DMUs: How Sales and Marketing Pros Can Meet the Multi-Headed Challenge

Scott Dieckgraefe Insight

At Studio/D, we love diving into the uniqueness of B2B sales and marketing; the things that challenge, confound and reward our manufacturer clients in ways you don’t see in the consumer world.

Case in point: DMUs, or Decision-Making Units. Philip Kotler, marketing author, consultant, and professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, defines DMUs as a collection or team of individuals who participate in a buyer decision process.

Think about this: When was the last time you made a consumer purchase as part of a group greater than you and your spouse/partner? Maybe a family vacation destination? Or a skilled nursing facility for mom or dad? The point here is it’s rare.

In the B2B world, DMUs are quite common. And if you’re selling or marketing to a DMU, you sometimes feel like the hero from “Jason and The Argonauts,” battling Hydra, the five-headed dragon. (Thank you, Ray Harryhausen.). But fear not, brave warrior, as Studio/D shares some best practices for tangling with the multi-headed (5? 6? 7?) challenge.

According to Kotler, there are typically six archetypes involved in the DMU:

  • Influencers
  • Initiators
  • Coordinator/Gatekeepers
  • Buyers
  • Deciders
  • Users

Each of these people hold key responsibilities, yet the importance of each DMU member can shift based on current needs.  Also, the ultimate needs of the end user can be diminished based on how the DMU team works (for instance, purchase terms could be put on virtual par with product performance).

With great respect to Mr. Kotler, we at Studio/D believe there’s a 7th individual to add to the list: The Sustainability Manager, or CSO – Chief Sustainability Officer. According to a Harvard Business School white paper, the number of companies with full-time sustainability officers doubled between 1995 and 2003, and doubled again between 2003 and 2008. Other sustainable management occupations can be expected to follow this trend as well. Their focus on green practices and net zero carbon emissions at an organization may greatly influence the DMU’s direction.

Here are some best practices for selling — and re-selling and up-selling — to a DMU:

  1. Become a known entity. DMUs require a more nuanced consultative selling technique rather than traditional “push” techniques. It’s difficult to get to this level of familiarity and knowledge without investing the time to become known well to the DMU.
  2. Know and communicate your full breadth of assets. This may take a deep dive into a brand positioning paragraph and subsequent message mapping. Contact Studio/D for details on this service.
  3. Understand where this purchase falls in a Spend vs. Strategic Importance matrix
    • Is it a high spend with high strategic importance, such as a major piece of production equipment? If so, there’s like to be more individuals in the DMU, with higher attention to the buying process.
    • Or is it high spend with lower strategic importance, low spend with high importance, or low spend with low importance, each of which are likely to draw fewer individuals to the DMU.
  4. Do some re-con on the individuals in the DMU, so you can better align your sales team and products to the needs and responsibilities of the various DMU members.
  5. Learn the generational differences in the DMU and apply appropriate communication strategies. For example, Millennial members of the DMU likely prefer video, online and text communications. Phone… not so much.
  6. Beyond demographic characteristics, what can you learn and apply regarding psychographics? What motivates them individually? The most common motivators are economics, operational efficiencies and productivity, quality, politics and the social effect.

These are just six actions you can take to ensure your encounter with a DMU goes well. For more DMU strategies and tactics, contact Scott Dieckgraefe, president and founder of Studio/D at or 314-200-2630.