Improve Your Questioning and Interview Technique

Continuing with our in depth review of how to improve your questioning and interview technique. In this article we will explore…


Earlier we defined needs. Let’s repeat some of those points here:

  • Need, any statement made by a person which express a want or concern that you can satisfy
  • The first sign of a need is a slight discontent or dissatisfaction
  • The prospect’s perception of a problem or need, even a severe one, does not mean they will buy. The final step in developing a need is for the problem to escalate in the prospect’s mind sufficiently to cause the prospect to act.

Exacerbating the prospect’s needs is like taking it from a slight itch to a running sore.

My situation is almost perfect.
I’m a little dissatisfied.
I’ve got problems with this.
I need to do something now!

Definition: Implied needs, statements by the prospect of problems, difficulties, or dissatisfactions. 

They are negative in nature, what to avoid.


  • “Our present accounting system produces unreliable interim statements”
  • “We have to make too many year-end adjustments; our monthly statements are inaccurate”
  • “I’m unhappy with our bank”
  • “My children take no interest in my business.”

Definition: Explicit needs, specific prospect statements of wants or desires. These are positive, what to seek. 


  • “I want accurate interim financial statements”
  • “We need a larger revolving credit line”
  • “I need to groom someone to take over this business.”

Implied needs are stated as negatives, things to avoid, or things the prospect wants to move away from. Explicit needs are stated as positives, things to seek, or things the prospect wants to move toward.

Key Point: Explicit needs talk about action — things the prospect wants to do. Action is what we want.

Key Point: In traditional one-call sales of smaller items, the distinction between implicit and explicit needs makes little difference. But in selling professional services, the distinction is crucial.

You cannot just rely on problems the prospect expressed. Almost anyone will admit to having problems, but that does not mean they will take action to solve them.

The real skill: Growing those problems big enough for the prospect to take action. When the prospect talks about taking action, that is a buying signal. It’s like this:”

  • Less successful people don’t differentiate between Implied and Explicit Needs, so they treat them in exactly the same way
  • Very successful people, often without realising they’re doing so, treat Implied Needs in a very different way than Explicit Needs.”

In smaller sales, the more Implied Needs you uncover, the better. Implied Needs are buying signals in smaller sales, but not in selling professional services. In selling professional services, the number of Implied Needs you uncover has little influence on buying behaviour. What matters in selling professional services is not the number of Implied Needs you detect, but what you do with them after you uncover them.

A probing strategy must start by uncovering Implied Needs, but it cannot stop there. You must develop Implied Needs into Explicit Needs by judicious questioning. In professional service sales, Explicit Needs are buying signals that predict success.

Key Point: The purpose of questions in selling professional services is to uncover Implied Needs and develop them into Explicit Needs.

Problem questions invite the prospect to disclose Implied Needs. If you cannot find a problem for the prospect, you do not have anything to offer; you have no basis for a business relationship.

Some accountants rush through the diagnosis. As a result, they may not uncover or understand all the needs of the prospect. This makes them less successful than those accountants who develop the prospect’s needs better.

Every solution has a cost, in money, aggravation, effort, stress, time, and so forth. Many prospects perceive lots of problems, but they think the cost of solving them exceeds the value of the solution.

Key Point: You get commitment only when the prospect clearly perceives that the value of your solution exceeds the cost of your services.

You build needs during the diagnosis stage by asking questions which cause the prospect to realise that they have an urgent need to buy your services. The larger the problem, the more your solution is worth.

Use the interview to uncover and understand the prospect’s real needs, wants, and expectations from the standpoint of their reality. You must get inside the prospect’s head. As that old poem says:

To sell Joe Jones what Joe Jones buys, You must see Joe Jones through Joe Jones’ eyes.

You do this by asking the right questions and listening to the answers.

Usually, you can easily get people to talk about their business. It is not so easy to probe into their personal needs and goals. When you get an answer to a question about the business, you might follow up with “How do you feel about that?” You must also sell good feelings and it helps to know how prospects react emotionally to certain situations.

Probe to discover areas that an apparently satisfied prospect should be concerned about, things they had overlooked or of which they were not aware. Raise issues important to the health of the business. The implication or probe question digs more deeply into an area. It often follows an open-ended question. For example:

Open-end question: Why do you want to replace the old system?

Answer: It just isn’t working as well as I want it to.

Probe: What problems are you running into?

Caution: Too many probe questions, like too many why questions, may make some prospects feel like you are cross-examining them.

Key Point: Get them to question the value of their present accountants and to see you as a valuable and discerning business advisor who could help them face and solve important issues.

Sometimes you must ask a difficult question. One method you can use to increase the chances of getting an honest answer is to first explain why you need to ask the question.

Example: “In my experience, staff turnover in the shipping/despatch department can cause sloppy record-keeping and a resulting loss of inventory. It would help my analysis of your inventory shortage if I knew about working conditions and pay scales in the warehouse.”

Then ask the question, “What do you think has caused your turnover to be so high?” [Note I did not say “Why has turnover been so high?” because we want to avoid why questions.]

You will probably not get anywhere with “Jane, what are your major problems?” That is too general. Instead, try:

  • “What is the biggest challenge facing your company right now?”
  • “What problem keeps you awake at night?”
  • “What situation in your business drives you crazy?”

Once you understand the important problems, make sure that the prospect understands them, too. That is the purpose of implication questions.

Our final look at great questions comes up with my next blog…until then – keep on building a great accountancy business.