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Buying Process Management


Disciplines > Sales > Sales articles > Buying Process Management

Multiple stakeholders | Usage assessment | Financial assessment | Buyer as ally | Aligning organizations | See also


Your customer will always have a buying process, whether they are individual consumers or multinational companies. When selling, it can be very helpful to understand and align with this.

Multiple stakeholders

An important factor about purchasing in organizations is that there can be many people with not just an interest but also a say in the buying process. These people should be identified and addressing their needs included in the selling process.

Retail consumers may have a partner or children whose opinions are to be considered. If they are buying a present, then they will be thinking about the person and whether they will appreciate the gift. Even the opinions of casual acquaintances may be considered, for example when buying a fashion item.

Business buyers tend to be somewhat more complex and may have defined processes that must be followed, typically with a series of justifications, discussions and approvals. People within the business who must be consulted may include:

  • The end user, as to whether they like the product, find it usable and that it meets their purpose.
  • End user representatives, such as trade unions, managers, etc.
  • Technical experts: who advise on the details of science and technology involved.
  • Product experts who assess product detail for functionality, integration, performance and other factors.
  • Budget-holders who will sign off the money for any purchases. The larger the amount, the higher up the organization the final signoff is likely to be (and intermediate levels may also be able to veto the purchase).
  • Process owners who are in charge of how things get done, including how things get purchased.
  • Gatekeepers who control access to people and information.
  • Managers who manage any of the above people, who want to know what is going on and approve or dismiss things as appropriate.
  • Others who would interact with the product being sold and who may be impacted by its use.

Within all this, office politics can easily creep in, whereby individuals get involved or make decisions simply in order to exercise or gain power. And within these groupings, there may be both supporters of your product and those who oppose it, for whatever reason.

It is hence important for the sales person to identify all the people involved, their part in the sale and, if possible, their attitudes towards it. With multiple stakeholders, the sale may need to be made many times to many people before the order is finally placed.

Usage assessment

The customer will likely want the product demonstrated and may have a number of tests they want to carry out, such as technical assessment or user trials. This of course will need to be organized.

Consumers may be happy with an in-store demonstration but may also want to try it out at home with the potential of returning the product if it is not satisfactory. This highlights a critical issues with both consumers and commercial customers: the final decision may not be made whilst the salesperson is there to handle objections or otherwise answer questions.

Commercial customers may well need significantly greater trial which may take place over time and with the involvement of a number of other stakeholders. Again, by understanding this and how it happens, the sale may be eased forward.

Financial assessment

Another important step in the buying process is the decision as to whether the product can be afforded and what budgets will be used to purchase it.

The financial buying process is typically a series of approvals which may need written justification, for example in a 'business case' document. These approvals may be done in meetings or by individuals.

Whilst the consumer decision process may be autonomous, there is often an internal process of justification that the sales person can help along. Advertising helps this with nudges such as 'because you're worth it' and 'only the best will do'.

A classic sales approach to questions of high price is to sell on 'lifetime cost', bringing in the maintenance costs and the usable life of the product. Another approach is payment terms, which may allow the buyer to spread out the cost over time.

Buyer as ally

In the above, the salesperson may be interfacing with a single individual who acts as the 'front person' for the buying organization, but will still need to consult others before the final decision is made.

This person can be very helpful in selling internally and will usually appreciate all the help you can give them, from coming in to do presentations to giving them presentation material and coaching them in its use.

Aligning organisations

A further step that can be made is to align your whole organization with that of the buyer. For example, you may have:

  • Your technical people connected with their technical people.
  • Your procurement people talking to their buyers.
  • Your financial payment people talking to their credit control.
  • Your CEO talking to their CEO (often useful for unblocking issues).

Doing all this is no small feat as you will need to manage your people as a team, so they all know what to do and what each other is doing (otherwise it can look like the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing).

You may also need to redesign many of your processes to align with common customer processes for example so you can give them invoices that are optimally easy to process and at the time of the month when they are making payments.

This may be implemented as a process redesign project and can very helpfully be shown with the customer purchase flows running parallel with your selling process that links seamlessly into key buyer activities.

See also

Stakeholders in Change

Sales Books

Sharon Drew Morgen's articles

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