Harvard Business School professor Clay Christensen says business people should ask what job customers hire their products to do.
It's a clever way of applying an observation one of his professors at the same school made. "No one buys a quarter-inch drill bit," Ted Levitt told his students, "they buy a quarter inch hole."
I was reminded of all this by a story in today's Wall Street Journal. Despite reporting a quarterly loss of $4.4 billion, Blackberry's stock price went up 15.5% yesterday.
Why? Because the CEO promised that the company would redirect its attention from designing and manufacturing smartphones to developing the software and services on which they run.
In fact, I had lunch with a friend yesterday who sheepishly pulled a Blackberry out of his pocket. "I'm only using this," he said, "because my IT people won't let me use anything else. They say other networks aren't secure."
He's a lawyer and one of millions of professionals and business people who don't buy wireless phones simply to make calls or check email, but primarily to ensure their communications are secure. That's what they were hiring Blackberry to do.
But then the company wandered away from that job to follow some flashy new things that seemed popular, sending sales (and its stock price) into freefall. Its stock price has started recovering because smart investors believe the company has seen the error of its ways.
One of the PR department's biggest responsibilities is to help senior management stay in touch with the job customers hire the company to do.