Book Review: Selling Above and Below the Line

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Skip Miller (ProActive Selling, 2012) has a new sales book with a twist: Miller expands on a subject he touches on in his last book, namely, how selling to C-level prospects differs from selling to mere peons. Miller's theory is that salespeople are trained to sell to users, but are at a loss when trying to convince executives because they don't understand what executives want.

Selling Above and Below the Line was published in 2015.

Author: William “Skip” Miller
Publisher: AMACOM
236 pages


As Miller explains in the first chapter, while users like to hear about product benefits, executives are focused on ROI (return on investment). After all, they're not going to be using the product – they don't care about its functionality; all they want is to get progress on what Miller calls Trains, the initiatives that executives are working to accomplish in the near future. In the second chapter, Miller describes the “split” - the point in the sales process at which user and executive start heading in different directions – and goes into the importance of offering value propositions for both sides. Chapter three discusses selling BTL (below the line), meaning to the product users; while chapters four and five go into ATL (above the line, aka executive) psychology and understanding those needs. Next, Miller examines the differences between handling inbound leads versus outbound leads. The following chapters explore each of the five stages in Miller's sales process, with an emphasis on the first three stages: these stages get multiple chapters, while stages four and five only get a single chapter of coverage.

Finally, Miller discusses how to integrate ATL and BTL strategies into an existing sales process, and offers a few more tidbits on appealing to ATL buyers.

Who Should Buy?

Miller's emphasis is on sales strategies and tactics that salespeople can integrate into their existing processes; however, sales managers can also benefit by passing these ideas onto their sales teams.

Overall Impressions

Miller's focus is predominantly ATL selling because, as he explains early on, he believes that most salespeople have an excellent grasp of BTL selling already. However, most salespeople don't understand how C-level buyers think, and therefore have a hard time grasping their needs. Users think of purchases as tools to make their jobs easier; executives think of purchases as investments to either cut losses or increase revenues. Thus, salespeople who approach ATL buyers by talking money and ROI instead of product benefits will get a much stronger response. Miller's arguments are definitely spot-on in this subject, and he provides some useful ideas both for getting into the ATL buyer's head and for coming up with specific responses to get such buyers interested. Miller does skimp on how to get in touch with the ATL buyer in the first place, particularly in how to do so without offending the user by “going over his head.” He also doesn't go into much detail about the final stages of the sales process and how to nudge the prospect into a decision (although he does include a couple of approaches for getting a risk-averse prospect to make the leap).

Final Verdict

Great explanations of ATL mindset and priorities, including lavish specific examples
Lots of questions and tactics to use in piquing ATL buyer interest
Includes email scripts for various situations

Minimal coverage of the final stages of the sales process
Little information on reaching the ATL buyer in the first place

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