Let’s discuss the roles involved in a complex buying process. When it takes multiple people to get involved, a deal becomes complex. It’s very important that we seek to understand who these people are and what the roles and responsibilities are of everyone who will be involved in our customer’s buying process. I use some terms that I think represent these roles well:

  • Recommender(s): Individual or a small group of individuals who are given the task to evaluate various suppliers, vendors or providers and make a recommendation to someone for which one they think is best. This may involve a pretty drawn out process which might include requests for information, asking to have you come assess their needs, filling out requests for quotations, providing references, etc. There is a lot to the process that this group of people might be demanding before even getting to a place where they make a recommendation.
  • Project Owner: This is the person to whom the Recommenders will make their recommendation. This person oversees the project at hand, and probably several other projects, too. This individual is obviously going to decide which direction they want to move in and if they want to take action on the recommendation that they receive. Even if they do decide that yes, this is a good recommendation, and that they would like to move forward, the project owner is probably not the person who is the final decision maker; they are just one decision maker in the process before they pass it along to the person who is the next approver in the buying process.
  • Investment Owner: This is someone who is managing a Profit and Loss and is responsible not only for making investments, but also has a responsibility to return some profitability on those investments.
  • Financial Approver: If the Investment Owner approves the project, it is likely to then go on to this person, someone in the finance department – a Controller, a CFO, etc. – somebody who gives approval to move forward with funding and says, “Yes, we can write a check for that”.
  • Technical Approver: Someone with specific technical expertise who might be involved in the process after the Recommender, but before final financial approval who can say whether the solution meets all of the technical requirements; sometimes they might even hire an outside consultant to help them make a decision as well.
  • Legal Approver(s): Once everything has made its way through and has the approval of the stakeholders and other various constituencies, the project may then need to go to the legal team to be sure that their requirements for Terms and Conditions have been met.
  • Final Approver(s): An individual or maybe even a committee who determines that a project can move forward.
  • Buyer or Contract Signer: After final approval, the project would then go on to this person who actually issues a Purchase Order Agreement or physically signs the contract.

I spent much of my sales career oversimplifying my customer’s buying process, hoping that the person that I know will get the deal done for me. I’ve found, as I’m sure you have too, that there is some risk in that. I can look back on almost every single deal that I’ve ever lost and think to myself: “I just didn’t know enough people.” If I had just known that that controller had as much sway as he did, or if I had only known that the legal approver was going to get the deal hung up in the legal department for weeks causing me to miss my quota for the month, or if I had just known that the Final Approver didn’t know my company or had never heard of us. If I had just known the importance of the roles played by these groups or individuals, I would have won the deal in most cases.

Never oversimplify a deal and don’t take any one person’s word for it. Ask a lot of questions, seek to meet more people and when you meet those additional contacts, ask them who else is involved in the process. Try to find out, if you can, every single person that plays a role.

I recognize that, in some cases, it boils down to an issue of time management; there’s not always enough time to meet them all. Here is the question I have for you: Which one of these should we ignore? The consultant who they have hired specifically to give them advice on which direction to move forward and who to buy from? Should we ignore the financial approver, for example, and not have any influence over whether they say that our project is a good investment versus using the money for a different project? Or perhaps we can ignore that buyer or contract signer in the procurement department? I think you recognize that we can’t afford to ignore any of these.

You can use your own terms and label the different roles in the buying process however you’d like, but it’s a matter of putting forth the effort required to determine who plays these key roles in your client’s organization and buying process so that we can meet as many of them as we can.