Ray Collis

Buying Is Now A Team Sport

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The modern buyer is a team, not an individual. Indeed, as the example shown earlier suggests, the roll call of all those involved in the buying decision is a veritable ‘who’s who’ of the organization.

The excerpt below highlights the number of levels involved in the buying decision, the seniority of the decision makers as well as the importance of functional buying teams.

The Buying Team

As we can see in the example, although the purchase involved IT, the technical buyer is only one of many voices at the buying table. Indeed, if the purchase is big enough, it will go to the board for approval.

Modern buying requires more committees and consensus. Indeed, those buyers and sellers we talked to suggest that the numbers involved in major buying decisions has doubled in a decade. Multifunctional buying teams are the order of the day, together with a high level of consultation and involvement for all stakeholders.

Of course more people involved in the process means more politics and requires reconciling a greater diversity of personalities and viewpoints. This is something that elongates buying cycles and from the seller’s point of view increases the degree of uncertainty involved.

The End of The Solo Run In Buying

So, the buying decision is not a solo run, it is a team effort. The only problem is that the seller is rarely a part of the buyer’s team. Indeed, they may have little or no contact with the majority of those making or shaping the decision. In this context, selling, just like buying, is no longer a one-man job. It requires a pairing of executives from both buyer and seller in an effective team-based approach to selling.

The Fortune 1000 buying process shown above is a clear example of buying taking place higher and wider across a Fortune 1000 organization. This buying process involves anywhere up to 50 people in various groups and committees depending on the value of the purchase and there are often as many as five parties to the buying decision:

1. A working group driving the purchase decision and responsible for completing the various steps (e.g. the business plan, the requirements document and outlining the business case), backed up by a more heavy-weight steering group whose purpose is to oversee the process and keep it on track. These teams are cross-functional in make up.

2. Those involved in reviewing the project at key stages — in this example there are commercial, technical and operations groups — whose role is to ensure congruence with existing plans, strategies and objectives in each of the areas in question.

3. A range of stakeholders consulted during the process across all departments, from users to end-customers. This process of consultation is essential in ensuring organization-wide buy-in and support. Examples include consultation in terms of the development of the use case, customer case and business case (Step 1) and with channel partners as well as sales and marketing (Step 3).

4. The ultimate power brokers, often at director and board level, who act as the final arbitrators of the business case. They are responsible for the final sign-off or official sanction of the purchase.

5. The stewards of the buying process are to be found in the purchasing department. Their new role is to develop professional purchasing processes and skills throughout the organization to support business buyers, protecting them from wayward sellers.

The involvement of the different parties varies according to the stage of the buying process as shown in the diagram below.

The Buying Team

Regarding who is involved and when, there are some interesting points to note:

  • The project working group, backed up by the project steering group, is at the center of the process through all the steps.
  • Most levels are involved in at least an oversight role throughout the process (denoted by the outline circle).
  • The most extensive involvement across all parties is at the Business Case and High-level Design (stage 3) phase as well as during Launch and Review (stage 6).
  • The board is involved at the critical go-ahead junction at the end of phase 3 — that is the Business Case. It is also involved in reviewing conformance with the business case at the close of stage 6: Launch and Review.

So, what are the implications of decisions taking place at higher and wider levels in the organization? Well there are many, but let us examine some of the key ones now.

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