If you work as a product manager or in user experience (UX), you probably know many ways to gather feedback from customers to make your product better.

You've likely run user interviews, surveys, and prototype tests. But there's one particular kind of interview that can help you better understand customer motivations: a jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) interview.

A JBTD interview study can help your team:

  • Figure out why customers switch to your product from a competitor.

  • Identify direct, secondary, and indirect competitors.

  • Map out your customer journey from multiple perspectives.

  • Adjust your product messaging to reflect your customers’ motivations better.

  • Find opportunities for product development ‌in line with your customer's JTBD.

So, in this guide, we'll be covering everything you need to know about JBTD interviews, including:

  • What are JTBD interviews?

  • Planning your JTBD interviews

  • Conducting JBTD interviews

  • JBTD interview questions

  • Analyzing JTBD interview data

  • Applying insights to product development

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Understanding JTBD interviews

The concept of "jobs to be done" in marketing refers to the idea that customers don't (normally) buy a product just for the product or brand itself – they buy it because it helps them "get a job done." This line of thinking was popularized by the late Clayton Christensen, who went on to publish an in-depth article on the topic in Harvard Business Review, which said:

"The structure of a market, as seen from customers' point of view, is very simple. When people need to get a job done, they hire a product or service to do it for them. The marketer's task is to understand what jobs periodically arise in customers' lives for which they might hire products the company could make."

So, a JTBD interview is a research method you can use to get insights into your customers' jobs to be done, which then tells you how your product fits into that picture.

Here's a bold statement: every product or service in the world exists to solve a "job" its customers need to complete, whether that be to entertain, hydrate, make a workplace process more efficient, and so on.

Planning your JTBD interviews

If you'd like to learn more about the theory of JBTD, we'd recommend reading more of Clayton Christensen's work. Good sources are the HBR article linked above or his book, Competing Against Luck. But for now, we're going to jump straight into the practical elements of JTBD interviews, starting with planning.

There are five main factors you'll need to consider before conducting your JTBD interviews. Proper planning, with these factors in mind, will help your research run smoothly and get you the results you're looking for.

JTBD interviews

1. Identify your research objectives

Begin by identifying what you want to learn from the feedback. Start by asking yourself what you want to know. Do you want to learn more about your product/market fit? Or do you want to understand your competitors better? It helps to work backwards from here to identify your research objectives.

2. Define your audience 

Interviewing a large group of people can be challenging. Instead, consider focusing on specific groups, like experienced users, loyal customers, those who spend a lot, or new customers.

3. Recruit your participants 

Ideally, you should have customer relationship management (CRM) data on the group of customers you want to interview. Choose 10 to 20 customers and send them an email. Ask them to take part in an interview. Make sure you explain why you want to interview them, for example, to make the product they use better. Also, mention any rewards they can get for taking part and add a link to your interview schedule slots.

4. Write your interview questions

Once you have a pool of customers willing to participate, you'll need to come up with the questions you want to ask them. We'll cover this in more detail in the next section.

5. Decide on the tools you’ll need 

If you're planning to conduct interviews remotely, decide which tools you'll use. Zoom is a popular choice and integrates with our Interviews feature. If you're conducting interviews in person, you'll need to organize a location and recording tools.

JTBD interview questions

Before we look at some sample interview questions, let's go over some important tips.

JTBD interviews

Tip 1: Think of the customer journey

Keep in mind that a customer’s journey starts long before they make a purchase, even when using a traditional marketing framework. But when using the JTBD approach, the journey begins with the customer thinking, "I need to do X (job), so I may need a new Y (solution)".

Depending on the severity of the need, a customer may passively look around for a while before getting a trigger that prompts them into active-looking mode. Or, they may jump straight to active looking (for example, when my kitchen ceiling collapsed because of a leak, we needed solutions right away).

If the need isn't so great, customers might go through a prolonged passive phase with multiple triggers (marketing touchpoints, the job becoming more pervasive, etc.) that push them towards eventually making a decision and then buying a product/service.

However, product managers and UX teams know the customer journey doesn't end there. There's an ongoing product/service experience that hopefully leads to overall satisfaction.

You can frame your questions to hit upon these customer journey milestones.

Tip 2: Try to avoid "why" questions

It seems counter-intuitive when you're looking for greater understanding. However, asking "why" questions in a JTBD interview can take you off track, and participants may not be accurate in their responses (especially if their journey started a long time ago).

It's better to ask "how" and "what" type questions. You'll get more direct answers that will also generate more valuable insights for a JBTD study.

Tip 3: Allow for flexibility

When doing JTBD interviews, you should follow a semi-structured approach. You can start with your prepared questions, but don't be afraid to go "off script" to ask clarifying questions or to prompt for more details.

Example JTBD interview questions

With the above tips in mind, let's take a look at some example questions to get your gears going:

  • What motivated you to start seriously considering new solutions?

  • How did you come to a conclusion about which product you wanted to buy?

  • What were your criteria for Y solution to your X job?

  • Did you have any concerns about seeking a new solution? If so, what were they?

  • How did Y solution make you feel about X job/task?

  • If you can remember, what event first made you think about Y solution?

These are just some questions you can use, but remember to keep an eye on the number of questions you’re asking. You don't want your interviews running over (the maximum time should be around 45 minutes, but 30 minutes is better).

Conducting JTBD interviews

Now that we've covered the planning and questions you'll be asking, it's time to look at the customer interview itself.

Start the interview off on the right foot by greeting the interviewee, whether you're meeting in person or remotely. This will help establish a positive connection from the beginning. Then, some basic questions to confirm you've got the right participant in front of you (name, occupation, customer segment details, etc.)

It's also important to gain consent for recording the interview – if the participant doesn’t agree, you'll need to be extra vigilant with your note-taking or have an observer take notes. But assuming they accept, hit record before asking any of your planned questions.

Even if you're recording, it's still worth taking some notes on body language and potential links in responses to future questions to help get more details later.

During the interview, you'll want to follow these best practices:

  • Stay objective: You're not trying to sell your product/service to the participant, so resist the temptation to explain how the product/service works if you think the participant has a different perception.

  • Ask for examples: Instead of using made-up situations, ask the participant to focus on events that have already happened.

  • Do a little background research: If you chose the participant based on your CRM data, dig a little more into their behavior to validate some of their responses (e.g. when they made their first purchase), but don't use it to create direct questions – that could come off as creepy.

Once you finish the interview, remember to thank the participant for their time and confirm any requirements for receiving their incentive (such as filling in bank information on a secure form for payment).

JTBD interviews

Analyzing JTBD data

After wrapping up your interviews, you'll want to transcribe them to make analyzing them easier. In Lyssna, you can automatically transcribe interview recordings.

With your transcriptions at hand, you can start your analysis – which will most likely be thematic. Since the nature of this research is qualitative, you'll need to use data coding to get insights. To code your data, go through the transcript line-by-line, looking for key phrases, feelings, and patterns of behavior, and labeling them with codes.

You can do this process by hand (if you print out the transcripts), use a spreadsheet, or use a dedicated analysis software such as Dovetail.

A good tip is to go through the coding process at least twice – codes you apply to later text may also be relevant to earlier text.

With your transcripts coded, you can start looking for themes, which are codes that relate to each other. With JBTD interviews, you can use a deductive approach by using a set of pre-determined themes surrounding the JTBD customer journey and seeing if your codes match these themes.

If you find there aren’t a lot of matches, create new themes based on the data using an inductive approach – this will still give you a lot of insights into what you thought would come from the data versus ‌reality.

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Making recommendations to drive product development

With your themes identified, you can start making recommendations based on the insights you gathered. This stage largely depends on what objectives you had when you started the research, but here are a few examples:

  • Product messaging: If you gather insights on how your solution makes participants feel or what concerns they had while looking for a solution, you can use this information to tailor your product messaging to reflect real customers' thought processes.

  • Product positioning: Similar to the above, you might have thought your product helped customers do one task, but it actually helps them with another, more important, job. This can help you to regroup and consider features more in line with this new positioning.

  • Feature development: If customers say a particular product feature is the most useful for helping them get their jobs done, you can use this as evidence for the product team to dedicate more resources to developing that feature.

These are just some of the practical applications that can result from a good JTBD study. The data you gather will likely come in handy for other areas of the business, too, like customer support.

JTBD interviews with Lyssna

As you can see, the process of JTBD research is fairly straightforward – plan, conduct, analyze, apply.

However, without a system to help you organize your interviews, you can quickly lose track. With Interviews from Lyssna, you can recruit, schedule, and manage participants, track incentives, and transcribe your interviews.

Get started for free today to see how easy it is to get valuable JTBD insights from your users. 


Alexander Boswell is the Founder/Director of SaaSOCIATE, a B2B SaaS, MarTech and eCommerce Content Marketing Service and a Business PhD candidate. When he’s not writing, he’s playing baseball and D&D.

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