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A buying center is a group of people in an organization who are responsible for making purchases. Centers are usually comprised of more than one individual. Each member of the buying center plays a specific role in the purchase decision. These roles include gatekeepers, users, purchase influencers, deciders or buyers.
Companies may have more than one buying center. They may be separated by function, location, client, or business unit. When suppliers and vendors attempt to sell their products and services to a company, they must identify the individuals who have the authority to make company purchase decisions. For example, a landscaping company that wishes to gain a contract for lawn care with a commercial property management company might need to go through an administrative assistant to find out the name of the property manager.
In this example, the property management company would be the buying center targeted by the landscaper. The administrative assistant would be a gatekeeper, since he is in charge of screening bid requests and messages that get passed on to his boss. The manager in charge of the shopping center could be considered both a decider and a buyer. A property manager typically reviews service bids, makes a decision, and purchases the services by signing a contract.
Influencers are members of a buying center who have the power to persuade deciders and buyers during the decision making process. In the example of the commercial shopping center, if the property management company is small enough, the administrative assistant might also be a purchase influencer. He may voice his opinion to his boss regarding any prior knowledge and personal experience he has with the vendor, as well as any first impressions he received upon contact with the landscaper's representative.
Users are the people who will work directly with the purchased products or services. In an office environment, a buyer may in fact also be a user. For example, many administrative assistants are put in charge of ordering supplies for the office, such as copy paper, envelopes, and staples. They are one of many office employees who use those products on a daily basis. This is why vendors and suppliers will typically ask who is responsible for making certain purchase decisions during their sales calls.
There are some instances where an employee may be a decider, but needs input and authority from someone else in the company. For example, some organizations may require approval from an executive on all purchases over a certain monetary amount. The executive does not actually make the purchase decision, so he is not considered to be a decider. He is the buyer, however, since he is the one giving authorization for the purchase to go through.