A buying center is comprised of all those individuals and groups who participate in the buying decision-making process, who share some common goals and the risks arising from these decisions. Before identifying the individuals and groups involved in the buying decision process, a marketer must understand the roles of buying center members. Understanding the buying center roles helps industrial marketers to develop an effective promotion strategy.
Within any organization, the buying center will vary in the number and type of participants for different classes of products.
Usually the need for a product/item and in turn a supplier arises from the users. But there can be occasions when the top management, maintenance or the engineering department or any such recognize or feel the need. These people who “initiate” or start the buying process are called initiators.
Under this category come users of various products. If they are technically sound like the R&D, engineering who can also communicate well. They play a vital role in the buying process. They also act as initiators.
They are people who have formal authority to select the supplier and arrange the purchase terms. They play a very important role in selecting vendors and negotiating and sometimes help to shape the product specifications.
The major roles or responsibilities of buyers are obtaining proposals or quotes, evaluating them and selecting the supplier, negotiating the terms and conditions, issuing of purchase orders, follow up and keeping track of deliveries. Many of these processes are automated now with the use of computers to save time and money.
Technical personnel, experts and consultants and qualified engineers play the role of influencers by drawing specifications of products. They are, simply put, people in the organisation who influence the buying decision. It can also be the top management when the cost involved is high and benefits long term. Influencers provide information for strategically evaluating alternatives.
Among the members, the marketing person must be aware of the deciders in the organisation and try to reach them and maintain contacts with them. The organisational formal structure might be deceptive and the decision might not even be taken in the purchasing department.
Generally, for routine purchases, the purchase executive may be the decider. But for high value and technically complex products, senior executives are the deciders. People who decide on product requirements/specifications and the suppliers are deciders.
People who authorise the proposed actions of deciders or buyers are approvers. They could also be personnel from top management or finance department or the users.
A gatekeeper is like a filter of information. He is the one the marketer has to pass through before he reaches the decision makers.
Understanding the role of the gatekeeper is critical in the development of industrial marketing strategies and the salesperson’s approach. They allow only that information favourable to their opinion to flow to the decision makers.
By being closest to the action, purchasing managers or those persons involved in a buying centre may act as gatekeepers. They are the people whom our industrial marketer would first get in touch with. Hence, it so happens that information is usually routed through them.
They have the power to prevent the sellers or information from reaching members of the buying centre. They could be at any level and even be the receptionists and telephone operators.
When a buying centre includes many participants, the industrial/ business marketer will not have the time or resources to reach all of them. Small sellers could concentrate on reaching the key buying influences. Large sellers on the other hand go for multi-level in-depth selling to reach as many buying participants as possible.