5 simple questions to ask if you really want to understand what someone needs

5 whys persuasion sales

If you are trying to persuade someone without understanding what they need… chances are you are engaging in an unfruitful endeavour.

The 5 whys technique allows you to probe the other person to understand the root cause of any issue.

  1. Define the issue

  2. Ask “Why” as many times as you need to reach the real issue

  3. Propose a countermeasure (your solution)

The root analysis process is often used in quality (6 sigma) consists in asking 5 times the question why to find out what the real underlying issue is. You don’t have to ask the question exactly 5 times… it is just the empirical average.

Imagine you have a printing business and you interview a restaurant owner…

My business is losing money


Revenues have declined.


Customers are not coming back


They forget about us


They don’t have any reason to come back

What if you created loyalty cards?

As a printing business owner, you could have proposed to help create flyers or posters, but you would not have treated the real issue.

Bonus tip

This has the additional benefit of redefining the relationship. You are no longer a pushy salesperson, or an evil persuader… you are just a problem solver. (And people will love you for that).


Avoid the broken record technique. You want to introduce some variations using active listening.

  1. Pinpoint on a specific word by repeating it.

  2. Acknowledge what the other person just said.

  3. Add empathy by showing how you relate to the other person

The previous example would then become:

  • My business is losing money

I wouldn’t want to be in that situation. What is causing that?

  • Revenues have declined.

I see. Is there a reason for that?

  • Customers are not coming back

Not coming back? Why aren’t your customers coming back?

  • They forget about us

Why would you think that?

  • They don’t have any reason to come back.

What if you created loyalty cards?

Be curious about the other person, because it’s always about the other person.

Think like a kid. Keep asking “why?”

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