Traction in the Crevasses

Projects and purchase orders are concrete things. Each identifies requirements and schedules fulfillment. Repeat customers offer an established way of doing business that doubles down on the satisfaction of known needs. I’ve come to learn, however, that order fulfillment is a commodity. That’s not where relationships are built.

In Seizing the White Space, Mark Johnson writes about the importance of identifying unfulfilled jobs. The problem is that few businesses bother to have the right conversation with their clients. Instead, most sales calls focus on the catalogue or the volume of past orders as if the customer is a sort of train riding along on fixed rails. In essence, business development people are so focused on business development that they forget to concentrate on the development of the business. Instead, Johnson urges a focus with the customer on the “job-to-be-done.”

Often, the challenge is to convert the business model from price-specific to something more. Salespeople have to be trained in the art of the interview to get to understand their customers. Management has to be trained to understand the type of customer and order prized by the new strategy. Terms and Conditions have to be tightened to avoid taking on unintended liabilities even while exploring new markets.

Seizing the white space, in other words, is not merely a marketing initiative; it’s a company-wide undertaking. It affects everything from the legal documents to company culture. It is, in short, a commitment to change “normal.”

A business normally moves from order-to-order, jumping the parts in between.   Conversely, a company built on the premise of the job-to-be-done tends to find the most traction on what used to be nothing but air.

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