The key to growth: Unlocking your buying centre


It’s commonly quoted that B2B buyers have access to unlimited information at their digital fingertips so they aren't contacting vendors until they are 70% of the way along the purchase process. Are they really waltzing happily through their purchase process without the need for marketing information and sales calls?

Of course, it’s nonsense to suggest that the B2B purchasing exercise is smooth sailing. Far from it. They need help from great marketers and salespeople more than ever!

There are more people than ever involved in B2B solutions' purchases, up from 5.4 to 6.8 people according to CEB. They are from a dizzying array of functions, roles and geographies each with their own priorities. It’s hard for these groups to make crisp clear decisions and move decisively.

The ever-expanding range of options that B2B buyers face also requires additional time for evaluation as different buyers in the organisation deliberate over the trade-offs. There is rarely a single “right” answer.

The more people involved and more data available creates a huge amount of purchasing friction inside an organisation making B2B solutions' purchasing worse than ever. The CEB's research suggests it's taking almost twice as long as firms were expecting to make a purchase decision.

So it’s less that they don’t want to speak to sales reps it's simply they are taking so much time to get ready to speak to suppliers. Much of what makes the process so hard has little to do with suppliers and everything to do with customers themselves.

Who is in the buying centre?

The concept of the buying centre was first conceived by Webster and Wind in 1972 but still holds true today. It’s a very useful model for describing both the formal and informal roles different people play in B2B purchasing and how we as vendors must analyse and understand them if we wish to market and sell to them.

Whilst every industry has its differences in terms of precise descriptions and job titles, these key roles exist in most firms. Kotler (2009) describes these 6 main roles in the buying centre:

  • The decision maker – Is the one with ultimate authority to decide.
  • The initiator – Is the one who gets the ball rolling, often the one with the initial problem and need. They can become a useful sponsor or coach for you as they need a solution.
  • The influencer – People who have an important say and must be consulted. Often evaluates and recommends if the solution meets the organisation’s specific needs or is compliant.
  • The buyer – Usually specialist procurement
  • The user – The people who will get to use your solution each and every day. Users are not always involved in the initial buying process but provide critical feedback on the value of your solution. A key role to influence if you wish to extend customer lifetime value.
  • The gatekeeper – Controls access and flow of information to the other members of the buying centre.

The buying centre can range from an informal ad hoc group to a formally sanctioned team with specific mandates, criteria, and procedures.

How do B2B growth marketers and sales teams respond?

Suppliers must do their best to help the purchaser buy better. To reduce their purchasing friction. Suppliers MUST learn about and align their growth teams to the customer’s full purchase process and all the stakeholders involved.

Information challenges:

Early in the purchase process, the effort from growth marketers and sales teams should be targeted at providing the right information for the right person so that it's meaningful and helps them move through these initial stages of the purchase process. To do this, B2B marketers must use real customer insight, either from original research or at the very least from the customer-facing team members, to understand the key challenges their target buyers are facing. Helping buyers genuinely understand the challenges they are facing and helping them understand the different options they have, helps them articulate their needs.

People Problems:

Once interest has been firmly established, the challenge becomes to reconcile different viewpoints and priorities and ensure that all the stakeholder's needs are uncovered. Sellers often see a clash between a line of business or functional manager, say head of sales or HR and a subject matter expert such as the head of IT. So many opportunities are derailed at this stage. The task for the vendor (usually the sales team) is to clearly identify the names in the buying centre, understand the different pain points they are experiencing and clearly map each pain point to their need… and then each need to your solution. A solution must be found for every need for each member of the buying centre. This detailed and often time-consuming mapping exercise lies at the heart of resolving apparent conflicting priorities and building demand for your solution in the buying centre.

Options issues:

Finally, the purchaser now has to decide which vendor’s offer they prefer and make a decision. This is where the rubber hits the road and so the buyer's sense of risk is at its highest. Uncertainty about the return on investment raises its head and the vendor's capabilities are questioned; "Do they really understand our business, how do I know their solution is really going to work?" Here the vendor must provide information, usually 3rd party and validated information, to allay their concerns and prove the business case.

The Harvard Business Review produced this helpful graphic in 2017 to illustrate the CEB’s view of this phenomenon.


Without a clear understanding of who is in your buying centre and each member's pain and gain chain, B2B firms will struggle with achingly slow purchasing cycles and lower and lower conversion rates.

Start right, by carefully researching and analysing who is in your buying centre. Sales and marketing must align to tackle this challenge together. Core content pieces and the content calendar should be designed and used by both marketing and sales to help reduce the purchasing friction your buyers are experiencing. Develop a sales analysis tools to document who is in the buying centre and each member's specific pain points and what they stand to gain. 

If you want to start right, watch this short video      


Topics: business growth growth marketing