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5.3.The Decision-Making Unit (DMU)

The size and composition of the DMU, being the management team involved in the purchasing process, varies according to the size of the company and the strategic nature of the purchasing decision.

The structure of the DMU can also be examined in terms of the different functions that are represented. These roles can be placed broadly into seven categories: policymakers; purchasers; users; technologists; influences; gatekeepers; and deciders.

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  • Policy makers -Those individuals within the company who have the authority and responsibility for agreeing certain general policies that directly affect purchasing behaviour. The central purchasing of strategic items across a number of business units, such as media buying in Unilever, is one example of a company policy. The outsourcing of IT is often directed by similar policy decisions.
  • Purchasers -The actual buyers who are formally authorized to order products or services from suppliers. The purchaser’s role can range from filling in purchase requisition forms to being the purchasing team leader responsible for making the final recommendation to senior management or the main board. Any assessment of the importance of the purchasing agent must consider the organization’s attitude towards the purchase function, together with the level of risk associated with the purchase.
  • Users -The people who ultimately use the product or service. It is likely that they will be concerned primarily with product performance and ease of use. If installation or application is technically demanding for the customer, then the provision of post-sales consultancy and support will become crucial, to the point of overriding commercial considerations such as price and delivery times.
  • Technologists - The engineers or specialists, such as actuaries, and those with specialist knowledge who appraise the technical aspects of competitive offers and advise on key performance indicators (KPIs). It is the KPIs which enable the DMU to differentiate and judge suppliers against the company’s own specifications – standards which the technologist is likely to have defined.
  • Influencers -The people who influence the DMP, either directly or indirectly, by providing information and criteria for the evaluation of alternative buying actions. Influencers can work inside the company or act as external advisers.
  • Gatekeepers - People who control the flow of information to others within the company and the DMU. For example, buyers may have the authority to prevent salespeople from seeing users and deciders. Other gatekeepers include technical personnel and even personal secretaries.
  • Deciders - Those with the authority to approve purchases. The decider is likely to be a senior manager where a complex purchase or company policy is involved. Otherwise, in more routine purchases, the buyer is usually the decider.

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From a supplier's perspective, the make-up of the DMU is critical. The company's marketing efforts will reflect the individual priorities and interests of the constituent members as well as the overall group dynamics.

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