Understanding Buying Roles Is Key to the Selling Process

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Understanding buying roles, not job titles, is key to the selling process. Successful salespeople know making assumptions based on job titles is dangerous.

Early in my selling career, I assumed purchasing agents were critical to the decision-making process within a company. Losing out on several opportunities quickly taught me that purchasing agents didn’t actually purchase anything; they only handled the mechanics and acquisition details of the sales transaction.

If I wanted to sell within a particular company, I had to gain access to, and communicate with, those people who were directly affected by the pains and needs my particular product addressed. Further, I had to tailor my message to the specific role of the individual with whom I was communicating, which meant I had to understand roles and the functions they fulfilled within the buying process.

Buying Roles Should Drive the Seller’s Message

Tom Snyder of FunnelClarity.com identifies three specific, high-level buying roles that must be identified. These roles will be found in almost any major sales opportunity. Functionally, these roles cover the following perspectives:

  1. Final approval – This is the individual or committee that can say yes, authorize the purchase and funding to buy.
  2. Implementation – This person(s) is essential to the successful deployment of your solution. They will either put your product on a shelf in the closet, or they will drive the successful deployment of the solution within their enterprise.
  3. Details – This person(s) will walk your deal through the gates and obstacles within the buying company to ensure that the logistics, contractual issues and assorted esoteric needs and requirements are met.

The timing and content of any sales communication to these roles should reflect the function the role fulfills within the buying process.

More specific roles require more specific messaging and attention by the selling rep.

Individuals fulfilling more specific roles will all have some influence on the actual product selection decision. They are all decision-influencers. They may not necessarily have final authority to buy, but they all will have the power to disrupt or even block your selection.

Obviously, sellers need to understand roles in more detail and with greater granularity than these three high-level group descriptions provide. Decision-makers and decision-influencers are driven by specific agendas and different levels of criticality with regard to the solution selected.

Know the Decision-Making Roles, Issues, Pain Points, and Solutions

Decision-making roles are defined by the following associations with the issues addressed and product/solution selected to mitigate those issues:


These individuals directly feel the negative effects of the existing issue or problem. They may be clerks, supervisors or C-level executives. However, their interests are driven by how well a solution will mitigate and fix the issues causing their discomfort.

Communication with these individuals should focus on how a product can relieve their pain points.


Stakeholders are those who have some expectation of being affected by the solution selection decision. They may have nothing to do with the pain or the issue addressed; they simply want to be sure that there is no negative effect touching them as a result of the selection decision that is made.

For example, finance people may care about the acquisition in terms of its treatment on the books as a capital expense or operational expense. This may affect the sale in terms of being a purchase, rental or lease transaction. The loading-dock supervisor may care about the product in terms of how much it weighs and how it can be moved to its installation site. Will they need a forklift or can the item be moved to the installation site by a single individual?

Sales needs to be in listening mode when they communicate with stakeholders. The message communicated must be focused and directly address the specifics of the concerns raised.


End-users are the people who will be actively touching and using the product selected. Their concerns are likely to be concentrated on issues like ease of use, efficacy and effectiveness. End-users care about the mitigation of pain, but if the pain does not directly affect them, their concerns will be more focused on how the product affects their job performance.


For our purposes, the buyer is the person in control of the purse. Like the purchasing agent, their concerns will be centered on the mechanics of the transaction. Does the transaction conform to the policies and procedures controlling the purchase of products by the enterprise? The “purchasing agent” can influence the speed and even the success of the transaction if their issues are not addressed. Buyers may or may not actually have the title of purchasing agent, but their responsibilities are the same with regard to buying on behalf of the enterprise.


Decision-makers may be individuals, teams or committees. These are the people who actually decide which solution or product will be purchased. They will communicate the selection criteria, the assorted product requirements and expectations related to the solution selected.

Sales Messages Should be Focused on Individual Roles

In summary, Sales should know who they are talking to at any given time within the selling process. The specific message they impart must be focused and aligned with the individual role they are addressing. Care must be taken to avoid mixing messages between roles.

Consider the Role of Technology During the Buying Process

Technology can help. CRM systems maintain detailed contact files for individual customer companies. In addition to contact title, roles must be fully described.

As Sales initiates contact with and develops a relationship with the buying company, internal sources can help facilitate the identification of “who’s who” within the organization for any given transaction. CPQ systems can work with CRM and marketing automation tools to assure that product and solution information are matched to the prospects stated interests, pain points or issues.

Identifying buying roles should be part of initial discussions during the qualification phase of the sales process.


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