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The 5 Types of Key Decision Makers (and How to Reach Them)


When you’re in sales, you’re more than familiar with the concept of key decision makers. These are the folks who are either going to say “yes” to your sale or not, as well as the people who will influence that yes or no decision even if they themselves aren’t making it.

Knowing you must reach these key decision makers to succeed is not enough, however, because it’s a little more complicated than simply targeting one person you know to be the person. In reality, organizations will have a variety of types of decision makers involved. Knowing that, how to identify them, and how to sell to them is all critical knowledge for you as the sales rep.

So let’s take a look at whom you’re likely to meet along the sales decision making process, and what you need to know about each type.

Identifying the 5 types of key decision makers

As much as we’d like to tell you there is only one kind of buyer you’ll need to identify and target, we can’t. We can at least tell you there are only really five types.  They could be the same people but you should know how to proceed with any and all of them.

  1. The first is the Initiator. This is the person who decides to start the buying process. He or she could potentially be at the director or senior VP level. They’ve likely been put in charge of solving a business challenge, with the assignment coming from someone higher up in management. To start, the Initiator compiles a list of requirements and begins the search.
  2. The second type of decision maker is the Sales Influencer, a.k.a. the person who tries to convince others they need the product. The Sales Influencer is usually an end user and so has a vested interest in getting the “right” product in place. They have been up close and personal with the inefficiencies in the business, likely on a regular basis.
  3. The Decider is the third type of decision maker. This is the person who makes the final decision to purchase—or not. The Decider is obviously the most important person in the sales decision making process. They might be the director of a department and their team will be the one to use your product, should you make the sale. The Decider might wear two hats. They can also be Initiator, setting up the whole process to find and decide upon a solution.
  4. The Buyer, the person who is going to write you the check. These are typically C-level people. They aren’t usually involved in the nitty gritty of the sales decision making process. Once the decision has been made, they’ll sign off on it but other than that, they put all of their trust into the Decider to make the best decision.
  5. And finally, you have the User: the person who will be using your product whether they had a say in the buying process or not. This person might be the Initiator—or not. They could be the Sales Influencer—or not. Regardless of how many roles they played in the process, they will be using your product, and you must ensure user adaption at this early stage just after the sale. Their opinion will matter a great deal. They can tell friends in other companies about your product and create good reviews and buzz, or they can hate it if not properly trained how to use it and spread bad reviews around the industry.

To clarify, we’re calling all five of these types key decision makers, but in reality it’s typically not one of these who makes a buying decision alone. Instead, all five types will likely have some kind of influence of the final decision. And for that reason, all five types must be taken into account while selling. 

How to incorporate all 5 key decision maker types into the selling process

Mapping out their expected experience, plan out the decision making process each type will go through and create a strategy and content for targeting each. Then make sure your content gets to the right people involved in the sales process who can see the improvements that your product will make for them—in a way relevant to them. For example, the improvements noted by an end user (easier task completion, maybe) will vary greatly from what’s important to the Buyer (cost savings, perhaps). You don’t want to waste anyone’s time going into detail about the daily use of the product to a buyer who’s simply there to sign the check.

Each type of key decision maker will need to know how your product satisfies their specific needs. It’s usually easier to communicate this information to the end user than the buyer, because one will have much more obvious and tangible results. But this is why it’s so important to take the other kinds of decision makers into account and “sell” to them too with relevant messaging.

In addition, incorporate this information into your lead qualifying process, so you know the importance of the lead you’re talking to within the decision process—and how to talk to them.

Why starting at the top doesn’t work

The sales decision making process doesn’t always start at the top. Don’t try going to them and then relying on them to tell the actually decision maker about your process, or you’ll risk losing much in the translation. You’ll have no guarantee they’ll remember to pass along all o the key points. Instead, try to get the right decision maker the first time so this doesn’t happen.

Your end goal is to find the Decider. They are the most important person in this process but often other people are a large part of their decision and will influence that decision. You need to be prepared to work with them as well. Taking the different types of decision makers into account, invite them into the conversation early to ensure everyone gets a sales message relevant to their role in the decision process—and the long-term use of your product.

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