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  • Writer's pictureSkip Miller

Rules? How to Break Them When Calling at the Top

I was playing a card game the other night with my daughter and some of her friends. Most of the people playing were not familiar with it, but it was a simple game with a few easy rules and it was quite easy to pick up. 

By about the third hand, one of the players did something against the rules. It wasn’t intentional, he wasn’t trying to cheat, he just didn’t hear the rule correctly.

After he was informed of the correct interpretation of the rules, he apologized, said he didn’t hear it correctly, and then we continued with the game. We all had a good laugh, and we played on.

At the end of the hand, someone else in the group asked if we could have a new rule and explained how much more fun the game might be if we add in the “mistake” the other player made earlier. Modify a rule.

Well, I thought this was stupid, a rule is a rule. How can you change the rules? We didn’t make up the game, so how can we change it?

Then I got to thinking about this blog, and how “stupid” we might be when we call high in our prospect’s organization.

The Calling High Rules:

You must earn the right to call high.You must do massive amounts of homework to see what product you should pitch.You need to be prepared to pitch; at least an executive summary.You only get one shot.You must do what they tell you to do.My inside coach says he has the budget and is the decision maker. I don’t need to call high.

Well, when calling at the C-Suite, which we call selling Above the Line (ATL), you need to change the rules. Don’t even think about it. You need to change the rules. Why? Because ATL buyers have a different decision criteria than the Below the Line (BTL) buyer, the one who is going to be responsible for using the product or service you’re selling.

Different value proposition, different rules.

Calling on the ATL Buyer Rules:

Call early; don’t waste their company resources or yours on something that isn’t critical to the ATL buyer’s agenda.Do homework on what’s important to them. Either read their website, their LinkedIn account, or their quarterly reports.

Read about the industry and their title so you know how to tailor questions. (What keeps a CMO awake at night in 2015, or the 2015 trends in the medical device industry?)Call and ask them questions about their initiatives, goals or objectives, and ask them about the ones they’re having the biggest problems with.

Worst case, prime the pump and be prepared to ask questions using the homework you’ve done.Time Travel – all ATL execs live in the past 3 or next 3-6 months. Questions regarding now are not in their wheelhouse.

To be effective at the ATL level, you need to forget all the rules you have been trained on:  Feature/Benefit, respond to the person making the inquiry, win the demo, and do a great RFP.

Bottom line is you need wins both BTL and ATL. Follow the BTL rules, but when going after the second value proposition of your deal, the ATL value prop, you need to change the rules. Go ahead and try it… you’ll have a ton more fun.

Best, Skip

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