Sometimes you buy a highly recommended book that you never get around to reading it. That was the case with me with the book Selling Above and Below the Line by Skip Miller when it was published. But recently I heard Skip discuss some of the ideas he covers in the book on the podcast “Same Side Selling” with Ian Altman. The way he explained how to sell Above the Line (ATL) and Below the Line (BTL) resonated with me so I had to read the book to get a deeper understanding. And I am glad I did but also kicked myself for waiting so long.
After listening to him and reading his excellent book, I reached out to him via LinkedIn to see if he would be open to answering five questions among many I came up with. He immediately sent me an email with the subject, “How can I help you?” I always advise people that before you ever do business with anyone, find out how they network. You can find out a lot about people by the way they network. Look, it is much easier to be responsive when there is a potential business on the line, but Skip, with his busy schedule, turned around my questions in one day. I was impressed and learned something from him.
Besides Skip being a class act, he is a President of M3 Learning based in Silicon Valley that trains sales professionals how to sell the way managers, directors and those in the C-suites like to buy, specifically using the concept Above the Line and Below the Line. Skip has authored other excellent books such as of ProActive Selling, ProActive Sales Management, Knock Your Socks Off Prospecting, Ultimate Sales Tool Kit, and More ProActive Sales Management.
Skip loves teaching people how to sell effectively and efficiently through books, speeches, podcasts, blogs, and answering questions on selling as you will see below. You can tell he cares about this craft and does his part to make salespeople better, so they are not only successful but enjoy selling and satisfy customers.
Can a salesman have credibility at both Above the Line and Below the Line? Or do you recommend that a salesman bring his ATL executive for an ATL to ATL meeting, assuming they have practiced, planned, and prepared well before the meeting?
You can talk to kids as a dad and to other adults as parents, yes? It's two value points. One needs to use the best product they can afford, BTL, and one need is to have it have an effect on the bottom line of the business, especially some initiatives that the ATL is working on and they need help with. Don't overcomplicate it. There are two different value propositions, and you have to address the right one with the right person in the right language.
Do you think there may be more than one line in a large enterprise-wide sale where you often have to start at BTL for proof of concept and pilot before moving to ATL for a departmental wide solution and then TL (Top Line) for an enterprise-wide solution? The reason I ask this question is that companies are risk-averse, thus are reluctant to make an enterprise-wide decision until they see the solution deployed at one or more sites. When companies take this approach, aren’t you dealing with more than one line since the conversation is likely going to be different with the buyers or managers, operational executives, and financial executives?
Of course. Companies are set up to mitigate risk and trial things out unless they have a very urgent need to do something. Very urgent, like loss of market share, new competitive product, or major product mistake. However, there are a ton of ATLs who will jump in the pool and do not have a toe in the water first, if their value prop is addressed correctly. ($3M deal in 6 weeks kind of stuff)
See the section of TRAINS in the Train Station in the book as well. The more trains you can effect, from one station master (ATL BUYER) or affect multiple train stations, the better the value and the more risk the customer is willing to take on, and weight that into the purchase decision. To be single threaded in an enterprise account is very dangerous.
Don’t companies like to pigeonhole vendor salespeople at the BTL level and work with the top consultancies like McKinsey to help them at the ATL level? How can you break through when a company is not looking at a vendor salesman for ATL insights? Another reason for this could be that the ATL executives may have an excellent relationship with the consultancy and view them as a trusted advisor and keep vendor salesman at the BTL level thus possibly commoditizing the solution that he is offering? What do you do here?
Salespeople pigeon hole themselves by only speaking features and functions, and then they get to ATL, they regurgitate their successful BTL speak/presentation, which is not what the ATL wants to hear. I know of a ton of great salespeople who talk ATL so well, they are sought out by ATLs. McKinsey, Bain, BCG, and all the rest are great at top strategic stuff. Execution, at the point of attack, with a solution is what vendor salespeople have. The good vendor solution sales people hunt out problems first. Bad vendor solution sales people are a solution looking for a problem...wrong way!
What do I do on a call? I call ATL...Hunt for Trains (as an example I use in my book)...Identify Gaps. That's my mission.
My focus is on helping people get senior to executive level jobs, including sales professionals. When they are interviewing, don’t you think they have to use what you are teaching in your book Above the Line to resonate with key decision makers that they can sell well both internally and externally at both Above the Line and Below the Line?
You nailed it. The more the salespeople can demonstrate they can speak to BTL and ATL, know the differences, ask great questions, invoke transfer of ownership, and request decisions, win. The rest, they SELL, DEMO, TALK, SHOW, GIVE, CHAT, HELP....notice these are 4-letter words?
But don't speak BTL to an ATL buyer or ATL to a BTL buyer, they won't be in rapport with you, and that's not good.
After reading your book, I have to ask this question about energy at the ATL level.
Is it a stretch to say that the Boeing 737 MAX is a good example of what happens when there is too much energy at the ATL level and little at the BTL level? By this, I mean that Boeing executives and carriers’ executives did not get adequate input at the BTL level, the people who built the plane, such as engineers at Boeing, and those who have to make the plane fly such as pilots at carriers who purchased the planes.
I don't know about the example, but the ATL who makes a decision without getting the BTL buy-in runs a risk. In the printer story, if I would have bought a printer for Ann, the BTL buyer in this case, and she didn't like it, I would have to and to return the printer, which would have wasted time and cost me money. I could force her to use the printer I want, but that usually does not end well. Only a corporate emergency would have an ATL do something without getting BTL involvement.
One More Question:
What is the one thing you are really good at that has made you so successful in sales, and what do you do keep getting better at that?
I can sit in the customer chair and ask buyer customer-centric questions, rather than questions about my product or service.
Can you please recommend five books that have influenced your thinking in sales?
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Eliyahu M. Goldrat and Jeff Cox
SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham
Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... And Others Don’t by Jim Collins
Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
Selling the Way Your Customer Wants to Buy by Marvin Sadovsky
Jay Oza is a writer, speaker, executive coach. He makes people thrive on high stakes stage whether it's for a job interview, a sales presentation or an important speech. He is the author of the book Winning Speech Moments: How to Achieve Your Objective with Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere. He was recently honored with an award by Hire Heroes USA for his outstanding volunteer work with military veterans and their spouses and by Brookdale Community College for Excellence in Teaching. Please download the speech checklist and the speech workbook to help you with your next high stakes speech.
You can get more information at www.winningspeechmoments.com. You are always welcome to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 732-847-9877. If you have a high stakes event (job interview, sales meeting or a big speech) coming up soon, please contact him right away that is if you want to win. Also, contact him for his next "Interviewing is the Most Important Skill for Success Today" workshop if you want to accelerate getting a good high-paying job.