One of the major differences between sales to consumers and business to business sales is the number of decision-makers that can be involved in major purchases. While in a consumer sales setting there is likely only one (or potentially a partner) making decisions, in the business world the number of individuals with an influence over the decision process can be substantially greater. Even if all of them don’t have the final say (or an official decision influence), their opinions and broader awareness are important to be aware of throughout the sales process.
This article explores some of the key stakeholders involved in decisions – from end-users to senior management in the business to business transactions.
Decision Maker 1: End-users of the product
Possibly the most obvious set of decision influencers are the individuals that will ultimately be using your product or service. These are the people that in many ways will see the product in action and have to adapt to the offering.
Depending on the setting that you are selling into the end-users could be the most, or least, important set of decision influencers. In some settings, they will be the ones that actually see the possibility of your offerings – how it can help transform their work and increase productivity. In other settings, the end-users may have almost no say at all – rather using whatever they are allocated to use by more senior management.
Figuring out the extent to which your end users are involved in the decision-making process is important. If your end-users are heavily involved in selecting the product, creating awareness and buy-in among this group is important. if on the other hand, the end-user is not involved in deciding or influencing what products and services to use (such as a machine operator), then targetting this group is likely wasted energy.
Of course, there are likely to be substantial differences between industries in the extent to which they involve employees in their decision-making – as well as firms within a setting. Some firms will actively seek the input of end-users (or allow them to drive purchasing decisions) – for others, the end-user will have almost no say.
Decision Maker 2: Implementers of the product
Another key decision influencer may be those involved in actually deploying and supporting the product. For technology products, for example, individuals in the IT or technology department may be responsible for rolling out a particular product.
The group of decision influencers is likely to be much more concerned with the ease of deployment and support – how long it will take to roll out, and the continual effort to support the offering. They may also be quite involved in purchasing decisions – for IT expenditures, for example, the IT department could be responsible for the budgeting decisions and hold substantial influence in the overall purchasing choices.
Decision Maker 3: Others in the firm who have used similar offerings before
Another set of individuals that may be influential in purchasing decisions are those people within a firm that have used yours or similar products (potentially at different parts of the company). Employees who have already used your product may be able to vouch for your offerings (or discourage others parts of the firm from using your products).
While this group of individuals is likely to have quite considerable influence, they are unlikely to have the final say when it comes to decision making. Although it is unlikely that you will be able to sway their decisions directly – they already have experience working with your products – there may be opportunities to encourage word of mouth advertising – to help increase the volume of sales you get from your existing business customers.
Decision Maker 4: Operational managers
Another group of potential decision-makers are those managers that are responsible for the operations of the area, although not directly involved in its operation. Examples may include a facility manager, who is responsible for the overall manufacturing operations. Such managers may be most interested in how the produce or service integrates into the overall operations, as well as having some degree of concern on the cost of the product or service.
Decision Maker 5: Managers with financial authority
A final group of individuals that can substantially influence purchasing decisions – particularly for large purchases – are managers with a financial orientation. This group may be most focused on the value the product brings – where it can help save costs or increase sales for example. Indeed the decision criteria of this decision influence may have a lot less to do with the product attributes and much more to do with how the purchase can be justified as improving the profitability of the company.
Recognizing that the needs of different stakeholders may be different
A key thing when analyzing different possible decision influencers is recognizing that the needs of the different groups may vary. The fact that the product is easy to use or deploy may matter a lot to the end-user and implementers, but not at all to more financially focused management who care much more about the business justifications. The better that you are able to recognize their different needs, the easier time you will have at tailoring your sales approach to each set of decision makers.