Can Customer Insights Really Drive Innovation for Your Online Business?

If you think that innovation is derived from a deep understanding of your customer, think again.

In Clayton Christiansen’s new book – Competing Against Luck – he tackles the long held belief that innovation comes from understanding the customer. But based on his research, that thinking is wrong!

His theory is that real innovation comes not from customer insights, but from a deep understanding of why people “hire” your product.

Put in a simpler way, true innovation does not come from understanding the characteristics of your customer, it comes from identifying what “job” your customer is “hiring” your product or service for.

In this 32 minute episode, Sean Jackson and Jessica Frick provide new insight into The Digital Entrepreneur’s journey, including …

  • Why you should, or should not, abandon social media
  • How you can apply the theory of Jobs To Be Done to your online efforts
  • And, the tools and information website sites that may help you improve your online efforts

The Show Notes

Can Customer Insights Really Drive Innovation for Your Online Business?

Voiceover: Rainmaker.FM.

You’re listening to The Digital Entrepreneur, the show for folks who want to discover smarter ways to create and sell profitable digital goods and services. This podcast is a production of Digital Commerce Institute, the place to be for digital entrepreneurs. DCI features an in-depth, ongoing instructional academy, plus a live education and networking summit where entrepreneurs from across the globe meet in person. For more information, go to Rainmaker.FM/DigitalCommerce.

Sean Jackson: Welcome to The Digital Entrepreneur, everyone. I’m your host Sean Jackson.

Jessica Frick: And I’m Jessica Frick.

Sean Jackson: We are the new hosts of The Digital Entrepreneur. Welcome, welcome, everyone. The format of the show is going to be a little different. If you’ve been listening in the past, you’re going to see some changes. Part of those changes is going to be right at the top of the show because Jessica and I are going to bring up a topic, and we’re going to take opposing sides. I think you’ll enjoy it.

Why You Should, or Should Not, Abandon Social Media

Sean Jackson: Jessica, you ready for a little bit one-on-one, mano-a-mano debate?

Jessica Frick: We are coming out of the gate with a fire this time.

Sean Jackson: That’s absolutely true. Okay. So, Jessica, what is the topic for the week?

Jessica Frick: Okay, this one is going to get kind of heated. Should you nuke your social media accounts?

Sean Jackson: Absolutely.

Jessica Frick: You’re out of your head, Sean.

Sean Jackson: Absolutely. You should nuke those suckers right now. Okay, all right. Let me clarify.

Jessica Frick: You’re insane, but yes, please.

Sean Jackson: Let me clarify really quickly what I mean by the nuking.

Jessica Frick: Okay.

Sean Jackson: There’s no question that social media when it first started out was a phenomenal tool. From Myspace to Friendster, to LinkedIn, to what’s that other one? Oh, Facebook. It was a great way to have conversations, but as content marketing has been on the rise, right now social media is a wonderful syndication platform for all of that juicy content that you create up.

Other than that, why waste your time on it? Why waste your time trying to engage with anybody on that? Just use it as a publishing tool and call it a day. If someone likes it, Retweets it, thumbs it, hearts it, whatever they do on these things — let them do that. But for the real entrepreneur, the time is better spent not getting into little cat fights on Twitter, the time spent on working your online business. What say you, Jess?

Jessica Frick: I say you’re wrong. How are you going to grow your audience if all you’re doing is speaking into an echo chamber? Are you going to take out a billboard?

Sean Jackson: Yes, yes, pretty much. Think about it. Look at it. Look at Pinterest.

Jessica Frick: Put an ad in the newspaper?

Sean Jackson: Yes, exactly. You put the ad in the newspaper, which is called Craigslist nowadays. No, think about it. Look at Pinterest is a phenomenal tool. Now, I’m sure and I know, for instance, that many people follow others on there, but what are they following? They’re following the content that these people put on the thing.

Yes, if you want to have a one-on-one conversation with Aunt Millie, sure you could do that over the phone, on Facebook, via email, but at the end of the day, the conversational aspect of social media is really not there — so why even worry your head about it? Just put the social share icon, once you publish that piece of content, get it into those social media channels, and call it a day.

Jessica Frick: I can tell from your position on this, Sean, that you don’t run an eShop selling mason jars because Pinterest is basically made for that.

Sean Jackson: Yeah, but are you really having a conversation? Come on, let’s think, really.

Jessica Frick: I’m not saying you should have a conversation. I’m saying there’s definitely value in maintaining it. Now, I’m not saying that, as you astutely noted, you need to get into the scratching and gnashing on Twitter. You certainly shouldn’t go on there and just be a link farm that just constantly broadcasts. But if you’re not engaging with people, if you’re not creating that relationship that’s not just one way, giving people a reason to know, like, and trust you, what exactly are you doing to build your business?

Sean Jackson: You’re spending time on your website, which is where you probably should be spending your time anyway. Now, think about it. It kills me. I ran into this very nice young lady who is a new blogger out there. She’s got a fashion blog. She was very excited because she’s got some followers online, and she’s putting things on her blog. It’s really kind of cool because she’s mixing music and fashion together, so she’s literally playing a guitar with things that she’s wearing. It was cool, it was catchy. But you know what she didn’t consider?

Jessica Frick: What?

Sean Jackson: Email. Like maybe people on your site, instead of just clicking on an affiliate link, maybe they should be signing up for an email list that you have. Why is that?

Because if she’s spending all of her time engaging on social media, then she’s not spending time on the site and doing things like build an email list, which will probably bring more revenue to her than sitting there liking, thumbing, and whatever the other things they do on those things to build that ‘one-on-one special relationship.’ What say you?

Jessica Frick: I say, you just need a hug, Sean, because you are just a little sourpuss today.

Sean Jackson: No, no. Here’s another thing, if we’re really going to get on this. Why spend time on things that are not mobile-first consumption? To that aspect I would say, then why not spending all your time creating videos and putting it on YouTube?

Jessica Frick: Well, why not? Wouldn’t that be considered social media?

Sean Jackson: Yeah, it’s publishing, though. It’s content syndication to a social media site. Really, if you’re getting a comment or two in your YouTube, hopefully it’s not something really spammy or stupid. Really, do you want to spend all your time doing that? Just saying, “Hey, here’s the video. Here’s the call to action” — which most people forget to put in, right? Let’s be honest.

Jessica Frick: Yeah, I’ll agree with that.

Sean Jackson: Instead, they’re like, “Oh, I want to put it out there to see if anyone’s viewed it or liked it,” or, “Maybe they did leave a comment.”

Jessica Frick: Well, yeah, there’s a real risk for social media to become another vanity metric. But I think that it does hold value when used in proper proportion to the rest of your marketing mix. Obviously, if you are spending time on social media at the cost of working on a great website or sending important emails that really make a difference, then you might need to look at how much you’re doing it. But everything in moderation.

Just cutting it off, I think it also depends on what kind of business you’re running. If you’re talking to a digital entrepreneur, some businesses will need social more than others.

Sean Jackson: Yeah, well, I would put it further down the list, spend more time on your website, and think a little bit more about how to increase conversions thereof than worrying about whether Aunt Millie is liking your latest post on Instagram. All right.

Jessica Frick: We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one, but I will say I’m going to sell a lot more mason jars than you are.

Sean Jackson: There you go. Folks, what do you think? Am I completely crazy, is Jessica brilliant, or does she completely not get it? We want to hear from you, so as part of this show, we set up a special email address at Digits@Rainmaker.FM. You can send us an email to Digits@Rainmaker.FM and let us know what you think. Go ahead, what is your viewpoint? Is social media really worth it, or should you just go ahead and nuke your accounts? Send us an email, and let us know. We’ll be right back after this break.

Hey, everyone, this is Sean Jackson, the host of The Digital Entrepreneur. I want to ask you a simple question. What is your business framework for selling digital goods online? Now, if the question perplexes you, don’t worry. You are not alone. Most people don’t realize that the most successful digital entrepreneurs have a framework or general process for creating and selling their digital goods in the online space. And one of the best free resources is Digital Commerce Academy.

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How You Can Apply the Theory of Jobs To Be Done to Your Online Efforts

Sean Jackson: Welcome back from the break, everyone. For this segment, we’re going to do it a little different than other shows where we generally have interviews. For this particular segment, we are going to discuss a book that Jessica and I have both read called Competing Against Luck by Clayton Christensen.

Now, that name may sound familiar to you because Clayton wrote a seminal piece of work back in the ’90s called The Innovator’s Dilemma.

Competing Against Luck is centered on the following premise, that people hire a product or service to do a specific job for them. In other words, that people are not thinking of the features and benefits that you provide with your product or service, but that they are really using your product or service to specifically fill a job that they have in their life — that will either help them save time, get something done faster, etcetera.

To discuss this book, Jess, I’d like to get your thoughts on it. Certainly, I personally felt that it was a really unique way at looking at online products and services. What did you think of it?

Jessica Frick: Well, I think it’s important, not just for the creation of products and services, but working out and fine-tuning how you talk to potential customers about your product and service. I love the fact that he leads off talking about how most companies are doing data wrong. And I agree — it’s so alluring to want to see data points, connect them, and figure that is correctly correlated to a customer cause, but that’s not always the case. Usually customer behavior is more disruptive.

Sean Jackson: Yeah, exactly. That brings up a great point. It was funny — we are awash in a ton of data right now, so everybody looks for, “Well, this person looks like this. They read that. They live here. They earn this. They do this for a living.” By having all those data points, we feel like, “Oh, we know our customer,” when the reality is, we probably don’t.

One of the stories in the book that I thought was hilariously funny was milkshakes. Let me talk to you about milkshakes for a second. There was a fast food chain that sells milkshakes, along with other things that they had, and they did notice that in the morning they had a lot of milkshake sales. They’re like, “Well, that’s kind of an interesting part,” so they went through your typical demographic data.

Who were the people buying milkshakes? What do they look like? Where do they drive? What … etcetera? — all the demographic things that you would come up with. But they never answered the question — why were people buying milkshakes in the morning? It turns out that milkshakes, and specifically buying in the morning, had a very specific job. Do you know what that job was, Jess?

Jessica Frick: What was the job, Sean?

Sean Jackson: The job was, because in a long commute, people wanted something that would fulfill them, that was convenient and easy, and did not require a lot of thought process to fill them up and was easy for them to consume while they drove.

Now, coffee is a great, but the problem with coffee, of course, is it’s very, very hot. And it’s not very easy to drink as hot as it is, and it also does not fill you up enough so that on a long commute, by the time you get to the office, that mid-morning craving that you have for food, knowing that lunch is a couple hours away, coffee wouldn’t solve that job.

People were literally hiring a milkshake as a form of on-the-road food to make sure that, when they got to their job, they were filled enough to get them through to their lunch break. Isn’t that crazy?

Jessica Frick: It’s crazy — but imagine how many people wouldn’t get to that if they weren’t asking the right questions. That’s why I think this is so applicable to digital entrepreneurs. Remembering that what people are actually doing — and you and me, too, we do it all day, every day with every dollar we spend — when you spend your money, you’re hiring a product or service for a job. If they do a great job, then you keep hiring them. If they don’t, then you fire them and look for an alternative solution.

Sean Jackson: That’s right. You look at Uber. Uber being another great example. If you really boil Uber down, it really did two things. It basically allows you to call for a car, and it shows you where the car was in relationship to you. But why was the job that you wanted? The job that you wanted is you needed immediate transportation, and you wanted to know that it was on its way, right? You can get a cab anywhere, right? New York is complete with them.

Yet Uber comes on the scene, and now cabs become just kind of a passé thing. They both essentially as a feature did the same thing, which is transport you from point A to point B. But there was a very fundamental difference about the job that you hire Uber to do versus the job that you hire a cab to do.

I think when you look at your online products and services, certainly there’s a bigger reason why people are buying it. That bigger reason is probably because they’re looking at a job they need fulfilled, and if your product or service can fulfill that, then it’s hired. But moment that it fails at that job, then they’re going to fire it right away.

I think there’s a lot of things that he put into that book about how you can really kind of spot some of these things. Jess, what are some of the ways that you can spot opportunities where you can create a product and service that fulfills a job?

Jessica Frick: I love the one that he was talking about Quicken. When Intuit realized that there were a bunch of small businesses using Quicken, which was originally intended just for individuals. So they’re bending and shaping it to meet their needs, so Intuit was able to create a business solution. I think we all know how that story ends.

Sean Jackson: Yeah, and think about it. They were doing workarounds to it, so that’s another opportunity.

Jessica Frick: Exactly. Make it easier for them to do the job they want.

Sean Jackson: That’s right. That’s another very, very great example of how you can see how are people getting from point A to point B, and what are the bends that they’re having to make to their processes that are causing them some problems. Literally, think about it. Your product or service becomes the person that gives them the resume and says, “I can take care of that job for you.”

It’s not surprising to me about this concept, and I’ll tell you why. Back in the 19th century, back in the 1800s, technology was not anywhere close to what it is today, obviously. People would literally hire someone to do the most minute details of daily life for them. Today, we have all sorts of technology that makes us more productive.

We don’t need to hire very many people to do a lot of things that just 100 years ago would take a whole staff to do. To me, that concept of how we look at the past and all the people we would hire to do little things for us, now, because of technology, has changed.

When you think of your online product as a solution to a job, that if somebody has this job that needs to be done, then my product or service is the way that it’s going to get done — and it’s going to be done better than if you tried to do that job on your own. I think that concept really changes the way that online entrepreneurs should look at their products and services.

Jessica Frick: I think that by understanding that you’re going to be able to speak better to prospective clients. Let’s be real — not everybody’s going to be the right fit for you. But for those who are, make them understand why you’re the best. By clearly articulating the job to be done, and done well, I think your sales are going to increase exponentially. Satisfaction, too.

Sean Jackson: Yeah, that’s a great point. Let’s use it in case of something that relates to us, hosting. When you look at hosting, do you really care about the bits and bytes that are on that server? Of course you don’t.

Jessica Frick: Nobody cares about ones and zeros, nobody.

Sean Jackson: That’s right. What they care about is, “Is my site going to stay up? Is there going to be somebody who’s knowledgeable to take care of the issues that I have? Is it something that I can quickly get done without having to bring in a technical team to make it happen?” That’s what you hire hosting for, for goodness sake. You want it because you have a specific path, and you don’t want your hosting provider constantly going down because the job you’re hiring it for is to keep your presence up.

And quite frankly, do you really care about their backup storage being on this type of server versus that? No — you just want to know that, if it goes down, it’s restored, and it better not go down because what you’re hiring it for is to stay up all the time. That’s how that thinking can apply, certainly in the online space. Jess, what are some other examples in the online space you could share?

Jessica Frick: Well, I’m thinking about that as both a job that you want to avoid because you don’t want to have to deal with your site going down, doing your own manual backups and restarts, and all that stuff. You would talk to somebody both from that perspective and also from a job that needs to be done well, just to begin with.

But there’s also that difference thing, like we were talking about with Quicken, people using a product different than they were expecting. I’m thinking about DayQuil and NyQuil. So you’re sitting on the product team of NyQuil, and your sales have gone through the roof this year. And you’re like, “Oh my god, everybody’s got a cold.” Well, you dig a little deeper, start asking the right questions, and you find out that people are actually using NyQuil to go to sleep, even when they’re not sick.

Sean Jackson: Right. And they created up?

Jessica Frick: ZzzQuil.

Sean Jackson: That’s right. But I think in the online space, too, it goes to that, a fundamental idea of asking why. “Why do you need what I have? What is it that is driving below the surface?” I think of membership sites, certainly — why do people sign up for a membership site? I actually think there are different jobs people want done with a membership site. I think understanding that really helps in how you craft and manage a membership site.

Some people may go to a membership site because they really do need quality information — a content repository of some sort. Some people may go to a membership site because they’re alone, and they want someone to talk to in real time, or near real time as the case may be. They may go to a membership site because they are really afraid, and they just want somebody that they can trust to kind of guide them along a path.

There’s so many reasons why someone would just sign up for a membership site and be willing to pay a lot for it. If you ask the question, “What job is that person hiring my membership site to do? What job are people downloading my plugin to do? What is the job that they need fulfilled?” Because the moment that you fail at that job, they’re going to fire you, but they’re hiring you because they need something done.

Understanding what they need done is not going to be about the standard generic demographic information where people come in and say, “We know our customers because we know where they live, what color their hair is, what color their eyes are, what they read, and blah, blah, blah.” It’s because they’re hiring it to do something else.

Jess, I’m going to leave the last word for you. What are your final thoughts on Clayton Christensen’s book of Competing Against Luck?

Jessica Frick: Never stop listening.

Sean Jackson: I think you’re right. Never stop listening. Always be asking why. I think if you take a chance to read through that book, you’ll find your own insight. We’ll be back after this break.

You know, this show’s success is based on how well we are at helping you succeed. Are we giving you insights that help your online business? Are we providing you with the types of resources you need to grow and prosper? Or are we just wasting your time? Regardless of your response, we would like to hear from you. Just send an email to Digits@Rainmaker.FM.

No, we’re not going to spam you or sign you up for something you don’t want. Digits@Rainmaker.FM is our public email address, so you can provide the feedback we need to help you. If you are enjoying the show, want to stay up-to-date with every episode, and live in the continental United States, then send us a text message to 313131 with the keyword ‘digits.’ If you’re outside the continental United States, you can still send us an email to Digits@Rainmaker.FM. We want to hear from you because you are the most important part of the show.

One more thing, when you contact us we will send you information on Digital Commerce Academy, a free resource that will help you create and sell digital goods online. Don’t worry — you have the option of signing up for Digital Commerce Academy. This is not some automated ploy to spam you. We truly want to hear from you, so whether you are on your phone or at your desk, feel free to reach out and let us know how we are doing and, more importantly, how we can help you succeed.

The Tools and Information Website Sites That May Help You Improve Your Online Efforts

Sean Jackson: Welcome back from the break, everyone. In this segment, Jess and I share some tools and information sources that we particularly find useful for digital entrepreneurs. Let’s start off with tools, Jess. We’re just going to cover two of them real quickly. What is a tool that you think is absolutely essential for digital entrepreneurs?

Jessica Frick: Well, I know this week and pretty much every day, my most essential tool is Slack. If you’re not already using Slack, this is not an ad, by the way, go to and check it out. We could not function as a team without it. The cool thing is, even if you are disparate teams or just want to join a community discussion, keep your finger on the pulse of a community, and everything going on in it, jump on the Slack channel and you can join individual channels within that community, stay informed, and really develop relationships and that ongoing one-on-one communication.

Sean Jackson: Yeah, it’s funny because, for a while, we have experimented with HipChat. We used HipChat for a while, certainly Skype. Really, Slack has been really transformational for us as a company and just across the board. I’ve actually been very impressed with Slack. You know my feelings about social media, Jess, so anything that’s not distracting. I do think when it comes to that kind of one-on-one, or really just the pulse of what’s going on, I tend to like Slack. I have a different tool to talk about that I think is really, really cool.

Jessica Frick: What’s yours, Sean?

Sean Jackson: Clearbit API. Now let me explain …

Jessica Frick: Oh boy.

Sean Jackson: I know, now I’m getting all technical on you, folks.

Jessica Frick: It’s going to get nerdy up in here.

Sean Jackson: It’s going to get very nerdy, but let me explain what Clearbit is. So Clearbit API, we have experimented with lots of tools in the company that help us understand who our customers are based on their email address. We have tried a variety of services, and we finally have put some side-by-side comparisons. I’m going to tell you now, Clearbit API has been, bar none, one of the best tools out there for really understanding who that person is behind an email address.

The nice part about it, it’s free. It also integrates with Google Sheets. Let me tell you what you can do with it.

Jessica Frick: Sexy.

Sean Jackson: Let’s say you have a newsletter subscriber list. You can take those email addresses from your newsletter, put them into a Google Sheet — only 1,000, sorry, that’s the limit, nothing I can do about it — put in your Clearbit API key, and it will go through every one of those email address.

When it finds information in their database, it will tell you their LinkedIn profile, their Facebook profile, their Twitter followers, their website, their company name, their title. Any and everything you want to know. How big is their company? Where do they live? What country are they in? Literally, the amount of data from one email address is mind boggling, absolutely mind boggling.

Jessica Frick: And creepy.

Sean Jackson: Yeah, it is.

Jessica Frick: I saw myself on it. I’m like, “Oh my gosh.”

Sean Jackson: I know, I remember that. That was weird, too. It was like, “That’s Jess, oh my gosh.” But it will tell you all sorts of information — some of which, Jess, you might want to take off the web, I’m just saying.

Jessica Frick: Yeah.

Sean Jackson: The nice thing is, again, if you’re not a programmer, you can use Google Sheets, which obviously is free, you can use the Clearbit API, and you can bring in a segment. If you’ve got an email list that you have, if you’ve got a series of email addresses from purchases made on your site, go really look at Clearbit API.

Also, I know they have a function that integrates with Google Analytics, so now, they can start pulling some of that data into analytics. By all means, I will tell you, folks, again, we don’t have affiliate commissions on the show. I don’t care if you buy it or not. I’m just telling you from our experience, both with Slack and Clearbit, they are very much a part of the tools that we use to run the online business that is Rainmaker Digital.

Sean Jackson: Speaking of, Jess, what about sources of information? Because that’s another part. We have our tools, and we have our information. I want to tell you my favorite, and then I want to hear what is your favorite. My favorite source of information right now is Silicon Valley Insider is kind of how it started out with. Business Insider, and I want to tell you why. I’ve had Feedly account with RSS feeds from a whole variety of sources for quite some time now, but I have to go set that thing up, right?

One of the things I liked about Business Insider is it really gave me all of the kind of the business news, the online news, the things that were happening that would maybe demand my attention. I almost want to think of it as a very sophisticated way of curated business and online information, really. That way if you see something, you can drill into it a little bit more.

The other thing that I like about Business Insider is they’re really on the forefront of online publishing. Henry Blodget, who runs Business Insider, gave a phenomenal speech about how they’ve been using video and how, as a publisher, they’ve morphed their video content to really appeal to people who are consuming it on social media sites, etcetera.

As both a company and as a source of information, specifically in the business space and in the tech space, I find Business Insider to be one of the first places I go to every day. Jess, what about you?

Jessica Frick: Well, when you first said it, I’m one of those weird people that actually reads news about other industries because I like those disparate connections. Then I was like, “Well, our industry would probably be Adweek.” That’s my junk food industry news. You know what’s so bad? As much as I like just gawking at Adweek, because it really does feel like junk food. Sorry, Adweek, I love you guys. I really do. But it’s Marketing Land. I’m on their list. I get their emails every single day, and that’s a real source that I check every day. I’ve been on their daily list forever, too.

Sean Jackson: Yeah, I think you always have to step outside of the little box that you happen to inhabit. I think certainly finding other sources of information and other tools that may enhance it. This is going to be a regular feature of the show, folks. Jess and I will absolutely, time permitting, go through tools and information sources that may be of interest and help you.

Jess, we’re coming to the end of the show, but I did want to leave our audience with a topic to think about that you and I will be debating next week. The topic to think about is this — is email a time saver, or is email a time suck? We would like to know what you think.

Jess, which side do you want to argue on that one?

Jessica Frick: Email is a time saver.

Sean Jackson: Oh, you know what I’m going to say.

Jessica Frick: I know you’re going to say it’s a suck, but you’re wrong.

Sean Jackson: Well, folks, we hope you tune in next week to hear where Jess and I come down on this. If you’d like to participate in the conversation, if you have a thought about email as a time saver or a time suck, go ahead, take a moment, and send an email to Digits@Rainmaker.FM. We’d love to hear from you, and definitely, if we like it, we may read it on the show next week.

Jessica Frick: Especially if you say Sean’s wrong.

Sean Jackson: Yeah, my wife tells me that all the time. So, folks, that will be this episode of Digital Entrepreneur with your new host Sean Jackson and …

Jessica Frick: Jessica Frick.

Sean Jackson: And we will catch you on the next episode. You have a great week.