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As salespeople we are trained to find a problem, understanding what’s keeping our prospects up at night. More experienced reps get to know the impact of the problem, frequency, cost, other departments/ people affected, efforts to self-repair etc. and the Elite reps speak in time and with numbers to support the cause. This last category is what Skip Miller refers to as ATL, Above the line in his book, Selling Above and Below the Line.
What does ATL mean? It is referring to the power line, the executive team, C-suite, the big dogs that ultimately pull the trigger. This is the group most salespeople stay away from, sometimes are intimidated by and believe they only sign the PO.
The challenge is most sales reps are trained to speak the language of features and benefits, problems/solutions, an immediate fix. This language pushes you to the user level or BTL, below the line.
Now, if your product is transactional and you are a sole owner, then this is fine and it works. However, in larger, more complex selling environments the opportunity is created at the executive level and is handed down to the user to engage with companies and eventually choose a supplier.
Those who can engage above the line earlier, get on the calendar with an ATL executive, earn the right to share insights, understand the motivation behind the opportunity, what have they done in the past? Why now? What is at stake if this is not fixed and what impact does this have on the future, again speaking in both past and future language. Timelines are ATL language, as well as what is the ROI that supports future fixes as our needs evolve and products change. See the difference it is not a knee-jerk one and done.
In a demo, our value proposition is typically geared to features and benefits - it can do this, this fast, for this long. That is great but it is BTL language. It is ticking the boxes at the user level. Remember, this level is reporting back to the ATL committee and they will ultimately sign off on the deal. Do these features and benefits tick the ATL boxes? Well, the answer is No.
So why do we continue to do it? and loop in the ATL at the end of the deal for the anticipated sign-off. Reality kicks in when we hear crickets…. What happened, we were moving along so nicely. Well, you might have been, but only at the user level. User language does not satisfy the needs of the ATL.
What we need to be thinking about to get ATL's attention is a long-term, strategic partner. What is the ROI of our solution? How will it continue to support their evolving needs well into the future? How does your solution tie into one of the corporate objectives that I am tasked with? This is a big one!
80% of people want to avoid pain, while only 20% want to move towards pleasure. Does your solution help your prospect avoid pain?
Pain in their industry could be reducing churn, stopping their sales team from discounting to close deals, reducing risk, losing money, whatever pain looks like in the eyes of your prospects. You may not be able to solve 100% of their problem but are you chipping away at it so that they see improvement. This allows them to start soliciting others to continue chipping away at the remaining bedrock of problems, thereby meeting their goals within their timeline.
Be a part of the overall solution, get close to the desired change they are seeking. When conversing with your client, understanding the language you use will direct you to the level that accompanies that language. Features and benefits, budget is BTL user-level whereas language with time specifically past and present entice the ATL’s Ex)
· What challenges have you been working on in the past 6 months that need to be addressed now?
· Between now and Q4 what initiatives are taking up the majority of your time?
ATL are ok living in the discomfort of the now, in the knowledge that they are working on a bigger solution that will address the overall problem across all stakeholders, think big picture.
Conversely, when you receive an inbound call from a prospect, listen closely to the language they are using to better understand if they are BTL or ATL? To close a deal quickly and with more certainty, you need to be delivering value propositions to both BTL and ATL. Understand where your solution fits into ATL strategic directives as well as the lock and key fit with your features and benefits at the user level.
In summary, ensure you are reflective in both your pre and post-sale engagements. Analyze your message, fully understand the change you want to support and align your language to it.
Post-sale, reflect on the outcome, positive or negative, what role did language play?
Did I play too low, safe and feature and benefit dump, did the deal stall? Why? Did I engage ATL too late, not speak their language?
Be honest with yourself, learn from your mistakes and wins to either stop or double down on what is required to better serve the individual needs of your clients.
If you would like to learn more about our sales training modules, how we can bridge your performance gap and reduce frustration from no responses, no shows, discounting, stalled deals and more please reach out to me directly.
For 20 years Karen has been specializing in the art and science of sales and communication her passion and experience are helping technical sales professionals become more confident and to disrupt with value.
Her dedication to developing and delivering customized sales training programs provide her audience practical, relevant tools that can be used immediately to break down the barriers in a competitive landscape and separate themselves from the noise.