“We don’t sell saddles here” (The job to be done framework)

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At the beach, I saw a guy who sells fishing tackle. I asked him, “My God, they’re purple and green. Do fish really take these lures?” He said, “Mister, I don’t sell to fish.” – Charlie Munger, Poor Charlie’s Almanack

What it is:

Selling is a huge part of what we do in our lives. Whether convincing our teams to do a particular task, convincing customers to buy our new products, or even convincing our children to do their chores. We’re selling every day.

But all-too-often, we misunderstand the fundamental truth about selling: We’re not selling what we have. The buyer is buying what she needs.

“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!” – Theodore Levitt, Harvard Business School

Every customer “hires” your product for a “job to be done”. The customer wants a hole in the wall. So she buys a drill. And when you buy a Rolex, it’s not because you want to tell the time.

And why do you think people buy a milkshake every morning en route to work? As McDonald’s found out, it’s not for the taste. It’s to make their boring work commutes more interesting.

Stewart Butterfield (Founder, Slack) captures the essence of this in his 2013 memo to his team – “We don’t sell saddles here”. You’re not selling a feature. You’re delivering a benefit to the customer.

Subtle difference, huge implications.


We don’t sell saddles here. We sell a better way to ride. That’s the job to be done.

Examples in business:

  • When selling, we focus too much on talking about our product’s cool features. Instead, listen first. Understand what the customer needs.
  • “Solution looking for a problem”. Another instance of the “hammer looking for a nail” tendency we spoke about last week. We start with a product idea, rather than first seeing what customers need.
  • We define our competitors too narrowly. We see others who offer the same solution as our rivals. But that’s upside down. Our competitors are others who solve the same problem. Even if their solutions are different.

Who does McDonald’s milkshake compete with? Not just Burger King’s milkshakes. Not just other breakfast items. Given the job that customers have hired it to do (make boring commutes interesting), it also competes with FM radio!

Apple is a great example of the power of this framework. The job-to-be-done is quite clear with the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad. But Apple is struggling to find jobs for the Apple Watch and Apple Pay.


Rules to follow:

  1. Start with the customer. Even before you build your product, get out of the building. Talk to customers. Identify what jobs they need done. How you can help?
  2. When selling, focus on benefits, not on features. Remember – you’re not selling saddles. Your customer is buying a better way to ride.
  3. Always think from your customer’s point of view. You’re not selling to her. You’re working with her, helping her solve a problem. You’re on the same team.
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Further Reading:


Filed Under: Sales & Marketing

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