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Is the decision maker always the buyer?

One of the things I do with my clients is being a "fly on the wall" during calls with their clients. This gives me an enormous amount of insight as to the dynamic in the room, the reactions and more. Since I have been selling myself most of my career, I inject a lot of my experience into my observations and recommendations. During a recent online session, I was carefully watching one of the team members I am working with, going through the selling proposition in a skillful manner. However, as you can imagine, I also looked at the buyer to make sure I took in their reaction. I could have sworn it seemed that she, the buyer, was not interested as much even though she was asking some questions. I looked around the virtual room at the faces of the other participants, and there was one guy, quiet, who was taking notes. Diligently. Later, during an analysis call, my client and I reflected on his experience from that session with his clients. At one point I asked him: "When you went through your value proposition there at the end, who were you speaking to? There were 4 of them. Which one of these 4 were you aiming for?" "Well, for Janet. She is their CFO. She is the decision maker. She is the buyer" he replied. "And who was that guy who was taking notes throughout the session?" "Oh, that guy, he is their new procurement manager. He's probably just trying to impress his boss, Janet". "I have no doubt that Janet is the decision maker, but how do you know she is also the buyer?". "Hmmmm.....good question, how DO I know?" I use the Emotional Relevance Relationship Mapping with my customers. This tool, among other things, also allows you to identify the roles of each (!!) person you are interacting with. Are they an influencer, a champion, an interrupter or a decision maker. There are many similar tools out there, I just liked to keep it simple. The key is that one person can play more than one role. And unless there is a committee decision, usually, there is only one real decision maker. The CFO in the case above is clearly it.

 

"Good merchandise, even hidden, soon finds buyers"

Plautus

 

However, none of these roles talks about who the real buyer is. And if you think about it for a second, once you identify the real buyer, you would want to address them at least at the same level of importance you address the decision maker. In a way, the real buyer is the real influencer for the decision maker. So how do you identify the buyer? Here are a few questions to ask yourself in your pursuit of the buyer:

  1. Do they have the authority to sign the agreement? Most likely, if they do, it means that their position is strong and that their superiors, the decision makers, trust them to come up with the right recommendations.

  2. How big is this project for the decision maker compared to the buyer's? If this project represents just a small portion of the decision maker's overall responsibilities, it is very likely that the real buyer is the head of the department where for them this project is a game changer (or at least large enough to make an impact)

  3. Whose goals is this offering going to impact the most? The decision maker’s goal in this case could very well be to meet the budget while the goals for the new procurement manager are to make sure this product/service is scalable, the ROI is there, the IT department who is going to implement it is happy and so on.

  4. Who is more proactively interested? During the call, Janet, the CFO seemed to be more interested in something else. She did not ask too many questions and moreover, it was clear she trusted the procurement guy. Not only that, the procurement guy was taking notes, was actively listening and challenging the sellers.

“And sometimes” I kept elaborating, “you really just need to pay attention and realize who is buying and who is deciding”. “How do you mean Alon?” My client kept pushing. “Sometimes, it is not the person who asks the question who is the buyer but rather the person of which this offering, means more to.” “Do you have an example?” “Here is a good one” I replied.

“I went with my daughter to a modeling agency in mid-town Atlanta. While she was getting her hair done preparing for another set of pictures, I went to look for a place to sit and do some work on my computer. Found this cool place that serves coffee, snacks, pastries and such. Ordered myself an ice-coffee and a biscuit. Went around to the counter to pick up my order and noticed a box of snacks. As I looked a bit more carefully, I realized that those biscuits in that little basket were not for me. The sign next to them said:" Carrot & Oat Dog Biscuits". I smiled and asked the nice guy at the window about it. He said that many clients come over with their dogs so we thought "hey, maybe we can offer them biscuits too?". Just as he finished the sentence, a woman and her labradoodle approached the counter to pick up her tall, triple shot cappuccino. She spotted the dog biscuits, picked one up in her hand and turned to her dog in a squeaky high pitch voice: “You want one? I know you want one? I know you love these.” The dog was excited. She paid for it, unwrapped it, made the dog sit and gave her (yes, I asked) the treat.

The guy at the counter looked at me with a look of – you see.....? And we both smiled at each other.” “You see my dear client. The dog owner is clearly the decision maker. The labradoodle’s goal (eating the biscuits in this case), was going to be impacted more. And even though the dog could not say a word, it was obvious that she was the buyer.”

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Another solid post, @Alon Zaibert -- as the traditionally described roles (gatekeeper, buyer, decision maker, coach, influencer, advocate, etc) evolve with the modern buying cycle, relationship mapping, even when not in the context of Emotional Relevance (as you wisely coach!) -- well, it's table stakes. In these times, it's not ok not to know, and it's wacky to not seek to understand along the way!

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Neil Wood
Neil Wood
Aug 22, 2023

@Alon Zaibert - terrific blog and as always, very insightful. Your years of experiences and success always help your clients learn more quickly than they would on their own. Well done my friend!!

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