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Customer roles


Disciplines > Sales > Sales articles > Customer roles

Roles | Navigating the organization | See also


When you are selling there are many different roles that people in the customer organization may play on your road to getting the sale.


Here are some of the roles that people take in your route between entering the organization and making the sale.


Initiators are the people who point to you in the first place. They say 'Hey, you're looking for some new grommets -- I've heard of a company that sell all sorts of grommets'. They are often the people in the company who are asked about such things. 'Old George will know about grommets -- let's give him a call.'

These people may well not have a strong opinion of you, but they are critical to your success. They are often strong networkers or web surfers who just love to poke around and interest themselves in things. At exhibitions and conferences, they will ask you questions but not seem interested in buying (but still give them your card!).


The basic gatekeepers are the people who know nothing and care nothing about your product, but they do care about protecting others in the organization from unwanted attention, and will thus try to fend you off. These well-meaning folks include switchboard operators, secretaries, receptionists and others.

You can get often around these people by phoning a random number.  In some companies, whoever you get to will happily help. In others, you will meet with suspicion and caution wherever you go.


Champions are your fellow sales people within the company. They will praise you and your products and will help you get to the right people and even coach you on what to say.

Take great care of these friends. Find out what they want and give it to them (but beware of being unethical -- it can get them into trouble as well as you). A good thing to give them is training and presentation materials so they can be your skilful ambassadors.


The opposite of champions are detractors, who, for some reason, do not like you or your products. They will knock you at every turn and even provide tripwires to deliberately let you look bad.

If you can, find out what is bothering the detractors and address it. If they have had problems with your products, apologize and offer to sort out the problem. If they feel that you will harm them in some way (perhaps making them look bad), find ways of helping them.

If all else fails, find ways to isolate and contain them, putting them in a place where they can do no or only limited harm.


Some people are there to give opinion of you and/or your products. Their sole goal is to apply some form of expertize (often technical) to allow the decision-makers make a good decision.

Find out what criteria these folks are using and give them lots of detail to let them see what great products you have and how helpful you are.


Blockers are a bit like gatekeepers in that they have a solely negative function in shutting you out. They tend to have more power, however, in influencing the decision-maker. A financial director, for example, may put his or her foot down to say that your product is too expensive. A technical expert may say that you lack the latest gizmos.

You often cannot go around blockers, so find out their negative criteria they use to shut you out and find ways of getting through the gates of hell that they guard.


These are the real people you want to get to, though you may have to go through a lot of others. They are the people with the actual authority to decide to buy your products. They have the budget and the ability to spend it.

Whilst courting these folks is of course important, do remember that you have to keep the rest of the customer army happy as well. Any one of these can make or break your day.


Oh yes! Remember the people who are actually going to use your products! They may have one or more of the roles above. They may also have no say at all in the proceedings.

Remember that the benefits of the product that you are selling are mostly for these good people. Also remember that the blockers and so on themselves often do not understand the users very well. It can be a helpful act to bring these people into the equation. If you can get a naive user into a state of lust, they can become effective champions.

Navigating the organization

Selling requires that you navigate the organization of the above roles and often many other odd ones along the way. To do this, you need to learn about how the company is organized, who does what and where the real power lies.

Understand both the formal organization and also the informal one, where friendships can be as influential as formal relationships. You will often need to travel down connections between people and 'Who should I talk to?' is a wonderful question.

See also

Three Customer Types

Sales Books

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