Managing customer stakeholders in technology product sales

Sales of technology products usually involve several stakeholders on the customer side. These stakeholders often perform the following specific but unofficial roles with respect to screening, evaluating and approving potential purchases.

Failing to identify the various stakeholders, their roles in the sales process and their preferences will jeopardize any technology sales process. And keep in mind you must create a winning proposition for each stakeholder.

Customer stakeholders’ roles and degrees of influence will vary according to the opportunity. Relying on old contacts and experiences may be insufficient. Sales executives must proactively identify all stakeholders for any new technology sales opportunities.

In technology sales, startups should consider the four different customer stakeholder roles:

1. The Economic Buyer

  • The Economic Buyer has the power to approve the deal and sign the contract. He or she is often the most senior executive involved in the process. Even if a committee makes the final decision, only one person signs the contract.
  • The Economic Buyer often has broad organizational and budgetary responsibilities and will consider your offering in light of its contribution to those responsibilities.
  • The Economic Buyer’s level in the organization depends on the size of deal, the offering’s potential organizational impact, business conditions, your personal/company history with the organization and any prior organizational experience with your product (which is likely to be minimal in the case of startups).

2. The User Buyer

  • Your offering directly affects the User Buyer’s job. He or she will have to live with your offering on a day-to-day basis. While there may be many users in the organization, only a few designated people play the role of User Buyer.
  • The User Buyer’s concern is mostly operational. They will want to understand how your product affects their job, the amount of training required, safety issues, maintenance requirements, and the positive effects of using your product.

3. The Technical Buyer

  • The Technical Buyer screens potential vendors and their offerings against a set of formal specifications. This means that they are an important gatekeeper for that particular sale because they can say “No.” Their internal reputation relies on their ability to allow only qualified vendors to the table, so startups should view the Technical Buyer’s requirements as a qualification process.
  • The Technical Buyer asks difficult questions because it is their job. Your ability to negotiate your way past a discerning Technical Buyer will go a long way in predicting your success with similar accounts.
  • Rather than seeking to avoid the Technical Buyer, you should try to acquire a detailed understanding of all technical requirements as early as possible when selling any technology product. It will help you to understand what resources you require and enable you to identify the Technical Buyer.
  • Startups that offer new and innovative products might run into a set of requirements based on older technology. When you are asked to meet criteria that are irrelevant to your technology, document why that is the case to educate the Technical Buyer and ensure that they are comfortable with your approach.
  • Technical Buyers may also come from the legal or financial areas of the customer’s organization and make particular demands that reflect this perspective.

4. The Coach

  • The Coach will help guide you through a sales process within a particular account. They might be located within the organization or on the outside with good knowledge of the account. The Coach could be one of the stakeholders or the gatekeeper who introduced you to the organization. Note that the Coach is an informal, voluntary role.
  • A good Coach must meet the following criteria:
    • They recognize your credibility
    • They have credibility with the stakeholders
    • They want you to succeed with this opportunity.
  • You may not always be able to find a Coach that meets all three criteria. In this case, you must determine if you want to invest the time to develop the Coach, which may depend on the opportunity and the starting point. A good rule of thumb for developing a Coach is that two of the three above criteria should already be in place.
  • The Coach will not and should not do the selling for you. The Coach’s role is to help you navigate the sales process and each stakeholder involved.

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Heiman, S. & Sanchez, D. (1998). The New Strategic Selling.New York: Warner Books, Inc.