Not all buyers are the same. In every transaction, big or small, you have an economic buyer, the person who makes the money decision, and you have the needs buyer, the person who needs their problem solved. Sometimes these buyers are the same person, sometimes they are multiple people.

For example, if you’re buying new running shoes or a language translation app for yourself, you are both the needs buyer and the economic buyer. But if you’re buying something for your spouse, you’re typically just the economic buyer. Your spouse is the needs buyer, even if they're not involved in the decision!

  • In a B2C situation you can be reasonably confident the person you’re talking to is both the needs and economic buyer. There are always exceptions, but more often than not consumers are buying things they need, things that address problems they have, or are at least affected by in some way.
  • In a B2B situation, the needs buyer is rarely the economic buyer. Think about an auditor who needs your new software to better manage their books. They might love your app, but they don’t have the buying power—the purchasing manager or someone in accounting or supply chain does.
  • It’s rare in B2B settings that the needs buyer and the economic buyer are the same person, especially in a bigger company. An executive with P&L responsibility could potentially be both buyers, but even they will typically have other people who influence the decision. 

If you’re talking to a Director or Vice President, they’re probably going to ask their managers if your product is something that will be used, if it solves the problem. As an executive, they’re typically no longer a true needs buyer anymore, but they recognize the importance of getting input from the real needs buyers, the people on their team who will actually use your solution.

When you do customer interviews, you have to understand which of the two buyers you’re talking to so you can formulate the value proposition correctly. Typically, you want to be talking to the needs buyer because you are focused on solving a problem. You also need to understand what drives the economic decision, so you have to talk to the economic buyers, too.

Much like offering both features and benefits, you have to appeal to both buyers if you want to make the sale.