founders, Co-founder https://userlist.io/.

Atlanta + The Internet
Claire Suellentrop

You'll learn:

  1. Why describing your product as "powerful," "fast," and "easy-to-use" is a huge mistake.
  2. What the Jobs-to-be-Done theory is, and how you can use it to create more effective positioning.
  3. A proven, step-by-step process for uncovering your customer's ultimate motivation (their "job to be done")

Indistinct Product Positioning

"Powerful easy-to-use software that saves time and money" is as indescript as a zebra in a zeal.

Most appointment scheduling tools on Capterra interchangably describe themselves as "powerful," "time saving," and "easy-to-use."

If you've ever described your product as:

  • Easy-to-use
  • Fast
  • Saves time/money
  • Powerful
  • Has a robust feature set

you're making a mistake. These descriptions are not only interchangable with your competitors, they're interchangable with completely different product categories.

Customers certainly want powerful easy-to-use software that's saving them time and money, but that description is too vague to make a decision on. If your positioning isn't more specific, customers won't know how you're better - or even different - than any other product in your category.

You might be able to strong-arm your way to $20-30k monthly recurring revenue (MRR) with generic product positioning, but it'll be hard to grow past that without being thoughtful about how you describe your product. Specific, vivid product positioning is especially important in crowded markets or if the cost of switching products is high.

Product Positioning Case Study: YNAB

YNAB made a feature change that made it much harder to keep track of overspending, which is super stressful

Suellentrop and her husband Steven used the popular budgeting software You Need a Budget (YNAB). They made particular use of a feature that let you overspend in a category. Overspending would carry a negative balance in that category to the following month without altering the rest of the budget.

For example: if Steven went on a business trip, he could overspend $1,000 in the "business" category for that month. The next month, YNAB would report that they had $1,000 to spend on groceries, $2,000 to spend on rent, $1,000 to spend on fun, and -$1,000 to spend on business. At the end of the year, Steven could easily prepare an expense report and get reimbursed for his business expenses. The negative "business" category balance could go back to zero.

One day, YNAB deployed an update that broke this use case. Instead of negative balances being contained to their category, they were subtracted proportionally from the total monthly budget. The month after a $1,000 business trip, the updated YNAB would report that they had $750 to spend on groceries, $1,500 to spend on rent, $750 to spend on fun, and $0 to spend on "business."

This change made YNAB unusable for Suellentrop and her husband: it was harder to prepare the business expense report, and much more inconvenient to confidently manage their monthly budget. She started looking for alternatives.

YNAB, Tiller, and Quicken budgeting software have generic headlines.

YNAB's homepage product pitch is "Gain Total Control of Your Money." Let's see how their competitors are positioning themselves:

  • Tiller: "Ready to take control of your finances?"
  • Quicken: "Take control of your finances with Quicken"

Suellentrop has a very specific problem: she needs to be able to overspend in a budget category. "Taking control" of her finances isn't a problem she's trying to solve - she's already in control.

Budgeting software companies look a lot like a zeal of zebras from their homepages.

How could YNAB, Tiller, and Quicken position themselves more vividly? The answer starts with a product development theory called Jobs to be Done.


People buy and use your product because they want to make their own lives better. They don't care about your features or your product - they care about solving specific problems they have right now. They want to make themselves better in particular ways.

This observation led to the creation of a product development theory called Jobs-to-be-Done, which is detailed in When Coffee & Kale Compete by Alan Klement.

This theory can be conceptualized as the story of a person encountering a challenge, finding a solution, and achieving a better life: when ${challenge}, help me ${solution}, so I can ${betterLife}.

Job story template: when ${challenge}, help me ${solution} so I can ${betterLife}

For Suellentrop YNAB case study, that Jobs-to-be-Done story template might be filled in as:

  • When my partner has made work-related purchases, and we know we'll be reimbursed for those purchases at the end of the quarter...
  • help me separate those purchases from the rest of our spending...
  • so I can plan next month's budget without the stress of creating easy-to-screw-up workarounds.

Is her story an edge case? Perhaps YNAB is intentionally broadly positioning themselves and knows their market better than Suellentrop does.

Likely not. Googling "YNAB alternatives" brings up several active Reddit posts of people struggling with similar specific problems (and - notably - no adword campaigns or competitor landing pages):

Each of these posts have tens of comments and hundreds of upvotes, which means they likely have tens-of-thousands of people with similar problems. If you were a competitor to YNAB, think of how effective it would be to take these words and use them on your landing page!

Changing the headline copy on this budgeting software's homepage from "Ready to take control of your finances?" to the more specific "The only way to fully customize the way you manage your money, painlessly" had a 200% increase in conversions to the pricing page

Having more specific product positioning is clearly valuable, and the Jobs-to-be-Done framework is a great way to conceptualize a job, but how can you figure out the job your product does for your customers? Suellentrop has two recommendations for getting this information from your users: surveys and interviews.

Customer Surveys

Surveys are most effective when you have a sizable customer base you can pull from. Wait to conduct surveys until you have a few hundred customers.

First, create a form with Jotform, Typeform (Suellentrop's favorite), or another survey tool that allows hidden fields.

Fill in the form welcome screen with something like: We really appreciate you sharing your experience with ${product}! We know you're super busy, so we promise to only ask a few key questions. This should take less than 4 minutes to complete.

Keep your survey short. The longer your survey, the less likely you'll get high quality answers. Here's an example:

  1. challenge: When did you realize you needed something like ${product}? What was going on in your world that caused you to start looking for something new?
  2. How did you find out about ${product}?
  3. solution: Why did you decide to choose us over other options? Can you recall if anything in particular appealed or stood out to you?
  4. solution: When you signed up for ${product}, what happened that made you feel certain it was right for you?
  5. betterLife: Now that you have ${product}, what's the #1 thing you're able to do that you weren't before?

Customer survey responses will fill in a customer's `challenge`, `solution`, and `betterLife` for their Jobs-to-be-Done story.

Next, highlight a list of 100-200 of your most high-value customers. "High-value" is context dependent, and usually means customers are on high paying plans and are engaged in the product.

Hold back about 40 of the customers on this list to reach out to for interviews in the next step. You don't want to exhaust them with a survey and an interview in a short amount of time.

Once your list and survey are prepared, send out an invitation for your customers to take the survey. Here's an example survey invitation email:

Subject: Could you help us out?

Hi ${name},

Hope you're doing well!

We have a few questions we're hoping we could ask you, so we can better understand what matters most to our awesome customers (like you)!

It shouldn't take more than 4 minutes of your time.

Think you could you help us out? If so, we'd love to get your input here: ${surveyLink}.


${yourName}, ${yourTitle} ${company}

Include a hidden field in the surveyLink that automatically adds the respondent's name or email address in their form submission. Once you begin analyzing your results, you may need extra contextual information that customers don't directly state in their replies (e.g.: the type of company they work for, their industry, and their job title). If you have the respondent's name or email, you can check these details in your CRM, customer database, or on LinkedIn. Here's Typeform's guide on emailing survey links with hidden fields: Hidden fields: How to populate the variable with a CRM / Marketing Automation tool

Expect to get 25-50 responses from a list of 100-200 customers. While your survey results are rolling in, you can get started setting up customer interviews in the next step.

Customer Interviews

You may feel hesitant to asking your customers for interviews because you don't want to annoy them, but people love getting on this call and talking about themselves.

Invite the 40 held-back high-value customers to a 30-minute interview with a link to schedule. In your email, express "hey, I'd love to learn more about you, how you're using the product, what's working, and what's not. No pressure - I'd just like to learn from you."

Here's an example:

Subject: Could you help us out?

Hey there ${name},

I'm reaching out to a few of our power users to get a stronger sense for how people like you are using ${product}.

Any chance you'd be up for sharing your experiences using ${product}? It'd be an easy 30-minute chat. No trick questions :)

If so, feel welcome to name the easiest time here, and I'll give you a call then: ${schedulingToolLink}

Thanks so much!

${yourName}, ${yourTitle} ${company}

You'll probably get a 20-25% conversion rate to booking a time. Not every scheduled meeting will go through - people don't always show up. Aim to conduct at least 10 interviews for enough data to work with in the next step.

Before the interview, set up a way to record the call. Don't rely on taking notes. Raw language straight from your customer's mouth is amazing material for developing stronger positioning. You'll use transcripts of the recordings to mirror your customer's language back at them. You can use rev.com to transcribe the audio files for $1/minute.

Conducting the interview

When you're interviewing a customer, don't ask for product feedback (ex: "what do you think of this feature?", "would you use a feature like this?"). People are bad at answering questions like that. If you ask about your product, you'll just get their opinion (which isn't useful).

Instead, try to uncover why they made decisions that led them to using your product. Ask open ended questions that prompt people to answer with sentences, lists, and stories (ex: not "does ${product} fit into the work you do?", but "how does ${product} fit into the work you do?").

First, get some context for your conversation. Ask questions that answer who this person is, what they do, and a rough sketch of the problem your product is solving for them:

  • What's your job title - and beyond that, your role at your company?
  • How does ${product} fit into the work you do?
  • Walk me through your most common workflows. Where within them is ${product} used? With which other products/platforms?

Next, ask questions to understand what their life looked like before using your product. Their answers to these questions will be used later to fill out the challenge variable of their Jobs-to-be-Done story:

  • So, let's take a step back. What tools were you using to ${task} before ${product}?
  • If you weren't using any other tools, how did you typically ${task}?
  • Tell me about that. What worked well, and what didn't?

Next, ask questions to understand what specific event happened that motivated them to start seeking a solution to their struggle, and what they envisioned as a solution (this may fill in their challenge or betterLife):

  • What was going on in your world that compelled you to look for something different?
  • How did you envision life being better once you'd found a new solution?

After that, ask questions to understand their process for searching for solutions, how they found your product, and how they decided to try and ultimately purchase your product (their solution):

  • Once you figured out you wanted to make a change, how much research did you do to find the right solution for ${customerCompany}?
  • What were some of the other tools you tried?
  • Do you recall how you found them?
  • How did ${product} come into the picture?
  • What made you interested in trying it?
  • Were you the only one on your team looking for something else at the time?
  • What happened when you tried ${product} that convinced you it was the right choice?
  • What were you skeptical of / concerned about during the trial process?

Finally, ask questions to understand specifically how their life is better with your solution (their betterLife):

  • Now that you're using ${product} regularly, what are you able to do that you weren't before?
  • What features could you not live without?
  • How do those features make your life better?
  • Tell me about a time when you got surprising results or found unexpected value.
  • As ${customerTitle}, how has ${product} changed the way your team works?
  • How has that impacted your team's goals or performance?
  • Can you think of any concrete examples of times this has happened?
  • What's the big problem ${product} solves?

Once your conversation is over, upload the audio recording to rev.com to get it transcribed.

Distilling Research Data

When you have your own customer's words, writing copy is trivial

An example of organized `challenge` data for a stock photo website. Green is swipe-able copy, blue is interesting channel ideas, and red is interesting content ideas.

At this point, you'll have 25-50 survey responses and at least 10 several-page-long interview transcripts. These responses and transcriptions contain a ton of qualitative data to fill in the challenge, solution, and betterLife to tell Jobs-to-be-Done stories of people encountering a challenge, finding a solution, and achieving a better life (when ${challenge}, help me ${solution}, so I can ${betterLife}).

Go through this data looking for trends and patterns. Pull out particularly sticky quotes into these categories:

  • challenge: Most common events/situations that caused a struggle in customers' lives
  • How customers found us
  • solution: Top differentiators that set us apart
  • solution: "Aha!" moments that prompted purchase
  • betterLife: The "better life" our customers have achieved
  • Final interesting notes / miscellaneous swipe-able copy

With this organized data, you won't have to make up your product positioning off the top of your head. You'll be able to position your product with your customer's own language.


How can you make copy more specific on your home page if you have a lot of verticals you're targeting? Should we focus on just a few high-value verticals? Should we have landing pages for each vertical?

Your homepage is like an Airport: some people want pricing, some want jobs, some are already using your product want to contact support.

Having landing pages for each type of person that could be on your home page is a great move. You could have an easy way for users to segment themselves, like how Buffer used to have two tabs on their homepage with two different value propositions to segment agency owners vs. business owners.

If people can self-select on their homepage you can speak to people more strongly. Your goal with your homepage should be to segment out your different verticals so you can speak to people more specifically as quickly as you can.

Note from Christian: also check out Right Message.

When choosing the ~200 high value customers, can you contact them right after they've signed up, or should you give them time to settle into your product?

Aim to interview and survey the people who have been in your product for a while. "A while" is dependent on your product, and the rule of thumb is 6 months. It depends on what getting onboarded means for your product.

People who have spent some time in your product will have the best information on how life is better now.

Contact Claire Suellentrop on twitter @ClaireSuellen or @Userlistio.

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