Companies today are constantly working to differentiate themselves in the eyes of the market and their most valued customers. However, for many organizations, standing out amongst increased competition in commoditized markets has never been more difficult. For companies feeling uncertain about their future in the market, the journey towards identifying a clear strategy begins with operating Above the Line of Safety.
What is the Line of Safety?
The Line of Safety is the level in an organization above which roles are empowered to independently solve a problem. In this context, being “empowered to independently solve a problem” means that the role has resources and budget available to be used at their discretion. It follows that roles below the Line of Safety would therefore require the approval of a role Above the Line of Safety in order to make a significant purchase or assign resources to achieve a desired outcome.
The Line of Safety is different for every problem, role, and organization. Many naturally assume that the Line of Safety is drawn at the Executive Suite. However, not all roles below the executive suite are below the Line of Safety and not all executives are above it for every challenge. Consider a cross-functional strategy project that requires alignment across the executive suite. In this case, only a few trusted executives or the CEO may be empowered with the budget, resources, and organizational trust to make the decision to undergo such a project. In comparison, a Sales Director or Vice President could be empowered to make the decision to implement a new CRM and would therefore be Above the Line of Safety for that particular project despite not being an executive.
Why is Operating Above the Line of Safety Important?
Operating Above the Line of Safety allows your organization to align better to the true needs of your customers. Buyers Above the Line of Safety have an in-depth understanding of their organization’s most pressing needs, therefore, gathering their viewpoint provides organizations the information needed to cut through the clutter in the marketplace. Here are specific examples of how each function benefits from operating Above the Line of Safety.
- Faster Sales Cycles – Working directly with those who have the power to approve a purchase means that only one person at the target organization has to fully understand and buy into the solution. Rather than getting buy in, moving to a higher level, and needing to pitch the solution again, it is all approved (or disapproved) in one motion.
- Improved Control and Visibility of a Sale – When trying to move up the ladder in a buying organization, sales teams are often reliant on their first contact to represent the problem, gather interest, and secure next steps with their superiors. When working Above the Line of Safety, we are the ones representing our solution and therefore have more control and a better understanding of how the purchaser is actually feeling.
- Larger Deals – Targets Above the Line of Safety are trusted by their organization to make large decisions that may affect a variety of departments. This naturally increases the budget that they have available.
- Lower Risk Projects – Consultative projects that are sold Above the Line of Safety have a lower associated risk. The buyer has had their expectations set by us and only us (no game of telephone), they have the ability to assign internal resources to support the project, and they are interested/invested in the success of the project as a purchaser rather than an overseer.
- More Complete Understanding of Organizational Challenges – Because buyers Above the Line of Safety have a higher-level view of their organization, advisory teams can more fully understand the challenge they are solving and how it fits into the organization’s strategic goals.
- Access to Other Executives – Through completing a project with stakeholders Above the Line of Safety, the team will get access and exposure to other executives, increasing the opportunity for pull-through projects and providing insights into other challenges the organization is facing.
- Proactive Customer Issue Resolution – Working Above the Line of Safety can help identify issues that organizations may have before they encounter them. For example, an executive explaining how they intend to use the hardware/software that they are provided can help the Product team set expectations and proactively identify challenges.
- Added Market Insights to Define Product Strategy – Through understanding the challenges that buyers Above the Line of Safety are focused on, Product teams have a better purview of where the market is headed and how they need to adjust their strategy.
- Less “If you build it, they will come” Requests – Product and P&L owners are often told by their sales or marketing teams that if a feature is added or a new product line is built there will be a number of organizations ready to buy, only to complete the request and struggle to build a pipeline. When operating Above the Line of Safety, we are already working with buyers and therefore have a much stronger understanding of whether or not these companies would actually buy.
- Stronger Messaging – Without operating Above the Line of Safety, marketing teams can feel like they are taking shots in the dark with their messaging. When the sales, professional services, and product teams all have a better understanding of customer needs, the marketing team does as well.
- Influential Use Cases – Use cases with insights from high level buyers resonate stronger than use cases from lower level roles. Buyers Above the Line of Safety also represent their challenges using language that other executives in the marketplace understand.
- Enhanced Market Insights – Working Above the Line of Safety provides additional information around where the marketplace is headed and gives access to executives to provide expert opinions.
Operating Above the Line of Safety is critical for every organization that is looking to succeed in a competitive market. However, the difficulty is not realizing that your organization needs to work Above the Line of Safety, it is getting every part of your organization to operate above it and stay there. After all, it’s not just your organization that wants executive attention. In our next blog, we will explain how to get your organization Above the Line of Safety and to stand out amongst competition.
Jackie McMann is a Partner at McMann & Ransford with extensive experience working with Fortune 500 clients to transform their business models, develop differentiated portfolios, and inject best practices into professional services.
Jack Draeb is a Senior Consultant with McMann & Ransford who has experience working with Fortune 1000 companies to identify issues, define solutions, guide change management, and deliver lasting results.