Jobs To Be Done: The Secret Weapon for Boosting Cold Email Response Rates

October 30, 2017 Liston Witherill

Have you ever been misunderstood? Even in a time when you were 1,000% sure you explained yourself clearly?

Of course you have, and it can feel maddening. But still, it happens.

Unfortunately, the same thing is happening to your customers.

You think you know exactly what they’re thinking and feeling…

Have you asked them?

If not, you don’t fully understand the reasons why they’re buying. If you don’t understand why they buy, then you need help. 

That’s where Jobs to Be Done comes in.

So, What Is Jobs to Be Done?

Jobs to Be Done (JTBD) is a process that’ll help you find the exact messages you need to make your communications with leads and prospects relevant. It’s not enough to take your best guess at what matters to your customers – you have to find out what actually matters.

Unlike other ways of selling, JTBD says that people buy things – software, gym memberships – to do specific jobs for themselves.

So if someone buys Roundup for their lawn, they’re not buying “dead weeds,” they’re buying a greener lawn and more social status.  

Getting started with JTBD is really easy, and I’ll tell you exactly what to do. 

For now, just know that JTBD will help you understand:

  • The triggers that cause people to buy from you
  • How they make a decision to buy (or not buy) from you
  • Doubts they have along the way
  • And more…

Your cold emails should focus on triggers; they’re going to be the gold you need to power your cold outreach. So if your cold outreach is a little too chilly, JTBD can thaw it out for you.

How Does Jobs To Be Done Impact Cold Email Response Rates?

Today’s SDRs range between 5 – 8, as the average number of contact attempts per lead (over the last 5 years).

High-performing sales organizations are targeting 12+ touches per lead. And in my recent interview with Mark Kosoglow at Outreach, he revealed what it took to land a 7-figure account: 72 contacts, 624 phone calls, and 125 emails.

You may be experiencing a few symptoms of this spreading sickness:

  • Basement-level open rates
  • Plummeting replies
  • Dwindling monthly meetings per SDR

The answer to the problem has historically been to pile on more and more touches per lead. I call B.S.

The obvious question is the most important one: does this go on indefinitely? Of course not, because it’s getting less effective and will hit a point where it’s not economically viable. This is where JTBD comes in – increase quality, and get out of the quantity rat race.

In other words, it’s all about relevance

Once you come up with a compelling answer to that question: voila!

You’ll have higher reply rates, fame, and fortune. Okay, you’ll have higher reply rates at the least.

And the best way to find out how your product or service makes your customers more awesome is to simply ask your customers why they bought. Once you have this info, you’ll be set up to increase the strength of your cold email messages.

Real Life Example: JTBD Used to Sell More Milkshakes

In a truly wonky-but-useful study done for a fast food restaurant, marketers attempted to figure out how to sell more milkshakes. But they didn’t take the standard approach.

Here’s how that would typically work.

Smart, high-paid people sit around a conference table with catered lunch, spitballing ideas.

No one in the meeting is a frequent milkshake consumer.

They come up with ideas to improve the features of the milkshake (better flavor, thicker consistency, larger cups, chocolate chips). The HiPPO wins.

But instead of doing conference-room-quarterbacking, the team theorized that every customer hires a product to do a job. This meant they had to go out and actually talk to people.

So they spent time with customers and watched them consume their milkshakes, asking questions along the way. And they learned some really valuable things about milkshake buyers:

  • A lot of milkshakes were sold in the morning (who knew?)
  • Consumers wanted a meal to last throughout their entire commute and kept them full until lunch
  • Parents bought milkshakes to keep their kids occupied for long periods

Not one person talked about the features of the milkshake-like flavor or consistency.

And they could only gain this insight by interacting directly with customers.

Sidenote: this process yielded not only why customers buy, but also who buys. The circumstances drove the job for parents wanting to keep their kids occupied longer, and morning commuters wanting a long-lasting meal.

Check out this video for more detail about the milkshake story:

And in case you’re thinking “I don’t sell milkshakes,” check out how JTBD has been a driving force for Des Traynor and Intercom. They even wrote a book about it.  

Getting Started With Jobs to Be Done

Starting anything new can be daunting, but I assure you this is not. All you need to do is talk to 5-10 people in two different camps: customers who signed up in the last 60 days, and customers who canceled in the last 60 days.

Keep in mind the Three Unbreakable Rules of JTBD:

  • Always ask open-ended questions
  • Never ask leading questions
  • Listen a lot more than you talk.

If you follow these three absolutes, you’ll be in good shape. Let’s take a look at how you might conduct your JTBD research.

Interview Recent Customers

Start with your recent customers because they’re in the best position to remember the driving forces behind their purchases. When you conduct a JTBD interview, your goal is to understand your customer’s thought process and the internal and external drivers of their purchase.

Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • What was going on in your life when you first realized _____ was a problem? How did you know?
  • Once you realized you had a problem, what did you do next?
  • What kind of solutions did you try? Or not try? Why or why not?
  • Before you purchased, did you imagine what life would be like with the product? And what were you expecting?

Get the full list of interview questions here – no email required.

Interview Past Customers

Now that you’ve interviewed your current customers and found out why people are buying your product, it’s good to also understand why they leave. Churn is the bane of all SaaS businesses, so understanding why people are leaving can help you sell and develop your product more effectively.

Your main interest in speaking with past customers is not to bring them back as customers. Don’t mix contexts here: resist the urge to talk them back into buying your thing. Instead, focus on why they left and what they’re doing now.

Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • Why did you initially sign up for _______? Did you evaluate any other options?
  • When was the first time you thought that ______ might not work for you? Why?
  • Why did you cancel the day that you canceled? Why that day, and not the day before or after?
  • What are you using now? Why?
  • Even though you switched away from _________, would you recommend it to anyone? To whom, and why?

Do This Next

  • Follow the Three Unbreakable Rules of JTBD
  • Interview your current customers to determine why people buy to improve your messaging, sales, and marketing
  • Interview your past customers to determine why people leave to take corrective action on your messaging or product

Record, Document & Analyze All Your JTBD Interviews

Let’s do some back-of-the-napkin math for a second. You’re talking to 10 current and 10 past customers for about 30 minutes each. That’s about 10 hours of conversation, and humans speak about 125 words per minute. If you’re only speaking about 20% of the time, then you’ll be gathering about 60,000 words during your JTBD research!

Now, you’ll hear a lot of the same themes repeating, so it’s not as if you’re writing a book, Hemmingway. But there is a decent amount of information to manage here, so you’ll need a plan.

Whenever I do JTBD research for a sales team, I record the interviews using Skype and Ecam Recorder, I take notes during the call, and then I review the interview and my notes afterward. I repeat this process for every interview.

As you go along, you’ll categorize your notes into the biggest themes you’re hearing. These themes should include verbatim quotes you’ve gathered from your customers (or past customers).

Here’s a creative way of using a negative review that could’ve just as easily surfaced from a JTBD interview:


Having an approach and tech stack for your documentation ensures that you won’t miss gems like the one above.

Bonus: feel free to read your customer reviews, survey data, or reviews on competitor’s sites too. There are probably some good insights lurking around there.

Do This Next

  • Have a strategy for documenting your interviews. I recommend recordings and copious notes.
  • Get a tech stack in place that’ll enable you to execute. I recommend Skype and Ecam Recorder, Google Drive, and Google Docs.
  • Review your notes a few times and themes will emerge. Your brain is a pattern recognition machine, dearest Human.

Get the summary tables to help organize your research here – no email required.

Rewrite Your Cold Email Templates Based On What You Learned During Your JTBD Research

You’re a superstar! Look at all the good, productive stuff you’ve done.

You made a list of current and past customers. You contacted them. You set up meetings and interviewed them. You recorded your interviews and took good notes. Then you organized everything you learned into themes that you can use to improve your messaging and boost those email reply rates.

Now there’s nothing left to do but start rewriting!

On a cautionary note, you’ll probably notice that your previous emails were not focused on your prospects and most of them will go in the circular file. Great! You’re on track.

Rather than throwing away all of your previous work, take a cut at incorporating the top two or three themes you found in your JTBD research. Test it against your previous email campaigns, and you’ll almost certainly notice a lift.

Key Takeaways

Do This Next

  • Line up 5 current and 5 past customers for interviews.
  • Follow the 3 Unbreakable Rules of JTBD.
  • Use the provided questions to double what you know about your customers in a day.
  • Document and organize your notes to find the gems that you can use in your outreach.
  • Update your email and cold calling outreach to reflect what you learned (and make it 10x more relevant to your prospects).

Don’t Ever Do This

  • Interviews aren’t about you. Be an active listener and ask follow-up questions – there’s no need for you to prove anything on the calls.
  • Don’t get stuck aiming for “statistically significant” data. That’s not what you’re doing here. You only need enough calls to hear recurring themes, which is usually 5-8 calls.
  • Favor speed over perfection in launching your new cold emails, so don’t spend weeks trying to make them “perfect.”

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