B2B buyers have emotions, too

11 May 2020    5 mins read.

When I first learned about Jobs To Be Done from Bob Moesta and Chris Spiek, one of the core concepts that stuck with me was the emotional and social aspect of why people buy and consume products. Looking through this lens, I was no longer constrained by just functional innovation. Rather, I could dig much deeper, which in turn opened the door to a broader set of possible solutions.

See, unless you’re buying a repeat product, all other product purchases are what we call a switch. To “hire” a new product, you have to first “fire” what you’re currently using or doing. This switch is very emotional, packed with anxiety, habits, and social considerations.

For example, we all have experiences with TODO applications. But why do most people keep firing their existing TODO apps?

There are tens, if not hundreds of products to manage your todos, ranging from mobile applications to systematic ways to keep and organize a journal. At the core, they all do one thing: help you organize a list of things you “need” to get done. Some offer better interfaces, while others have a way to configure better reminders. All of these products compete on a functional level. They try to understand and improve the workflow you use to organize your todo items. At the functional level, the next company would improve that workflow. They would perform user and competitive research, understand the functional struggles, and build a better hierarchical drag-and-drop interface to organize your lists of todos.

But what if you take a step back? What if you try to understand why someone is trying to organize todos in the first place? Why have todos at all? Why do you have to prioritize and organize them? How many do you “have” to complete a day, and why? What happens if you don’t complete them?

The JTBD interview helps to uncover the emotional and social aspects of the job—like the feeling of running around with your hair on fire, the dooming sense of the list only getting longer, and going home feeling overwhelmed. Understanding these details behind these struggles would help us identify more innovative solutions. It would expand the solution space outside of just the functional nature of incessantly organizing and tracking a todo list.

If you think of a product as a function, tests for fitness should first and foremost measure your progress towards solving the emotional struggles.

It’s easy to relate to an emotional struggle as a consumer. We can all think of an emotional purchase we’ve made recently. But when we think about B2B products, it’s hard to make the same connection. B2B transactions are supposed to be objective and devoid of emotion. But this is no more true than the last-century economic theories based on the assumption that people behave rationally. B2B purchase decisions are made by people. Humans are emotional.

Emotional forces are as prevalent in B2B as they are in consumer purchases. As Gerald Zaltman’s research shows, consumers, whether in a B2C or B2B environment, make most of their decisions subconsciously, using their emotions. Focusing on only the functional elements limits your understanding of the real problem and prematurely constrains your solution space.

A couple of years ago, we were designing a diagnostics product for the automotive manufacturing industry. Our potential customers were large corporate organizations. In most B2B sales, there are numerous customers, ranging from the end-user to the buyer, and other roles up and across the organization. We were trying to settle on a reporting solution for our product. While interviewing a couple of end-users, we zoomed in on what reporting meant to them. Once we covered all the functional aspects of what their current system looks like and what data they wanted to see, we started to dig into the many layers of whys. This is where the emotional and social struggles begin to show. Those struggles included scrambling multiple times a day to consolidate data for their boss’ meeting, polishing the visualizations to look presentable to the executive committee, staying at work late into the night poring over disjoined quality data, etc. We weren’t just building a report to allow them to drill into the data; we were building a tool which helped them impress their boss, allowed them to go home in time for dinner with their family, and made them seem “on top of things” to their colleagues.

As another example, at my previous company, I interviewed a business owner who hired and then fired our product multiple times. The cycle went on for a while. When we finally dug in, it became apparent that a feature of our product, which we took a lot of time to refine and make easy to use, was causing her anxiety. She was afraid that if her clients looked over her shoulder, they’d think her job was easy and undermine her expertise. She wanted to prove to her clients that she had deep knowledge and expertise, but our design did the exact opposite. There were two competing jobs: emotional and functional. We built our software with an understanding of the functional struggles, but we weren’t able to convert the customer until we understood the emotions, which in turn allowed us to make different design tradeoffs.

As product developers, we’re used to uncovering the functional jobs. But the key to disruptive innovation lies in understanding emotion. In his article, Alan Klement makes a similar distinction between Be Goals (emotional) and Do Goals (functional). Be Goals, what you aspire to be/feel are at the heart of Jobs To Be Done. Be Goals are more stable in time and allow you to create more innovative solutions.