If you’re serious about competing in the marketplace, then customer adoption is your Holy Grail. And rightly so -- your success and longevity hinge on this crucial metric. But for many, achieving satisfactory (let alone exemplary) customer adoption can feel frustratingly hit-or-miss. And boosting adoption will continue to feel like an impossible feat of alchemy if you approach it the wrong way. Fixating on “adoption” as the end goal without understanding that it’s the result of correct processes and approach is a little bit like skipping ahead to the last chapter of a book and wondering why you’re so confused. It doesn’t make sense because you don’t have the proper context.
Adoption doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and it doesn’t happen just because you want it to or because you’re trying really hard. Remember, your company exists to help your customers make progress with something they struggle with. You want them to hire your product to do a specific job. Understanding that specific job is key so that your entire organization can align around this single purpose. This will allow your team to make the right decisions with autonomy, and go on to create products that people will want to hire over and over again.
Once your focus -- your lens -- shifts to view every problem from the standpoint of the job to be done, the correct actions become clear. And this laser focus will by its very nature increase adoption, because it will ensure that you’re creating adoption-centric products. And once you do that, you can become the go-to product people hire to do a specific job. You can become synonymous with the job to be done.
Take this straightforward real-world example: If you’re looking to “hire” a quick, easy, inexpensive, and healthy sandwich for lunch or dinner, what pops into your head first? Chances are, it’s Subway. In 1965, Subway founder Fred DeLuca cut through the schizophrenic identity of the American deli -- which served everything from soups, salads, and meatloaf to beer, pie, and cigarettes -- and re-imagined it with a single focus on just one type of sandwich, the submarine. And today, Subway is the largest-single brand restaurant chain in the world, even bigger than McDonald’s. Why? Subway does one thing, and one thing only. It eases a struggle, and does a job, in a very clear and dependable way -- it’s a fast, affordable, and (seemingly) healthy meal.
Digging Deeper: Alignment, Growth, & Adoption
Intuit co-founder Scott Cook had a valuable “ah-ha” moment when he realized he and his team were going about increasing adoption for TurboTax in the wrong way. Once he shifted perspective and looked at the problem in a new way, he experienced first hand the benefits of company-wide alignment around the job his customers were hiring his product to do.
For years, he and his team focused on ways to improve the interview process to get people set up to do their taxes using TurboTax. But no matter how much customer feedback they incorporated into the process, it didn’t seem to increase adoption. But then he and his team came to a realization: People weren’t hiring TurboTax to have to spend time filling out interview questions -- they just wanted to get their taxes done as quickly as possible. As Cook relayed to Clayton Christensen in Competing Against Luck, this shift in perception was a “sea change.” Suddenly, Cook and his team could align around working towards the right solutions -- achieving customer set up without subjecting them to an interview. To date, they’ve managed to reduce the process, and are working towards eliminating it altogether, but even a reduction has improved adoption. Christensen writes that, after experimenting with one pre-filled interview section, “Intuit saw a noticeable uptick in the number of customers who actually completed the TurboTax interview.”
Or, to put it another way, by aligning around a single purpose -- the job to be done -- Intuit made their product more adoption-centric.
Let Me Alta Vista That For You: Why Generalists Don’t Drive Adoption
A key component of the TurboTax’s adoption-driving alignment is specificity. Generalist companies never become synonymous with a job to be done -- they’re too busy trying to be all things for all people. And in the process, they become nothing for anyone. After all, how can anyone hire you to do a job if you don’t have clarity on the specific struggle you’re trying to ease for people?
For proof, just compare the relative fates of the Google and Altavista search engines. Alta Vista was the first internet search engine and in the early 90s it was the go-to engine for many people, but then … it lost focus. What began as a purpose-driven product that did one thing -- web search -- became a confusing mishmash of topic boards, directories, and advertising. In 2010 -- three years before its ultimate demise in 2013 -- Henry McCracken wrote in Technologizer that “At first, AltaVista’s post-Digital owner's wrong headedly tried to turn it into a Yahoo-like mega portal. Then it became an orphaned brand name affixed to generic search results.”
Google’s search engine, on the other hand, stuck to one thing and one thing only. The home page does nothing to distract from this specific job that millions and millions hire it to do -- on average, 3.5 billion Google searches are performed daily. But perhaps there is no greater evidence of becoming synonymous with the job you’re hired to do than this: In 2006, “google” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary as a verb.
Focus Lost ... And Regained
Achieving alignment around the job to be done isn’t a “set it and forget it” kind of deal. Without vigilance, you can lose your focus .. and in the process, your customers. LEGO learned this the hard way in the late 90s after a misguided phase of hyper innovation. As David Robertson, author of the book Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry, told the Wharton business school’s Knowledge@Wharton’s podcast, “[Lego] lost control of the innovation. They tried to innovate in lots of different ways, and they did.”
But in the process, they forgot about the job people hired them to do. They created a lot of new toys -- and some, in Robinson's opinion, were even good ones -- but the problem was, “they weren’t very LEGO-y. They didn’t have much construction as part of the toy. … These toys would snap together in about 10 minutes and the kids could start playing.”
The result? LEGO no longer did the job parents hired it to do. As Robinson explains, “[A] lot of us as parents, the reason we buy LEGO for our kids — and we may not admit it to ourselves — it’s that rainy Sunday afternoon when the kids are driving us nuts and we want a couple hours of quiet, so we get the LEGO set. Well, if you bought the Jack Stone set, you would have 10 minutes and then the kids are running around screaming again. So it drove away some of the fans of the brand.”
There were other missteps along the way, but for LEGO to make a comeback they had to return to one very important, and deceptively simple thing: They had to remember their purpose, and focus on the job people hired LEGO to do. And so, in 2003, they went “back to the brick.” LEGO returned to their roots, and started focusing on the products that worked like LEGOs, that were challenging, and took time to put together -- the fire trucks and the police stations. “When they went back in the box,” Robinson says, “they found that there was a lot of money in the box and that fans returned to the brand”.
Getting It Right From the Get Go
If you’re looking for a B2B company that has, right from their inception aligned around a single purpose and created a wildly adoption-centric product then look no further than payment platform Stripe. It became a darling among developers right from its launch in 2012, and with good reason: Co-founders Patrick and John Collison identified a massive struggle developers were experiencing when trying to implement payment platforms and systematically eradicated it.
Their purpose from the outset was clear and aligned around a single goal: to make a payment platform that “didn’t suck.” Or, to put it more technical way, as (John) Collison told CNBC, "Stripe is building payment infrastructure for the Web, so we make it easy to accept credit cards online. … Before Stripe, the way you'd do this is using the legacy banking structure. It was slow, it was complex, it was expensive. It had this very chilling effect on e-commerce."
With such a clear understanding of the job that developers would hire their product to do, it’s no wonder that, according to Forbes, adoption-centric Stripe now processes $20 billion in payments annually, and is well on the way to becoming synonymous with the job people hire it to do. “In short, there isn’t a real alternative to Stripe,” Shopify founder and Stripe customer Tobias Lütke told TechCrunch in 2012. “They cracked the code on how internet payments ought to be done.”
On the surface, Subway, TurboTax, Google, LEGO, and Stripe don’t appear to have much in common. But they share a very important quality: They all understand that customer adoption is the result of the right processes and perspective. Creating adoption-centric products -- from sandwiches and tax software to search engines, toys, or B2B payment platforms -- hinges on keeping a laser focus on the job to be done, and never forgetting why customers should hire (and rehire) your product to ease their struggles.