The Difference Between User, Buyer, and Customer Explained

Shavin Peiries Nov 23, 2022 2 min read

When designing a product, it can be confusing to know who your users, buyers and customers are.

To break it down for you...

The user is the person who uses your product to make progress. But they're not necessarily the ones paying for it.

The buyer is the person who makes the final decision to purchase your product and has a set of expectations as a result.

The customer is the entity that encapsulates both the user and the buyer. Like a business.

Examples of User, Buyer and Customer

SaaS Product used by Twitter's finance team

  1. User - The finance team members
  2. Buyer - Chief Financial Officer
  3. Customer - Twitter

Salesforce used by XYZ Corp

  1. User - The sales/account executives
  2. Buyer - Chief Revenue Officer
  3. Customer - XYZ Corp

Mailchimp used by Dunder Mifflin Paper Company, Inc.

  1. User - The email marketing manager
  2. Buyer - Chief Marketing Officer
  3. Customer - Dunder Mifflin Paper Company, Inc.

The customer in this context is much less important than the buyer and the user as they're actual people with needs.

Designing for the buyer category is not enough to ensure a product's success.

Many companies make the mistake of designing for the buyer, when they should be designing for both the user and the buyer.

If a product isn't properly adopted by its users, then the buyer's expectations won't be met. This leads to cancelled contracts as a result.

Always aim to understand the goals & motivations from both categories of people if they aren't the same person.

How can you tell if a person is a user or a buyer?

The first clues is in their designation. If they're higher up in the company hierarchy it commonly means that they're a buyer.

Buyers can act as users as well. For example, in project management software such as Basecamp, it's common to have the buyer utilise the product themselves along with other users of the software.

When it's less obvious, it's best to ask them questions such as:

  1. Why are they interested in the product?
  2. How are they intending on fitting it into their lives?
  3. What problem does it solve for them?
  4. What's the end outcome that they're looking for?
  5. Is there anyone else that would like to weigh-in before going ahead with the product? (users will point to buyers when asked this)

These will give you helpful answers to their motivation for the use of the product.

Buyers commonly tend to answer with cost benefit or time savings statements it will bring for the business.

Users commonly tend to answer with how it'll make their job or life easier when they do use it.

By attempting to identify the different people who are involved in the product adoption process, you can narrow down how you design and the decisions you need to take in order to best cater to their goals and motivations.

Keep these distinctions in mind and you might just find that your designs will be that much better for it!

References

  1. Demand Side Sales - Bob Moesta (Check out my notes here).

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