Who Really Makes The Buying Decision?

July 21, 2010

Between now and 2052, $15 trillion of the world’s wealth will be passed to folk like Paris Hilton. Unless you’re a Los Angeles drug dealer, you may find that prospect worrying. And you’re not the only one.

Savvy businesses are well aware of the need to teach these rich young people to manage their wealth responsibly. But most of them know that it’s a waste of time to approach these jetsetters directly. And that’s because they’re not the ones making the buying decision.

To market a product or service effectively, you need to reach the person who will make the decision to buy. And it isn’t always the potential product user. So it’s important to do your research before you blow your marketing budget.

In the case of the young and rich, the parents and grandparents are usually the decision makers when it comes to wealth management products. They’ve worked hard to grow huge amounts of money, so they want to ensure that future generations don’t blow it all on drugs, partying and private jets.

Discovering who the decision maker may be for your own product or service can involve a lot of digging and you need to put yourself in the customer’s position.

What would make them want to buy your product and why? What benefits would they hope to get from it and how? If you’re dealing with consumers, these questions should eventually lead you to the real decision maker.

If you’re selling to other businesses, it can be tough to find out who the decision maker is. Asking the receptionist might not always produce a result. She may not even know who is in charge of making the buying decision for your type of product. Or she might be a mean bitch and throw your details in the trash, instead of passing them on.

One trick helped me get past a mean receptionist. I can’t guarantee that it will work for you but the odds are in your favour.

A few years ago, I popped into the reception of a local firm, to get the name of the decision maker for the service I offered. I was friendly and polite and I made it clear that I just wanted the name, so I could write to her and introduce myself. But I got a power hungry witch of a receptionist who told me I could write to the decision maker but she opened all the mail herself and she might not pass it on to her.

I felt like saying f..k you but instead I said thank you. Then I went back to my office and wrote my letter to the woman who made the decisions. I introduced myself and told her how wonderful and helpful old sour face had been. She was a real credit to the company – the most efficient receptionist I’d ever met.

Now, I know this might seem sneaky but when you come up against dragons, you’ve got to play them at their own game.

I knew for a fact nobody else would be singing the woman’s praises, so she wouldn’t be able to resist passing the complimentary letter on to her boss. And it worked, I got my foot in the door and eventually, the dragon’s boss became a customer.

If you’re still struggling to get anywhere, it can be worth working from the top down. If you send your details to someone higher up in the company, they might pass them on for you. And the decision maker is more likely to take notice of something passed down from their boss.

Introducing an employee of the potential customer to your product can also work – especially if they are able to influence the decision maker. Young entrepreneur, Kirsty Henshaw managed to get her frozen desserts in front of the decision maker at Tesco, through a member of staff who was a fan of her product.

If you’re dealing with a very small business, it’s often the owner who makes the decisions. And if you’re struggling to reach them, try calling after 5pm when all the office staff have gone home.

Sometimes you have to persevere, to get what you want. But in some ways it’s better, because your competitors may not be so persistent. Just remember that no matter what you’re selling, it’s vital to discover who is in charge of making the buying decision and find a way to reach them.

Image Credit: Buying A Ring – by Jennifer Dickert

Related Reading

Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing
Sleazy Sales & Why Your Neighbours Make You Poor
What To Do When You Can’t Find Customers
The Steps To A Buying Decision: Remembering The Human Element

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17 Responses to “Who Really Makes The Buying Decision?”

  1. Brad Shorr on July 21st, 2010 7:18 pm

    Cath, Way to go, slaying that dragon. It’s a great example of not letting your emotions get in the way of your sales focus.
    Brad Shorr\’s latest awesome post..Foursquare Offers Free Advertising Potential for Restaurants and RetailMy ComLuv Profile

  2. vered | blogger for hire on July 21st, 2010 8:42 pm

    You handled it beautifully! Persistence – and patience – do pay off.
    vered | blogger for hire\’s latest awesome post..Why Do You Like MeMy ComLuv Profile

  3. Kelvin Kao on July 21st, 2010 11:40 pm

    This reminded me of the cases in which the product is for children. Sometimes it’s marketed to the parents and sometimes the kids. Either party seems to be considered the decision-maker in different situations.

    Your approach was an interesting one, but it does make a lot of sense.
    Kelvin Kao\’s latest awesome post..Russian Spy Ring Case Likely a Movie Promotion StuntMy ComLuv Profile

  4. cathlawson on July 22nd, 2010 12:12 am

    Thanks Brad – Not letting your emotions get in the way is important. It helps you to stay focused on a solution to the problem.

  5. Patricia on July 22nd, 2010 12:12 am

    This was very informative Cath and I was overwhelmed that trillions of dollars will go to the Paris Hilton’s of the world….we will all be bought and sold over partying sex and drugs…

    Ellen, of TV fame, seems to be aware of this trend and has Paris on teasing that she is her BFF all the time….

    How can we get these rich youth to work on developing meaning and caring for the earth? There are a few good souls I know among them…..???
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  6. cathlawson on July 22nd, 2010 12:14 am

    Thanks Vered – At the time, a couple of people said they didn’t think it was a genuine thing to do. But I like to thing that the experience might have helped the dragon feel better about herself and that it would encourage her to treat customers like human beings in the future.

  7. cathlawson on July 22nd, 2010 12:16 am

    Hi Kelvin – Good point. I hate those companies who target ads at small kids in the commercial breaks. If they had something of real value to offer kids, they would have no problem marketing to the parents.

  8. cathlawson on July 22nd, 2010 1:02 am

    Hi Patricia – I love Ellen DeGeneres – she is so funny. And I agree – these rich kids need to do something more meaningful than what they do now. Many of them are in positions to influence the children of tomorrow – I just hope it will be a good influence.

  9. Walter on July 22nd, 2010 7:03 am

    I know that in the near future I will have my own business and I need to learn ways in which I can reach those decision makers over which I want to offer my products or services. I’ve got little patience with those dragons you’ve mentioned here but I will try to learn the proper approach.

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom here. :-)

  10. cathlawson on July 22nd, 2010 7:15 am

    Hi Walter – You’re welcome. The most important thing to remember is to be persistent and patient.

  11. Nicole on July 22nd, 2010 2:10 pm

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  12. Kathy | Virtual Impax on July 22nd, 2010 7:45 pm

    Your dragon story clearly illustrates the the person’s title isn’t always the real way to find out who REALLY has the power in the organization. Fortunately for you – your “dragon” let you see her true colors at your first meeting. I once was working with an organization where the receptionist held literally ALL the power. She was truly the “gatekeeper” and one day I watched with horror as a hopeful vendor treated her like she was dirt. He left – she winked at me and tossed his information in the trash. It didn’t matter if they had the lowest price or the best service – their message was dead in the hands of this all powerful receptionist.
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  13. cathlawson on July 22nd, 2010 9:48 pm

    Thanks – Nicole.

    Hi Kathy – LOL – He wasn’t so smart. Did he really think she’d feel obliged to pass on his info? Receptionists can be so tough to get by. I find it hardest when it’s a big organisation and you’re explaining what you do and they genuinely don’t know who you need to speak to.

  14. Alien Ghost on July 22nd, 2010 10:22 pm

    Hi Cath,

    It was really funny the story of the receptionist, but also great advice in not loosing control and, by the opposite, using the elements at hand to get what we want.

    Before reading this post, in that situation, I would be a very angry person…now I know better, thank you! :)

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  15. Hilary on July 23rd, 2010 6:20 am

    Hi Cath .. I like the approach – we just have to be so careful when we present ourselves, we never who we are talking to. Also .. who is the buyer .. sometimes we don’t know – because suddenly our product our service appeals hugely to a somewhat different market .. perhaps something for the elderly, actually is good for the young.

    Thanks great thoughts and you’ve given me an idea .. ?! Have a good weekend .. not too wet I hope – Hilary
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  16. cathlawson on July 23rd, 2010 7:37 am

    Hi Raul – Glad you liked it. It’s easier not to get angry, if you focus on the reason you’re there to begin with.

  17. cathlawson on July 23rd, 2010 7:40 am

    Hi Hilary – That is a good point. Sometimes if you package a product in a different way, it can be hugely appealing to a different market. Coke is a good example. Originally it was sold as some sort of health tonic but once it was repackaged, it appealed to a much larger customer base.

    I’m glad it’s got you thinking. Hope you have a good weekend too. The sky is actually blue today so we may get some sunshine.

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