Talk to the COWMAN

I know you’re curious, so I’ll tell you right now what a COWMAN is. A cowman is what a cowboy wants to be when he grows up! At least that’s what I tell participants in our sales training workshop. I know, I know, it’s a bad joke!

Of course, COWMAN is an acronym and I’ll share its meaning—and  importance—in this article.

Common Failing

If there’s one common problem many salespeople have, it’s failing to properly qualify a prospect. No matter how hard I try to drum into salespeople’s heads that they need to ask the right questions, many still don’t get it. They figure that if the person is breathing, they’ve got a hot prospect.

Having a pulse is only one of the properties of a good prospect (unless you’re a funeral director). Having a need or want for what you’re selling is much more important. Yet, too many salespeople don’t bother to find this out. They jump right into their presentation (sales pitch) hoping the prospect has the need or want and will buy.

One of the major reason’s salespeople don’t ask enough questions is because they aren’t sure what questions they should be asking in the first place. I’m about to share with you the secret of knowing what questions to ask to properly qualify a prospect.

Meet the MAN

There’s an old saying, “If you want to make a sale, you have to talk to the “MAN.” MAN stands for the person with the:

  • Money
  • Authority, and the
  • Need.

In order to properly qualify someone, you have to find out if he or she can afford your solution (has the Money), is the proper person (has the Authority to make the final decision) and has a Need for what you’re selling. Not all three qualities necessarily reside within one individual and the MAN may end up being three or more people (i.e., a committee).

I was introduced to the MAN during my first formal sales training course in Toronto during the 70s. The instructor, who had never sold a thing in his life, told us that in order to make a sale we had to “talk to the MAN” and explained what MAN stood for.

He was at a total loss, however, when I asked him what questions I should ask to make sure I was talking to the MAN. No amount of probing could get him to say anything beyond, “Ask if they have the money, the authority, and a need for what you’re selling.” Not too helpful to a struggling salesperson hoping to improve his skills. I wanted him to tell me what questions I should ask, not what type of questions. I struggled on alone.

I vowed at that very time that if I ever did any sales training, I would give people actual words they could use to model their own questions after. As a result, the workbook we use in our workshop contained an abundance of qualifying questions and other practical examples of words and phrases to help salespeople sell even more effectively.

Becoming Politically Correct

Standing before a group of salespeople, many of which are female, and telling them they have to “talk to the MAN” can be dangerous to your health. So, I developed a new acronym and began telling them that, while the three elements in MAN are critical, the really smart salespeople “talk to the WOMAN” which stands for:

  • When (when will the final decision be made – timing?)
  • Organization and Other person (get to know them)
  • Money (can they afford your solution?)
  • Authority (who makes the final decision?)
  • Need (do they need or want your solution?)

Yet Another Evolution

Although WOMAN helped us better qualify a prospect, I soon realized there was still a missing piece to the puzzle – the Competition. Hence, WOMAN evolved into COWMAN with the C reminding us to ask about the Competition.

  • Competition (who else are they considering)
  • Organization and Other person (get to know them)
  • When (when will the final decision be made – timing?)
  • Money (can they afford your solution?)
  • Authority (who makes the final decision?)
  • Need (do they need or want your solution?)

So now the COWMAN is the salesperson’s qualifying checklist for determining what information needs to be gathered to fully qualify a prospect. The critical pieces of the qualifying puzzle remain Money, Authority, and Need with the other three elements—Competition, When (timing), and information about the Organization and Other person—being important but not critical.

Order of Asking

While the order in which you ask the questions isn’t critical, I usually recommend the following sequence:

1. Need (or want) questions. These questions are tailored to the product or services being sold and fall into four categories that I’ll outline later.

2. Timing question (When) — e.g. “When do you expect to go ahead with this?” “When do you need delivery?” “What time frames are we looking at?” “When will the final decision be made?” “When do you expect to issue a purchase order?”

3. Competition question — e.g. “Who else are you considering?” “Who else are you looking at?” “Will you be considering anyone else?”

4. Ability to pay (Money) — e.g. “How much have you mentally budgeted for the purchase of…?” “How much were you thinking of investing in…?” “Prices range from $A to $Z with $M being about the average. Will that be a problem?” “Approximately how much have you set aside for this?” “What budget range were you thinking about?” “Approximately how much were you looking to spend?” “What price range had you planned for?”

5. Authority question — e.g. “Who, other than yourself, will be involved in making the final decision?” “Will… (name) also be involved in making the final decision?” “Who can veto this project?”

6. Organization and Other person questions which, like the need questions, are tailored to meet specific situations. Here are a few examples:

Organization questions: “How did this company get started?” “What are your major products/services now?” “Where do you see the company going in the future?” “What are some of the major challenges that lie ahead?” “How do you see your department/division evolving in the future?”

Other person questions: “How long have you worked here?” “Where were you before coming here?” “When you have a chance to relax, what do you like to do in your spare time?”

“Need” Questions

The “need” questions fall into four general categories:

1. Problem questions. These are specifically crafted questions. Here are some phrases that can be used as question starters. You have to fill in the blanks. e.g. “Tell me a little about…” “What are you looking for in terms of…?” “Have you had…(describe a specific problem)?” “Do your people complain about…?” How often does the problem effect…?” “How do you see the problem?”

2. Situational questions re current suppliers. e.g. “Who are you using now?”  “What do you like about them?” “Who are you currently dealing with?” “What were some of the major factors in choosing your current supplier?” “What do you like best about…?” “”What are they doing now that you really appreciate?” “What is one area they could improve?” “What has to happen before you’d consider changing suppliers?”

3. Situational questions re current products/services. e.g. “What are you currently using?” “How is it working out?” “What types of products/services have you used in the past?” “How do you use them?”

4. Pay-off questions. Once again, you have to fill in the blanks to develop your own questions. e.g. “What would it mean to you if…?” “If we could… would that be of value?” “What would it mean, in terms of dollars and cents, if we could…?” “What do you think of…?” “What’s your reaction to…?”

Build Your Checklist

Just like pilots always use a checklist so they won’t forget to do all the right things when taking off or landing a plane, smart salespeople always use a checklist, so they won’t forget to ask all the right questions when qualifying a prospect.

So, remember, if you want to close more sales, be smart, always use your qualifying checklist, and make sure you “talk to the COWMAN!”