A buying center is a group of employees, family members, or members of any type of organization responsible for finalizing major purchase decisions. In a business setting, major purchases typically require input from various parts of the organization, such as finance, accounting, purchasing, information technology management, and senior management. Highly technical purchases, such as information systems or production equipment, also require the expertise of technical specialists. In some cases the buying center is an informal ad hoc group, but in other cases, it is a formally sanctioned group with specific mandates, criteria, and procedures. The employees that constitute the buying center will vary depending on the item being purchased.
In a generic sense, there are typically six roles within buying centers. These roles include:
- Initiators who suggest purchasing a product or service
- Influencers who try to affect the outcome decision with their opinions
- Deciders who have the final decision
- Buyers who are responsible for the contract
- End users of the item being purchased
- Gatekeepers who control the flow of information
Because of the specialized nature of computer and software purchases, many corporations use buying centers that are specialized for information technology acquisition. These specialized buying centers typically receive information about the technology from commercial sources, peers, publications, and experience. In this process, top management, the IT director, IT professionals, and other users collaborate to find a solution.
A better buying center for marketing might include:
- Users - The users will be the ones to use the product, initiate the purchase process, generate purchase specs, and evaluate product performance after the purchase.
- Influencers - The influencers are the tech personnel who help develop specs and evaluate alternate products. They are important when products involve new and advanced technology.
- Deciders - Deciders choose the products.
- Buyers - Buyers select suppliers and negotiate the terms of purchase.
- Gatekeepers - Gatekeepers are typically secretaries and tech personnel. They control the flow of information to and among others within the buying center. Buyers who deal directly with a vendor are gatekeepers.