Getting to Know the Buyers and their Organisation

Initial meetings between supplier firms and buying influences will often proceed just like any social interaction. However in these times of rapid data transfer and social media, a buyer's first point of contact with your firm may well be through the internet. This contact is known as a Moment of Truth and, like every interaction of this type, represents an opportunity to connect with your firm and build a stronger Client relationship. Managing Moments of Truth is discussed further in Chapter 5. In a business meeting context it is useful for the supplier to take notes, with the buyer's prior permission, so that these can be reviewed with other colleagues at a later internal meeting.

The initial contact between the firm and a prospective Client that may have arisen from an enquiry or referral often involves one person in each organisation. For example, in a publicly listed company, your firm's tax partner meets the finance director or your corporate lawyer meets their general counsel. As discussions progress over time, a mutual rapport develops. The partner has a clearer understanding of the structure of the organisation and some idea of who might influence procurement of the firm's services. Equally the prospect has some idea about the firm's capabilities and credentials. A number of tools are used by many professional services firms to better understand how prospects organise their purchasing; these include buyer profiling, decision-maker analysis and mapping, each of which is explained later in this chapter.

In a first meeting, both parties are trying to get to know and understand each other. If the Client's requirement is considerable in scope, the 'buyer' is probably meeting with many other suppliers. It is sometimes possible in the first meeting for the supplier to determine what drives the buyer's organisation, how they make their purchasing decisions and who is involved. With regard to the former, the procurement process may be highly structured, as in the public sector, while for the latter, there can often be several levels of influence that need pursuing.

By listening closely to what Clients say and asking the appropriate probing questions, the supplier may uncover issues faced by the buyer's organisation and what motivates the buyer. Following a few meetings with the buyer, it should be possible to uncover these motivational factors and in turn know how best to deal with them. It is also important to understand where the buyer sits in his/her organisation in terms of hierarchy, seniority and buying influence. For example, your contact may specify what is required of their suppliers, but may not be the final arbiter. The head of finance may be the budget holder and may also use the service. Your buying contact may know you from a previous assignment in another company and may have brought you in to continue the trusted relationship. Such contacts are very important to nurture, as such loyalty and trust are usually only developed through personal experience, work quality and time.

The aim for the supplier is to gain the trust of the buyer and be selected to take on an initial assignment. Given the right outcomes, the supplier aims to become one of preferred status. These situations can also lead to the establishment of structured agreements, which reduce the time taken to start new work. Such agreements are particularly appropriate to the public sector, but are also common in larger corporate entities.

When a firm is confronted with a buyer, it is dealing with many factors including:

• Budget holders.

• Cultural issues.

• Influencers.

• Jurisdictional issues.

• Motivations.

• Personal agendas.

• Power.

• Procurement process.

• Relationships.

• Service users.

• Technical aspects.

Understanding what motivates a buyer often takes a number of meetings before these become evident. It's important to be aware of the level of seniority and power held by the buyer in their organisation - how much influence do they have over the CEO? What is the strength of their internal relationships?

We can look at these factors in stages. Even with background information about the organisation, it is not always easy in the first meeting for you to determine the buying influences of your contact. If you know the person from a previous company, you may have a better idea of their seniority and influence over the buying decision, but you cannot assume that the buying processes will be the same as it was with the previous structure.

If you have had a few meetings with the prospective Client, you may have started to form a view on what motivates them. By asking the right incisive questions, you can learn about the various people in the company and you will discover more about the likely end users of your services, who holds the budget and so on. Some companies have a policy that screens out suppliers at an early stage if they fail to meet certain defined criteria.

When a purchase of advisory services is part of a complex project, like a merger or acquisition, many people will usually have sway over the final decision to select a supplier. As such, it pays to meet as many people at the appropriate levels in the organisation so that you can have a greater chance of success in being selected to meet their requirements.

It is useful if you can have several meetings with a prospective Client in order to understand and note their interests, concerns, achievements, affiliations, preferences and their level of purchasing influence. You can then draw a mental picture of their key motivators. Various profiling tools are available to help understand these buyer motivations. One of these tools considers four factors: achievement, influence, affiliation and security. The following section gives examples of these factors. These are often described as 'signposts' to the different types of buyer behaviour that might be encountered by anyone aiming to do business. It can be useful to profile buyers using a structured approach. Table 2.2 summarises the four buyer motivations.

Table 2.2 Buyer Motivations Summary





Likes challenges

Enjoys debates

Non-assertive, warm



Takes the lead

Avoids coldness

Likes to be seen as effective


High visibility


Concerned about change



Happiness of people

Sets easy targets

Takes risks


Seeks company of others

Supports others


Volunteers to lead

Avoids conflict

Presents to people on side

Performance reviews

Presents own ideas


Plays safe with decisions


Seeks recognition

Relationships important

Financial soundness

Works alone

Represents a group

Likes group working

Lacks self-confidence




Dislikes criticism

Source: Marketing Improvements Group.

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