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In B2B sales, there is rarely just one person – or persona – involved in the buying process. The buying center is a formalization of that concept. Many people with different roles and priorities participate in purchasing decisions. Unlike consumer buying, where the consumer, either alone or with assistance or influence from acknowledged opinion leaders, makes his or her own purchase decisions, in business buying a group often determines which products or services the business purchases.
A typical business buying center includes a variety of participants:
- Initiators – people who begin the purchase process by defining a need. These individuals are sometimes called the “champions,” and they serve as coaches to the sales team throughout the process
- Decision makers – people who make the final decisions
- Gatekeepers – people who control the flow of information and access to individuals in an organization
- Influencers – people who have input into the purchase decision
- Purchasing agent – the person who actually creates the purchase order
- Budget owner – the person whose budget is paying for the purchase; there can be multiple owners if several departments are funding the purchase
- Users – people who ultimately use the product or service
In many situations, people play more than one role in business purchasing decisions. Depending on an organization’s structure and the importance of the decision being made, a buying center can include few or many layers of management. Sometimes, buying centers are formal committees created to make a purchase decision. Some members of a buying center will participate throughout the decision-making process, whereas others will be involved only briefly. Technical staff may evaluate potential products for purchase and influence the decision, but then leave the actual purchase to the decision makers, budget owner and purchasing agent.
Every company has a different buying process and therefore a different buying center. But, eventually, a pattern will emerge. Ensuring that your marketing efforts take into account all of the players in the buying center is very important. For example, ads may need to reach not only users but also budget owners. As another example, your sales team may need to have different conversations with different members of the buying center. In general, the fewer the people in the buying center, the faster the sales cycle. Aligning your product so that the decision maker, budget owner, and user are the same can also be a very effective strategy. The CEO might be the initiator, decision maker, budget owner and user of a new private jet.