How to identify your critical customer?


In the intricate dance of market success, identifying your critical customer is the pivotal step that orchestrates every subsequent move. Traditional customer definitions, with their personas and demographic profiles, often miss the essence of the customer’s needs and goals. Jobs-to-be-Done innovation methods pivot the spotlight onto the critical customer, beyond mere characteristics, and towards their core objectives. Let’s explore how to identify your critical customer?

The Flaw in Personas: A Misaligned Focus

Jay Haynes (Founder & CEO at points out that Personas, while rich in demographic details such as age, gender, or even psychographics, tend to overlook the fundamental reason why customers buy products. The flaw? These characteristics do not cause purchases; the struggle to accomplish a job within an acceptable cost parameter does.

For example, consider Larry and Sara from our hypothetical consumer market. Traditional personas would never place them in the same segment due to their contrasting characteristics. Yet, if both struggle to reach destinations on time due to frequent, unfamiliar stops, they share a common unmet need, irrespective of their demographic differences.

The Critical Customer: Job Beneficiary Over Job Executor

In the Jobs-to-be-Done framework, the critical customer is the job beneficiary, not necessarily the job executor or the purchaser. This reframing is exemplified in the medical industry, where patients, not phlebotomists or insurance companies, are the real customers because they benefit from the successful execution of the job – obtaining an accurate diagnosis from a blood sample.

To further clarify the concept of job-executors and job-beneficiaries with an additional example, consider the relationship between streaming services and their viewers. In this scenario:

Job-Executor: This role is often played by content creators and distributors, such as studios and streaming platforms. They are responsible for providing the content and ensuring it’s accessible to viewers.

Job-Beneficiary: The viewers or subscribers are the job beneficiaries. They are the individuals who derive enjoyment and value from the content provided by the streaming service. They are not concerned with the intricacies of content distribution or platform maintenance; their goal is to be entertained, informed, or educated through the content.

Even though the streaming platform may consider content creators as primary customers because they need content to attract subscribers, the real critical customers are the viewers. If a service can offer a better viewing experience (perhaps through superior recommendations, exclusive content, or better streaming quality), it directly serves the job beneficiaries, thereby securing their loyalty and willingness to pay.

This framework helps companies prioritize features and services that directly enhance the job-to-be-done for beneficiaries, leading to more customer-centric products and services.

Case in Point: The Disruptive Innovation of Seven Sense

Seven Sense’s device, which allows patients to obtain their blood samples painlessly, bypasses traditional job executors and directly addresses the job beneficiary’s needs. This shift in focus is a strategic move that targets the essence of market existence.

The Thermostat Market: A Tale of Disruption

The thermostat market narrative offers a stark lesson. Initially, thermostat makers considered contractors as their customers. But Nest’s strategic move to target homeowners, the job beneficiaries seeking comfort in their homes, upended the market. Including a screwdriver, Nest empowered homeowners to bypass the contractor, directly satisfying the job-to-be-done and seizing a significant market share.

Actionable Insights for Identifying Critical Customers

  1. Redefine Your Customer: Shift focus from traditional personas to understanding who benefits from the job your product fulfills.
  2. Analyze the Job-to-be-Done: Identify the primary goal your product helps achieve, independent of its features or functions.
  3. Spot the Unmet Needs: Determine where customers face struggles in completing their jobs and how your product can ease that process.
  4. Quantify Willingness to Pay: Use quantitative surveys to measure how much your critical customers are willing to pay to have their needs met more effectively.
  5. Size Your Market Opportunity: Define your market by the size of the opportunity to satisfy the unmet needs of the job beneficiaries.

Conclusion: The Job Beneficiary is Your True North

Understand that markets revolve around job beneficiaries. Your product is ‘hired‘ to complete a job. You can sharpen your focus on what truly matters. This perspective helps in crafting strategies that are aligned with the real drivers of customer behavior and market dynamics.