Want your startup to sell more? Look at buyer roles



After starting my career in sales at a startup where I was one of the first salespersons, there was a lot I didn’t know… like a lot. Startups, while providing a great way to start a career and learn about business on the fly, also pose a lot of challenges and there are many key aspects of growing and learning which are created in programs within larger enterprises and are lacking in startups, well, because everyone is focused on doing a million things. We had no sales training, only technical product training (which was actually key in me gaining respect with the audience, allowed me to better understand the industry as a whole, and gave me training in how to create value props based on technical capabilities). We had no education on the different sales stages, processes, goals, etc. Those were all things I had to learn on the fly. Outside of reading a plethora of books, my first official sales training was 8 years into my career.

However, one of the more important aspects I learned (the hard way) within my first year were the different Buying Roles within an organization and how different types of companies have different buying roles and bureaucratic processes before they buy and implement a technology. As a Startup, these roles are important to learn and it’s even more important to learn how to navigate them as they could make or break your sales process. Most startups go into this process blind, as I did 11 years ago, so when we work with our portfolio companies, we educate them on these roles and how to navigate them in the different types of companies.

Different salespeople/marketers will have different lists but in my experience, these are the most prevalent below. Again, some organizations will have every role and some just a few. I.e. if a fortune 100 releases an RFP, there will be more roles than a mid-size organization where projects are not as structured

Initiator/Project Manager:

Their goal is to be the main point of contact (POC) and the liaison between vendors and the business. Their job is to ensure that everyone is following the rules and that the project is staying on track both time wise and budget wise.


Probably one of the most important roles. While they are not the Decision Maker, their opinion will influence the Decision Maker given that most frequently, they will be the everyday User or manager of the Users of the product


The person(s) who is/are going to use the product every day. They will provide their feedback to the Project Manager.


This is my favorite role, and typically not included in other’s lists. The reason it’s my favorite is that you are not guaranteed a Champion at any given organization. Champions take time and effort to gain the trust and respect (think long sales cycles). The upside/downside, the Champion also serves any other role in the company from Initiator to Decision Maker. FYI, aim high 😀

Financial Decider:

The person who holds this purse strings. This could often be the Decision Maker, but in larger organizations there is typically someone who is responsible for budget and it’s not always the person deciding on the product.

Decision Maker:

The ultimate Champion if you can manage to secure them. This is typically the person who makes the final decision on which vendor/product to choose and most often takes in the opinions of the Users and Influencers to ensure that the capabilities of the product meets the project scope and that the pricing meets the budget.

As you start to navigate buying process at your startup, what roles have you seen been most effective in your sales strategy?