Over the past few years, Jobs to be Done (“JTBD”) has emerged as one of the leading tools for innovators. As companies struggle to figure out which products will become breakthrough innovations and which will fall flat, companies large and small have time and again found that Jobs to be Done can provide the answer. Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings has talked openly about using JTBD to disrupt the video rental industry. General Mills regularly employs the theory to develop new product lines so it can hit its growth targets. Johnson and Johnson has even started listing familiarity with JTBD as a qualification for those applying for front-end innovation jobs. But despite the acclaim the theory has garnered and the obvious successes that have been born from it, organizations that stop with merely uncovering customers’ jobs are still launching products that struggle in the market. Ford is the latest casualty.
In March, Ford launched Credit Link — a pilot program that would let three to six customers share the lease on a new car. Through the program, customers would all have access to the new car, using an app to divvy up driving times and payments however they wished. Three months into the pilot, not a single customer has signed up. Some quick analysis has shown good traffic to the program’s website, but the number of conversions remains at zero.
Charting a path to success
To its credit, Ford has done a number of things right:
Focus on customer Jobs. Ford has correctly identified several under-satisfied jobs around accessing affordable transportation. While traditional leases may be out of reach for younger adults, other offerings have left a gap in the market. Traditional rentals may be off-limits or expensive for those under 25. Zipcar and Uber tend not to be affordable for longer trips. For those who want to get away for the weekend, head home over school break, or just feel the freedom that comes from having your own car, the shared lease makes a lot of sense as a way to satisfy these functional and emotional jobs.
Target a foothold. Success needs to start somewhere. Ford chose to pilot Credit Link in Austin — a young college town filled with students who don’t currently own cars and are likely to be more familiar and comfortable with the idea of participating in the sharing economy. If Ford can win over this audience — by uncovering and targeting jobs that are highly important but under-satisfied — it should have the proof and reference customers it needs to try out its plan on a larger scale.
Experiment quickly and cheaply. Having a zero percent conversion rate on a national launch would have been a disaster for Ford. By starting small with a single test in a single city, Ford has the opportunity to learn from its mistakes, adopt new tactics, and try again. Selling a new offering like this one requires important operational changes, including reworking payment mechanisms and retraining sales agents. The results of Ford’s pilot will be an essential part of the business case in making a determination about whether those costs — which could be quite substantial — are worth incurring for a larger rollout.
Understanding the rest of the story
Despite what it has done right, however, Ford has still stopped short of success — at least for now. That’s because JTBD relies on understanding the entire landscape of customer behavior. In particular, innovators need to take into account those forces that push back against change.
First, customers have current approaches — paths of behavior that ultimately lead to getting jobs done — that they may be unwilling to change. For instance, people don’t currently shop for cars as part of a group, and they may be uncomfortable with laying out their finances in front of their friends. Drivers may also tend to want access to the shared car during the same peak periods, such as on weekends. Looking specifically at behaviors in Texas, a desire for ownership tends to prevail, meaning that the state historically has boasted low leasing rates. While these hurdles aren’t insurmountable, getting past them may take some work, and we can’t count on customers to shoulder that burden without a clear payoff.
Second, there can be general obstacles to adoption in the environment at large — ones that go beyond just existing behavioral patterns of individuals. Dealer sales mechanisms, for example, don’t account for the group dynamic. Sales agents simply aren’t trained to sell to groups of friends. Additionally, while low car ownership rates in Austin might look like an opportunity, it also highlights another obstacle. One of the more common reasons to seek out a ride is getting to or from bars — a use case that demands a driver, not a car. Training dealers to change their tactics and calling attention to the “weekend getaway” jobs can help lessen the blow of these obstacles, but it will require some work.
Ford hasn’t failed yet, and it’s stepping up marketing of the program to try to drive adoption. Raising awareness is only part of the battle, however. If Ford wants its new program to be a success, it will need to increase the focus on how its solution — the shared lease — is uniquely positioned to address important jobs to be done. Simply asking customers what they want isn’t going to cut it. Ford will need to look broadly at the rest of the JTBD landscape — including at customers’ current approaches and other obstacles to adoption — to understand how it can induce trial and ultimately make its program a major success.
Dave Farber is a strategy and innovation consultant at New Markets Advisors. He helps companies understand customer needs, build innovation capabilities, and develop plans for growth. He is a co-author of the award-winning book Jobs to be Done: A Roadmap for Customer-Centered Innovation.