Swaying the Economic Buyer: How to sell in a down market

The Dock Team
October 12, 2023
March 18, 2024

Rich Liu knows sales. 

He’s scaled revenue teams at five unicorn companies:

  • He grew Facebook’s ads business to $400M in revenue. 
  • He led sales at MuleSoft through to their acquisition by Salesforce. 
  • He scaled revenue by over 10 times at a corporate travel company—during the pandemic. 

So we asked him how to sell in today’s tough market. His answer was simple: 

If you don't have a very clear line to the economic buyer, then you cannot consider that the sale is getting done.

The key to selling in a down market, says Rich, is to connect with your economic buyer, and then position your product in a “credible and quantifiable way” that speaks to their top two pain points. 

In this article, we’ll break down what Rich means by the economic buyer, and how to build that crucial connection with the person who will make or break your sales results. 

What is an economic buyer?

The economic buyer is the person who decides whether or not to spend money on your product or service. They are the financial gatekeeper—the final decision-maker. 

Often, they’ll be the CFO, but they could be the head of a department—whoever holds the purse strings for this particular purchasing decision. 

The concept of the economic buyer originated in the MEDDIC sales methodology. In fact, it’s the E in MEDDIC, a handy acronym for the questions you should work towards answering during the business-to-business (B2B) sales discovery process: 

  1. Metrics: How does your prospect measure their success?
  2. Economic buyer: Can your buyer contact authorize spending?
  3. Decision criteria: What are the factors your prospect is considering? 
  4. Decision process: How is your prospect reaching a buying decision?
  5. Implicate pain: What pain point is forcing them to buy?
  6. Champion: Who will advocate for you on your buyer’s team?

The MEDDIC approach encourages salespeople to identify your economic buyer, and where possible, build a relationship with them, identify their pain points, and show them how your product can help. 

Economic buyer vs. technical buyer vs. user buyer

Need a quick clarification on other buyer personas? 

The technical buyer is the person in charge of making sure your product checks all the technical boxes. They’ll usually be the CTO or Head of IT. 

The end user (or user buyer) is the person who will finally sit down and use your product, and the one with the most to gain from the purchase. They’re also often your buyer champion

While both are important people in the sales process, the economic buyer is the one with the final ‘yea’ or ‘nay.’ 

How to identify your economic buyer 

If you want to close deals—especially in today’s tough market—you need to figure out who your economic buyer is, and then bring them into the purchase process early. 

For example, to take TripActions upmarket, Rich Liu explained that their strategy was to move the product positioning from features that would appeal to the end user, and create “a message that the person who actually controls the bigger purse strings cares about.” 

If you’re curious, you can listen to the details of exactly how Rich and the team did just that on our podcast, Grow & Tell

To start with, you need to figure out who the economic buyer is. Here’s how: 

1. Ask the right questions 

When you’re in the discovery phase, try asking your prospect the following questions: 

  • What does success look like for you?
  • What is your role in the decision-making process?
  • If we decide that we have a good fit here, is there anyone else who would need to be involved or approve the project?
  • Do you own the budget for this project?
  • Would you be the one signing the contract?

💡 Pro tip: Handle these questions with caution. If you are too direct, you can come off as patronizing (i.e. “Can you put your mom on the phone, please, dear?”)

While you’re trying to figure out who you’re talking to, you still need to build relationships with the other stakeholders, not just the economic buyer. 

In addition to asking directly, listen out for clues that you’re talking to the economic buyer. They’re likely to be focusing on the bottom line—profit and loss, return on investment—rather than technical or usability aspects of your product or service. 

Ask yourself: 

  • Are you talking to someone with profit and loss (P&L) responsibility? 
  • Are they referencing overall business goals or their own priorities? 
  • Do they have purchasing power, or do they need to secure buy-in from other parties? 

2. Get help from your buyer champion

Your buyer champion is the person in the organization who really wants your solution, or who will benefit most from the purchase. 

They aren’t usually the economic buyer, but they are a key resource for putting you in touch with the right person. 

Work with your buyer champion to find out: 

  • Who the economic buyer is 
  • The biggest pain points facing the economic buyer (or the business as a whole) 
  • How to bring the economic buyer into the conversation early in the buying process

A word of caution here: beware the fake buyer champion. 

That’s the end user who feels like a champion—they’re enthusiastic about your product, they’re confident they can get you in the room with the right people, and they promise you the world.

However, as you move forward, you realize that they don’t have the kind of sway to help get the deal across the line. 

To avoid the minefield of fake champions, Pete Prowitt, the Head of Revenue at Stytch, recommends that you test your buyer champions early on to make sure they’re the real deal. 

Don’t simply ask the champion, “Do you have the authority to help us?” (or even some more tactful version of that question). Instead, Pete recommends asking specific, behavioral questions: 

  • “Which past vendors have been successful here?”
  • “What were the behaviors they saw?”
  • “How did you shepherd them through?” 

You can learn more of Pete’s tips on product-led hypergrowth (based on his experiences at Intercom and Loom) over on our podcast. 

3. Multithread executive to executive 

Sales multithreading is the concept of building multiple relationships with the different stakeholders in each deal—both by using multiple channels, and by taking a many-to-many approach to relationship-building. 

Your marketing lead should meet their marketing lead, your VP of Sales should meet their VP of Sales, and so on. They speak the same language, they’ll have the right information to hand, and they’re more likely to be taken seriously.

So, to connect with the economic buyer, involve the person in your organization most closely aligned to their role—set up a call for them with your CFO, for instance.  

How to sell to the economic buyer

OK, you’ve got the attention of the economic buyer. What are you going to do with it? 

1. Use business-quantifiable messaging

Economic buyers don’t care about features, they care about business value. You’ll need specific messaging that’s tailored to economic buyers. 

To quote Rich Liu, this messaging should be based on your “understanding of what it is that their company cares most about right now—what are the biggest things that your economic buyer is thinking about at night, what keeps them up, what they're afraid of, what they're ambitious about.” 

Create sales collateral that specifically addresses the top one or two pain points that most impact the economic buyers in your target market. For instance: 

  • Quantitative data sheets
  • The business case for your product (here’s the one we use at Dock)
  • Additional product messaging that speaks to other top priorities for economic buyers. For instance, our economic buyers want to save money on software, so we created an argument to show how Dock helps consolidate your tech stack.  

Your buyer champion, and the economic buyer’s answers to your discovery questions, can help advise you on how to position your product messaging for the biggest impact.

2. Use a digital sales room to give the economic buyer full context 

Too often, sales teams loop in the economic buyer late in the deal, so they only get partial information, some forwarded emails, or a half-accurate pitch from the buyer champion.

It’s a small wonder that they’re inclined to slam on the brakes. 

A digital sales room (DSR) is a far more effective and convincing way to bring the economic buyer into the conversation. With a DSR, you give the economic buyer (and the rest of the buying committee) easy access to all the relevant information: 

  • Specific financial messaging
  • An ROI calculator
  • A detailed business case for your product
  • Recordings of the ongoing conversations you’ve been having with other stakeholders 

By putting all the information on a single, customized dashboard, you make it easier for the economic buyer to say yes. 

3. Predict economic buyer interest with workspace analytics

It can be incredibly frustrating not to be able to know if you’ve connected with the economic buyer or not. Did you get their attention? Are they even considering the deal? Because, if not, then the sale isn’t happening, no matter who else is excited about it. 

Dock analytics lets you track who’s viewing a workspace, so you can tell when the economic buyer engages with the deal and the content. That way, you’ll be better able to predict which deals are likely to close, and which deals might need a little more love. 

Connect with your economic buyers with Dock 

Dock makes it easier to build a relationship with your economic buyers. Our customizable digital sales rooms let you get your targeted financial messaging in front of the real decision-makers, rather than leaving your buyer champions to try and make your case on your behalf. 

Plus, with our analytics features, you’ll always know when your economic buyer is looking at your content—and whether or not your message is landing. 

Try Dock’s digital sales room template now, or sign up for Dock for free.

The Dock Team