Never Mind the Answers; What Are the Questions?

In the past, accountants, as data gatherers, didn't necessarily need to engage in two-way verbal communication with their clients. The clients provided the necessary paperwork, the accountants plugged in the numbers and, when necessary, asked the clients to fill in the holes.

By now, readers of this website have likely noticed the trend of accountants moving from tax preparer to "trusted advisor." But it's impossible to build  trust, let alone know what other advice or services to offer clients, without asking questions and actually taking the time to listen to and digest the answers those clients offer in response.

"The greatest technique to sharpen up on is not just technical skills, but the power of asking questions," said Mark Lloydbottom, owner of Mark Lloydbottom Consulting. "Don't just wing it. Learn some really good questions. A great accountant asks better questions than a good accountant."

During a session at AWEBLive!, the 12-hour CPE marathon, Lloydbottom outlined examples of questions accountants could ask  clients to get a handle on not only where they are today but where they want to go in the future, because more likely than not, some items along those future paths could translate into business opportunities for accountants.

Problem-Solving Questions

  • What do you feel are the two or three most pressing problems facing you in the next 12 months?
  • What are your greatest challenges?
  • How can you improve the way the business is run?

Future of the Business Questions:

  • How concerned are you about the future of the business?
  • How do you see the business developing?
  • Does the management team need a strategic partner to take the business forward?
  • Is the business increasing the top line without seeing any bottom-line benefit?

The most important aspect of asking your clients these questions, according to Lloydbottom, is waiting for the response—even if clients tend to take a bit of time to articulate it.

"Unleash the power of silence," Lloydbottom advised.  "Give the client a chance to reflect and think. Don't feel you have to interrupt or ask another question [because of a seemingly awkward silence]."

Lloydbottom offered several other helpful tips around utilization and realization, among other things. His full session and slides are available at the AWEBLive! site.

About the author:
Alexandra DeFelice is senior manager of communication and program development for Moore Stephens North America, and a regional member of Moore Stephens International Limited, a network of more than 360 accounting and consulting firms with nearly 650 offices in more than 100 countries. Alexandra can be reached at


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