Selling to Staff Personnel vs. Line Personnel Blog Feature
Steve Bookbinder

By: Steve Bookbinder on March 30th, 2016

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Selling to Staff Personnel vs. Line Personnel

Sales Tips

In the world of B2B selling, it’s important to know the difference between selling to “line” prospects as opposed to “staff” prospects. Knowing that difference will in turn allow you to deploy a sales strategy that is appropriate in each case.

Neglecting this critical first step may cost you your time, your prospect’s time, and produce a negative outcome.  

Always map out the target company’s key line and staff people that you will need to connect with and sell to. Never engage not knowing the hierarchy.

While you might typically prefer to sell to line people, you will often be sent to staff people. Your ability to sell effectively to both is critical for consistent success. The larger the organization, the more likely that your first point of contact will be a staff person, not a line one.


Staff people typically advise and influence the line people. They generally don’t have the final word on a key decision, but their point of view will always have impact. They are compensated for their ability to gather and analyze pertinent information about a variety of topics that affect the company.

Asking or expecting a staff person to make a decision about acting on your value proposition is counterproductive. Asking that same person to give you an opinion on your offer is far more valuable. Gaining their acceptance or better yet, recruiting them as an advocate for your value proposition should be your goal.

Why? Because staff people are quite often the filters and/or gatekeepers to get to line people.

Feed staff people as many pertinent details as you possibly can. Their natural orientation (and primary responsibility) revolves around their ability to synthesize data and information that become recommendations for actions to be taken. This is a classic case of “going with the grain” instead of trying to challenge the hierarchy of a given company.

Line people often lead and make final decisions. If you are fortunate enough to initially get in front of a line person, take full advantage the opportunity—it’s a rare one.

When engaging with line people, acknowledge that they are the authority and that they have the final word. Communicating with them should be much more “binary”—their time is valuable and open-ended conversations may be perceived as you wasting their time. Their concise responses will still give you ample feedback as to what your next move should be, so don’t get turned off if they don’t elaborate on every point you’re trying to make.

If you’ve communicated with a company’s staff people before speaking with the line person, make it clear it that you have done so.

Recognize that the staff people were attentive and gave you valuable feedback that helped you get this far. Line people like assurances that their staff people are on top of their game.

Here are three things to remember:

  1. Meetings will often have line and staff people both present so you’ll need to recognize the difference immediately and communicate to each in distinctly different styles.
  2. Respect both. Don’t project being dismissive or condescending towards staff people. Make it clear that their point of view and their support are important to you.
  3. If a line person refers you to a staff person, don’t be offended. Simply reinforce to the staff person that their boss obviously values his or her opinion about your value proposition.

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About the Author


Buff Parham is a widely recognized thought leader and outstanding coach in the media sales and sales management field. With 35 years of sales experience, Buff has worked at Univision, FOX, Belo, ABC and CBS. He believes that hard work matters and that raising the bar and having greater expectations tend to generate greater results. In his spare time, Buff finds cooking and playing golf to be two of the best therapies for a somewhat hectic existence!

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About Steve Bookbinder

Steve Bookbinder is the CEO and sales expert at DMTraining. He has delivered more than 5,000 workshops and speeches to clients all over the world and has trained, coached, and managed more than 50,000 salespeople and managers. Steve continuously refreshes his training content to reflect his latest first-hand observations of salespeople across industries and regions. Through him, participants in his workshops and coaching sessions learn the best practices of today’s most successful sellers and managers across industries. Steve understands that sales is a competitive game. To outperform competitors and our own personal best results, we need to out-prospect, out-qualify, out-present and out-negotiate everyone else, not merely know how to sell. Through his specialty programs in Pipeline Management, Personal Marketing, Great First Meetings, 2nd-level Questioning, Sales Negotiating, and Sales Coaching, Steve trains sales teams to master the skills they need to overcome the challenges they face in today’s world… and keep improving results year over year.

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