Obsessed: The ten rules of the principle abiding marketer


Organizational readiness: Customers determine the relevancy of the organization


RULE #5:When deploying MarTech, as a fundamental principle, focus on your customer’s problem. Do not make your broken Martech stack your customer’s problem.





Their problem is yours, but yours is not theirs and never should be.


Merriam-Webster defines a problem as “a question raised for inquiry, consideration, or solution.” Some people prefer to think of challenges instead of problems because it sounds positive. One can choose to ignore the fact that we all have problems and that the word challenge is just a synonym, just like ‘case,’ ‘knot,’  ‘matter,’ ‘nut,’ and ‘trouble.’ The antonyms, however, are clear: ‘answer’ and ‘solution.’ 


Rule #5 does not shy away from problems; in fact, it encourages every person dedicated to serving customers better and to design innovative services and products to embrace the problems of her or his customer. Why embrace the customer’s problems? Because without them, we’d all be unemployed. Nothing would move. That is right; having a job is the result of somebody trying to solve customers’ problems. 


Understanding the real problem of an organization’s primary customers leads to the co-creation of real value, memorable customer experience, and fruitful relationships. In turn, those customers solve one of the organization’s biggest problems: having a sustainable inflow of revenues. Just do not ask the customer to solve profitable as well, that is for the organization to solve. Do not burden customers with any problems that are not theirs; they have enough on their plate trying to solve their own. Be [part of] their solution instead. Tu problema es mi problema.


The best synonyms ever for the customer’s problem are ‘the job-to-be-done’ -all credits go to great people at Strategyn, DePaul University, and Innosight- and ‘the customer job’ -all credits go to Strategyzer. The former is the customer transforming a problem into a job that needs a resolution, the latter is the service provider’s understanding of what job the customer wants to resolve. The key here is ‘outcome.’


The concept of ‘the customer job’ results in nothing less than a paradigm shift. It is a concept that forces the organization to go straight to the core of human action: the actuator of human behavior.  Without a customer job, we’d all be motionless. Without motion, we achieve nothing.


The definition of a customer job is deliciously simple: the description of anything a human being wants to achieve in life and work. Mowing your lawn is a customer job, dressing up for a party is a customer job, implementing a state-of-the-art customer engagement platform is a customer job. Customer jobs range from simple to complex and are present in life and work. Forget about needs and wants; they are meaningless until a person has decided to do something. Be in the customer’s mind when she decides it is time for action. 


Forget about B2B and B2C, instead think of work (B2B) and life (B2C) and of everything we try to achieve in both as human beings. The digital revolution rapidly fades the difference between online and life. The Italian philosopher Luciano Floridi and his team conclude in ‘The Onlife Manifesto, Being Human in a Hyperconnected World’ that eventually, the difference will disappear altogether.  Analog and offline and digital and online blend into what they call the ‘onlife experience’. 


As offline and online continue to blend, we find it increasingly difficult to separate work from life and we evolve to new ways of working. As a consequence, the achievement of our customer jobs in work and life get entangled as well. One of our clients is an e-commerce fashion retailer with an affluent, predominantly female clientele in the age range 34-45. The vast majority of these customers have full-time jobs. On weekdays, our client’s webshop reaches the highest sales conversion rates every day between 9 AM and 12 AM. A perfect illustration of how work and life blend thanks to living in a connected world.



The Customer Job in a H2H World.


The fading difference between work and private leads to a change in behavior: it’s harder to separate the ‘private me’ from the ‘professional me’. This allows the ‘authentic me’ to submerge more and I’m all for that. Authentic people live and work in a human-to-human or H2H world. And living and working entails doing things: achieving customer jobs. Without people wanting to or having to achieve something, we’d all be unemployed.


What makes a human being decide to actually do something?  Laila Pawlak and Kris Østergaard explain this crystal clear in their white paper ‘The Fundamental 4s: How to Design Extraordinary Customer Experiences in an Exponential World’. As the title hints, there are four fundamental forces that get us going. A human desire to BE better, to DO better, to FEEL better, and/or to LOOK better.  Improvement is the key word here, and Mrs. Pawlak argues that the desire to improve is embedded in every human individual. You. Me. 


“Becoming better is what drives us as human beings to continuously develop the world we live in” is a quote taken straight from the white paper. Becoming better is what drives the human individual. And once that human individual decides to act upon the desire to becoming better, the customer job is a fact and things are set in motion. Note that becoming better does not automatically signify a ‘safer’, or ‘healthier’ world.  In the weapons industry, people are also driven by the desire to becoming better and their developments impact the world we live in too. 


As a business or as an organization, we have to fully understand the customer jobs from the customer’s perspective. And then we have to ask ourselves if and how we can contribute to the achievement of the customer job. How can technology enable the achievement? Because that’s what technology really is, an enabler to become better. 


Every single customer job is defined by three parameters: (1) the job importance, (2) the pain severity, and (3) the gain relevance. Mowing the lawn may be important to one person, and insignificant to the other. The former may mow the lawn to look better (social status), the latter may not care because a wild garden makes him or her feel better and mowing the lawn is only done when the person can’t find his way back into the house. For some, mowing the lawn is a painful venture, others may just love the exercise. The gains from mowing the lawn will be essential for one person (recognition by the neighbors or avoid a row with the spouse) and just a nice to have for the other (it was getting kind of long). Both people in this example will mow their lawns. One does it every week, the other will only mow when it’s absolutely necessary.   


A customer job in work has the same three parameters: implementing that customer engagement platform we talked about is evaluated in exactly the same way. It will help us become better, but how important is it? How difficult is it? What will we gain? 


Whatever the business you’re in, make understanding the customer job of your primary customer from his or her perspective a priority.  Understand the actuators of human behavior: what sets them in motion? Understand the importance of the customer job, the severity of the pains associated with performing the job, and understand the essential gains. Only then can we determine whether our offer has any relevance or not. Only then can we create real value and innovate. Only then can we truly manage.


“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Whether or not Henry Ford said this or not, the quote figures in arguments about how real innovation is created by visionaries who ignore customer input and instead innovate based solely on their vision for a better future. The other side argues the merits of innovating vis-à-vis customer feedback.


The point is, do not ask what people want, but rather what they want to achieve -and thus think in terms of customer jobs- and the answer is a lot clearer. Imagine Henry Ford:

Henry Ford: “What do you want?”

People: “Faster horses!”


Henry Ford: “What are you trying to achieve?”

People: “Get faster from A to B!”

For the record, Henry Ford did not invent the automobile. He adapted the car assembly line in such a way that he was able to manufacture at a much lower cost and thus sell cars at lower prices. What he enabled was the creation of a new and rapidly growing market. Today, Elon Musk is still in the business of getting people and things from A to B (even if B is another planet). Only, just getting faster from A to B is not the customer job anymore. It is getting from one place to the other traffic-jam free, effortless, always connected, clean — everything aimed at becoming better.


Investing in fully understanding who your primary customer is, and what customer job she is trying to achieve has significant returns: the ability to create real value and to be and remain competitive. It can only be done through ongoing immersion in and observation of the customer, yet the rewards are worth it. 


Supplement it with the quantitative data that spills out from your MarTech stack designed for solving your customer’s problems. The previous step will inform you how to design it.



This blogpost is based upon the new book of Marc Bresseel and Renout van Hove: OBSESSED: Decode the data landscape. Reboot your sales and marketing.

Be part of The 5th Conference on MarTech and get your free copy on November 21.