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Understanding your customers
Understanding your customers

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3.4 Business decision makers

You will now identify the different decision makers that business-to-business marketers need to be aware of followed by an interactive exercise matching definitions to decision making roles

Consumers are often free to make autonomous decisions, though some purchases will involve partners and family or other household members. In B2B purchasing, however, other people are always involved in buying decisions. Their opinions or interests will all need to be taken into account by the person who is responsible for placing the order. This means that business buying behaviour is typically more complicated and multi-layered than consumer behaviour. Timescales and volumes are different between B2B and consumer purchasing. A major challenge for marketers targeting organisations is determining who, exactly, they should be talking to, especially as many organisations are very good at protecting the time of their employees from unsolicited sales approaches.

The concept of the decision-making unit (DMU) underlines that, at least in business purchasing, there is always more than one person involved in a decision. B2B marketers need to consider the needs and wants of all of the members of a DMU, not just the person placing the order (important as that decision is).

Webster and Wind (1972) pioneered the classification of buying roles within a typical B2B DMU. Their terminology is still in use today. Webster and Wind identified five main roles: user, influencer, buyer, decider and gatekeeper. Depending on the situation, more than one role may be exercised by the same individual. Also, for some B2B purchases, not all roles may come into play.

Activity 11 Identifying business decision makers

Timing: Allow 5 minutes for this activity

The name of each role gives a clue to how it contributes to a buying process. Match the role to the description by dragging and dropping the relevant term to the correct position in the table below.

Using the following two lists, match each numbered item with the correct letter.

  1. Influencer

  2. Buyer

  3. Gatekeeper

  4. Decider

  5. User

  • a.Tends to start the process of a purchase by demonstrating or articulating a need.

  • b.Is a purchaser by profession. Usually negotiates with a number of suppliers to get the best deal for their organisation.

  • c.Someone who can say yes or no to a purchase. As a budget holder, they need to be confident in the decisions of their staff.

  • d.Acts as a reference point for others – will have specialist technical knowledge which makes them a trusted source of advice and information.

  • e.Someone such as a personal assistant and secretary who can make or break a supplier’s marketing activities by allowing or denying access to key decision makers in an organisation.

The correct answers are:
  • 1 = d
  • 2 = b
  • 3 = e
  • 4 = c
  • 5 = a


Matching the roles to the description may have started you thinking about the different ways in which each member of the DMU experiences the purchasing process. It could be, for example, that the decider has just received instructions from senior management that the organisation needs to make savings in the light of lower sales than predicted in the current year. This might mean plans made by the buyer have to be put on hold, resulting in user frustration. Cutting back on expenditure part way through a financial year might also affect discounts negotiated with suppliers, which depend on the buyer reaching a certain volume in the period.

Further away from the actual buying, an influencer might typically work in the research and development department of an organisation. Influencers spend a lot of time keeping up to date with industry trends and scientific developments. As a result, an influencer might have a more sophisticated idea of what is available than the buyer can obtain in the current marketplace – another source of potential tension within the DMU. Finally, the gatekeeper may have no interest whatsoever in what is being purchased, just a determination to keep the boss free from interruptions.