Podcast

Secrets Of Question-Based Selling With Lori Langholz At BDO (PODCAST)

Gabe Larsen

Lori Langholz of BDO shares why you should let go of question-based selling and move to insight selling, and how this shift can benefit your sales team.

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In this article:

  1. Why You Should Move from Question-Based Selling to Insight Selling
  2. The Disadvantages of Question-Based Selling
  3. How to Approach Insight Selling
  4. Why People Choose Question-Based Selling over Insight Selling
  5. How to Elevate the Buyer Conversation
  6. What You Need to Do to Ensure You Know Your Buyers
  7. Tips for Assembling Your Client-Facing Team
  8. Why It’s Important to Always Come Prepared

Question-Based Selling Methods: Why You Should Let Them Go

Lori Langholz is the Chief Business Development Officer of BDO, a public accounting firm. Its U.S. firm is based in Chicago while theglobal headquarters is in Brussels.

BDO is a professional services firm where selling is a shared responsibility among everyone and not only for full-time sales professionals.

Langholz is an expert in the field with 13 years of experience in BDO. She started in the company as a Business Development Manager, where she was an “individual contributor.”

She moved into a management role several years later. Four years ago, she earned the responsibility of leading the firm’s function nationally.

Now, Langholz has a team of 80 business development professionals. She works with their firm’s leadership on the strategy and execution of business development and growth strategies around the country.

Why You Should Move from Question-Based Selling to Insight Selling

International business team working together looking at the numbers | Secrets of Question Based Selling With Lori Langholz at BDO | value selling framework
Instead of asking your clients questions that indict them, get more insights into their business.

BDO’s desire to focus its engagement towards its buyers and clients inspired the shift from question-based to insight sales. They aim to provide the “exceptional client experience” they market and want their buyers and clients to experience that throughout the entire process.

That’s why their Marketing team worked on customizing messages that cater to buyers’ needs starting from the beginning of their journey. At the same time, their Sales team makes sure they’re focused not on what they want to sell but on what the buyers need.

Langholz expressed that this became an “interesting conundrum” for her because the sales training she received was question-based. She believed that asking enough questions will yield a result and help her find something about the buyer.

She practiced question-based selling, but one day it hit her that her method of asking questions felt like an indictment to her clients. Questioning people’s actions and getting a negative answer from them makes them look like a fool in front of their staff or their boss.

Sometimes, they haven’t thought of or addressed the concerns she asked them about. By questioning buyers about it, she made them feel as if she was indicting them.

The Disadvantages of Question-Based Selling

Making your buyer feel bad by indicting them is the last thing you want to do. That’s why when you bring up something they either haven’t done, haven’t thought of, or don’t even know, their immediate responses are:

  • “We’ve done that.”
  • “We’ve looked at that, and it doesn’t apply to us.”
  • “That’s not beneficial to us.”

Yet the truth is, they simply don’t want to acknowledge that they haven’t done their job the way they should have. They won’t admit they haven’t done their due diligence.

You can’t say you’re focused on your buyer when you ask them indicting questions. You aren’t helping them succeed, but rather, pushing them towards your product or service.

By shifting to being more issue- and insight-driven, you can collaborate with your buyer rather than indict them.

How to Approach Insight Selling

Two young businessmen communicating at meeting | Secrets of Question Based Selling With Lori Langholz at BDO | secrets of question based selling

Langholz shared some practical ways on how to approach insight selling. Instead of questioning your buyer’s practices, you can phrase your conversation this way:

“We’re seeing this phenomenon in the market. Are you seeing the same in your business? Here’s our point of view about that phenomenon.”

Here, you focus on something that’s happening in the market, a bigger issue affecting their business. Some common topics you can touch on are trade, tariff, and new pronouncements by governing bodies.

Ask your buyer how that market phenomenon is affecting them, then show them your research results and what you’re doing with your other clients.

Finally, ask them what they envision for their company in the future. Let them define that ideal future state.

No one is in a perfect position, as we’re all constrained by challenges in areas like capital, talent, and data. Now, however, you’re co-developing the solution with your buyer that’ll benefit their organization.

The more your client invests in the solution, the more willing they are to buy it.

You’re getting them to see that the solution you’re developing is in their best interests. As Langholz often says, don’t sell to someone something they don’t need.

Don’t pitch something you can’t deliver in the best way. If you can’t help the buyer with their problem, say it.

If you can help them succeed in their business, make sure they know it. You should aim to have an authentic co-created solution for your buyer.

Remember that people will see right through you. You should have genuine intentions to help them address their issues and solve their problems.

Buyers are smart — they can research anything you tell them so you can’t fool them.

You have to believe in the fact that the issue on hand is important to them, and thus, it should be important to you, too. You also have to guarantee that you’re a good solution-provider for their problem or opportunity.

Why People Choose Question-Based Selling over Insight Selling

Langholz shared the reasons why people choose to apply question-based selling instead of insight selling. One reason she observed is bringing up topics you’re not an expert in makes you feel vulnerable.

When you open up a topic that’s outside of your personal expertise, it can expose you.

Langholz believes that’s not how buyers think. They know nobody is an expert on everything, and they appreciate that broader business conversation.

She also observed that some people are afraid of the broader business conversation. They don’t know how to have a conversation outside of their particular expertise.

The common reason is this: question-based selling is an easier method. Salespeople want to get the deal, so if they can get to it more quickly using this method, it’s what they will use.

When buyers express their willingness to buy something, salespeople won’t want to stop them.

Langholz believes sticking to question-based selling makes you prone to lose out on a bigger opportunity. You may have closed the transaction, but you might have had a chance to close an enterprise transaction if you listened to the customer more and exercised more patience.

How to Elevate the Buyer Conversation

Meeting business partners in a modern office | Secrets of Question Based Selling With Lori Langholz at BDO | insight sale
Go the extra mile to learn more about your buyer and his/her business.

There’s also the challenge of elevating the buyer conversation and getting to the heart of the issue. To overcome this, Langholz reinforced the importance of knowing your buyer.

It’s tough to elevate the conversation if you don’t know enough about your buyer. The first thing you need to do before meeting with them is to prepare.

Langholz admitted that it’s hard to gain sales insight. You have to know what your buyer’s business is all about and what their challenges are.

That’s where the magic comes from, which a lot of people are still trying to get.

Langholz stressed that you also have to be well-versed with what’s going on in the world. You need to be able to connect the macro trends to what your buyer is potentially facing.

These macro trends can be things like digital transformation, cybersecurity threats, or global economic issues.

You need to be aware and be willing to commit to learning those significant issues, as well as your buyer’s business. It’s not the easy way for sure, but it’s way more effective.

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What You Need to Do to Ensure You Know Your Buyers

The reality is, there’s no magic bullet when it comes to learning more about your buyers. You need to figure out what works for you.

Know yourself and how you consume information, then build a process that works for you to get the information you need about your buyers.

Langholz shared that some of their sales reps in BDO do the research and put together a dossier of information.

Buyers are smart, but two can play that game. You can also search online to get pertinent buyer information.

All you need is the discipline to properly prepare for a buyer meeting. As Langholz said, “what’s common sense is not always common practice.”

Salespeople know that they need to come prepared, but they still go to sales calls unprepared. There are a lot of excuses not to get this done, but discipline is key.

Tips for Assembling Your Client-Facing Team

When it comes to assembling the client-facing team, Langholz shared that BDO believes in having pursuit teams. One of their golden rules is “never go alone.”

That’s why she recommends building a team of industry and subject matter experts, covering areas that interest the buyer.

Building a well-rounded team is important, and it starts with understanding what’s important to your buyer. Then, make sure your salespeople are meeting the buyer’s needs.

Salespeople need to come prepared to share their insights on what they know is important to their buyer. This is why BDO believes in teams “pursuing work.”

Why It’s Important to Always Come Prepared

The client-facing team should always go into a buyer meeting as a cohesive group. Again, preparation is key because it can become messy if the team isn’t prepared well in advance.

The best practice is to have prep meetings where you go over what your team will do during the presentation, such as:

  • Who’s doing what
  • Who’s going to say what
  • What the rules are

Also, anticipate the questions your buyer might ask. Everyone has a part to play, and they should know what kind of message they need to deliver.

You won’t want to have a team member who ends up not saying or doing anything throughout the entire meeting. The team’s preparation and practice are the keys to making everything effective.

If you’ve got the right people in the room, you can make a big difference.

Moving away from the long-standing practice of question-based selling may come as a challenge, but insight selling can bring more opportunities for your sales team to provide excellent service to your buyers and clients.

Rolling with the changes isn’t always easy, but it’s definitely as rewarding as it is challenging.

What selling method are you using for your business? Let us know how it benefits you in the comments section below.

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