Good Sales People Are Problem Solvers


By Dave Kahle

“Good sales people are problem solvers.” Or, so the illusion goes. That belief ranks high on my all time list of the beliefs that most limit a sales person’s performance. This one is especially insidious because it is so commonly held, without reservation, by such a large percentage of sales managers and sales people. And it sounds so reasonable.

The world is full of sales managers who gravely proclaim that good sales people are good problem solvers. Sales people who use that belief to give direction to their jobs are to be found in every sales force.

The problem with this self-limiting belief, as in many such ideas, is that there is a grain of truth in it. Yes, good sales people are good problem solvers. However, they are so much more than just problem solvers. And, when a sales person or manager focuses on just that small piece of a sales person’s job, it eclipses all the other more pertinent ideas and limits the sales person’s effectiveness.

It’s just human nature to live up to the visions we carry about ourselves. We allow our beliefs to dictate our actions. And when our beliefs are out of touch with reality, our actions are not nearly as effective as they could be. We see what we look for and we don’t see nearly as much of what we don’t look for.

Sales people, then, who see themselves as “good problem solvers” naturally look around for problems to solve. In so doing, they miss huge opportunities to assist their customers in ways other than problem solving. In fact, many of the best sales people don’t look for problems to solve, they create discontent in their customers by showing them better ways to do things.

Here’s a real-life example of a “problem-solving” sales person.

I was asked by one of my clients to work with his sales force. The sales people were having trouble closing the sale. Here’s what happened in one sales call I made with one of their sales people.

We were selling HVAC equipment, and the sales person had an appointment with the prospect. We met the prospect, and he explained that the building had been added onto several years before, but that nothing had been done to expand the capacity of the air conditioning unit. The company now wanted to do something about that.

The sales person asked to see the area in question. He measured the square footage of the room, taking detailed notes on a form attached to his clipboard. Then he asked to see the existing equipment. We went up into the attic where it was located, and the sales person studied the existing unit, estimating the distance from the equipment to the addition.

He ended his information-collecting by saying to the prospect, “I’ll fax you a proposal in a couple days. Will that be OK?” The prospect said yes.
At this point, the sales person, who saw himself as a problem solver, had done an adequate job of understanding the technical specifications of the problem, but hadn’t even begun to probe into some of the other aspects of the sale. So, I intervened and asked the following questions.

“If you like our proposal, what’s the possibility that you’ll buy it within the next few weeks?”

Here’s what he said: “Oh, none at all. I’m just collecting information for budgeting purposes. We won’t actually buy anything until after the new fiscal year in January.”

My sales person didn’t know that because he never asked. Instead, he focused on the problem to solve.

Next I asked about the “situation.” I said, “When we met, you said that the addition had been completed a few years ago, but that nothing had been done to upgrade the air conditioning. Tell me, what’s changed about your situation? Why is this an issue now?”

He said, “Well, we added space to this building several years ago. It’s always been stuffy in the new addition, but we got along OK. At least until last week, when we had a heat wave. The air conditioning had to work so hard that it froze up. So we unplugged it to let the ice thaw. As the ice thawed, it dripped through the acoustical ceiling directly onto the president’s desk. So, that’s why we’ve decided to do something about it now!”

Then I said, “What are you looking for in a proposal?”

He said, “Just a ballpark figure we can use for budgeting purposes.”

I turned to my sales person and asked, “What’s a rough estimate of what it’ll take?”

He responded, “About $3500.”

Then I said, “What can we do to make you look good in this process?”

He said, “I just want to get this off my desk. It’s an extra project I don’t need right now.”

I said, “If we get you a ballpark figure, and a set of literature you can show to the boss today, will that help?”

“That would be great,” he said.

Finally, I asked, “How will a decision be made?”

“Around here, the president makes all of those kinds of decisions. So, I’ll collect the information and give it to him, and he’ll decide what to do from there.”

“Could we see him?” I asked.

The prospect replied, “Would you?”

“We’d be happy to,” I said. At that point, he set an appointment for us to talk to the president.

Let’s analyze this experience.

Notice that the sales person, who thought of himself as a “problem solver,” focused on the details of the technical problem. After all, what else would you expect him to do?

Unfortunately, in so doing, he missed what the customer wanted entirely. He would have vainly spent hours preparing and faxing the quote, and then wondering why he didn’t close the sale. He was well equipped to respond to the technical specifications of the problem, but didn’t have the faintest understanding of what the customer really wanted, and therefore, little chance of closing the sale.

To overcome the limitations and boundaries of this belief, you’ll need to think of yourself differently –you are not just a problem solver, you are a ‘customer-understander.’

When we begin to focus on the customer in a larger and deeper sense than just the immediate problem, we open up the possibility of uncovering larger and more significant opportunities within our customers.

For example, when we take the time to understand the customer at deeper levels, we’ll discover the customer’s business goals and his deeply-held values. We may discover that he wants to grow his business by 20% next year, for example.

Armed with that information, we can couch our proposals in terms that relate to his deeper, business goals. Or, we can create a unique proposal that speaks specifically to that issue.

It’s in that area – bigger proposals for deeper needs – where the serious professional sales people distinguish themselves from the pack.

The best way to change our beliefs, is to experience something which conflicts with them, and causes us to re-think those beliefs. In this issue, the best way to see yourself as larger and more capable than just a problem-solver is to focus on understanding your customers better by asking a set of well-constructed, prepared questions, and listening constructively to the answers.

As you begin to gain success in understanding the customer better, you’ll change your view of yourself, and open up a world of greater opportunities. Great sales people are not just problem solvers. They are customer understanders.

And when we get that belief, we rid ourselves of the bonds wrapped around our performance, and unleash our capabilities for greater return.

About the Author:

Dave Kahle is one of the world’s leading sales authorities. He’s written twelve books, presented in 47 states and eleven countries, and has helped enrich tens of thousands of sales people and transform hundreds of sales organizations. Sign up for his free weekly Ezine. His book, How to Sell Anything to Anyone Anytime, has been recognized by three international entities as “one of the five best English language business books.” Check out his latest book, The Good Book on Business.

Small Businesses Struggling to Adopt CRM Software

Big Business Goals with Small Business Resources? You're Not Dreaming. Commence CRM

Small businesses want to take advantage of the same technology and software solutions that larger firms are using to become more efficient with how they market, sell and provide service to their customers. This can be a significant challenge for smaller organizations however, because they typically do not have experienced sales, marketing or customer service professionals on board that can manage the implementation, utilization and support of the CRM solution.

CRM by its nature dictates change. You cannot automate and streamline your internal business processes without impacting the policies and procedures that are currently in place. This requires experienced people and management’s commitment to supporting the changes necessary to improve the performance of the business. The high failure rate of CRM implementations among small to mid-size businesses is a clear indication that one or both are missing from the equation. As a result, small businesses are struggling with the adoption of CRM software.

I have been engaged in more than 100 CRM implementations and there is a common denominator that separates the successful ones from those that are unsuccessful. It all comes down to the following:

Strong Inside Management

The management had a clear vision of what they needed the CRM solution to do and how they will measure its success for their business. They were also committed to providing the leadership necessary to ensure their success.

Outside Expertise

The management understood that they would require outside expertise and assistance to successfully execute their plan. They engaged my company’s on-boarding team to help implement a sales structure for managing the sales cycle; create a mix of marketing programs designed to build brand recognition and generate new business opportunities; and incorporate automated programs to improve the customer buying experience.

Mutual Commitment

The management was committed to ensuring that their staff was properly trained on how to use the software and realize the maximum value from the product.

These firms viewed the implementation of CRM as a critical next step to improving their business performance and were willing to make the financial and managerial commitment to its success. This is why they were successful. Too often this is not the case in the SMB community where companies tend to purchase a CRM solution based on its cosmetic appeal or price but are not prepared to make the commitment necessary to ensure the successful implementation and use of the software. You see this across the board regardless of the CRM solution selected.

The simple fact is that the successful implementation of any CRM solution requires a commitment to change management; a commitment to engaging outside resources to fill the experience gap; and a commitment to ensure that the staff is properly trained and supported before, during and after the implementation.

About the Author:

Larry Caretsky is president of Commence Corporation a leading provider of CRM software and best practices for improving marketing and sales execution. Caretsky has written hundreds of articles about CRM and an e-book, “Practices That Pay”. These can be viewed at

Best CRM Solutions of 2018 by Company Size, Mid-Year Roundup

Best CRM Software 2018

With a myriad of CRM solutions to choose from, this article rounds up our “Top Two” picks for best CRM solutions of 2018 in each category by business size: large business, mid-size and small business. What differentiates these products from others is the following:

  1. Established company track records: Each of these companies has been in business for a decade or more
  2. Customer approval rating: Each has a large customer base and has earned the trust of their customers
  3. Peer recognition: Each has earned accolades from industry analysts for the quality of their products and the array of value added support services they provide

Best CRM Software for Large Business in 2018


Best suited for larger organizations who can deal with the complexity of implementation and customization of the software.

Pros:  Robust functionality and scalability, strong integration to disparate third-party products, offers an array of support services.  Large installed base. Considered a leader in the sector.

Cons:  Somewhat of a dated user interface and viewed as cumbersome and hard to use. Can get as pricey as a BMW with options.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM

Also suited for larger organizations with robust functionality requirements.

Pros:  Comprehensive functionality and scalable; also nicely integrated with an array of third party applications. Company reputation is strong. Large installed base.

Cons:  Sold through local third-party resellers which is concerning to some customers that want a direct relationship with the solution provider.

Best CRM Software for Mid-Size Business in 2018


A mid-market solution with good functionality, a large customer base and quality customer support.

Pros:  Good functionality and can be implemented on-premises or in the cloud.

Cons:  Customers find the solution a bit hard to use, add-on modules can be expensive and has a minimum of 10 users. Support can get costly.

Commence CRM

A comprehensive offering targeted at small to mid-size businesses. Attractively priced and offers an array of professional services. A trusted company in business for more than two decades.

Pros:  Robust functionality that rivals more expensive solutions, easy to implement and use. Customers give high marks for customer service.

Cons:  Integration with third-party products not as strong as others.

Best CRM Software for Small Business in 2018


A free offering with a number of add-on modules and features. Some limitations, but a good solution for the small office / home office (SOHO) environment.

Pros:  Just the basics, but does a good job supporting small business needs.  Easy to use and has an upgrade path to more functionality.

Cons:  Some limitations; not enough customizability and support services are limited (primarily e-mail only).


Basic low-cost offering for small businesses with a focus on contact management and marketing.

Pros:  Low-cost, easy to use and offers marketing automation. Free version available.

Cons:  Limited functionality and customization, no growth path outside of what the product currently offers.

Dealing with Difficult Customers

Dealing with Difficult Customers: Respect, Empathy, and the Crack the Egg Process |

By Dave Kahle

It is easy to work with people you like, and it is even easier to work with people who like you.  But that’s not always the case.  Sooner or later, you’ll have to deal with a difficult customer.

Difficult customers come in a wide variety.  There are those whose personality rubs you the wrong way.  They may not be difficult for someone else, but they are for you.  And then there are those who are difficult for everyone:  Picky people, know-it-alls, egocentrics, fault-finders, constant complainers, etc.  Every sales person can list a number of the types.

But perhaps the most difficult for everyone is the angry customer.  This is someone who feels that he or she has been wronged, and is upset and emotional about it.  These customers complain, and they are angry about something you or your company did.

There are some sound business reasons to become adept in handling an angry customer.  Research indicates that customers who complain are likely to continue doing business with your company if they feel that they were treated properly.  It’s estimated that as many as 90% of customers who perceive themselves as having been wronged never complain, they just take their business elsewhere.  So, angry, complaining customers care enough to talk to you, and have not yet decided to take their business to the competition.  They are customers worth saving.

Not only are there benefits to your company, but you personally gain as well.

Become adept at handling angry customers, and you’ll feel much more confident in your own abilities.  If you can handle this, you can handle anything.  While anyone can work with the easy people, it takes a real professional to be successful with the difficult customers.  Your confidence will grow, your poise will increase, and your self-esteem will intensify.

On the other hand, if you mishandle it, you’ll watch the situation dissolve into lost business and upset people.  You may find yourself upset for days.

So, how do you handle an angry, complaining customer?  Let’s begin with a couple tools you can use in these situations.


It can be difficult to respect a person who may be yelling, swearing or behaving like a two-year-old.  I’m not suggesting you respect the behavior, only that you respect the person.  Keep in mind that, 99 times out of 100, you are not the object of the customer’s anger.  You are like a small tree in the path of a swirling tornado.  But unlike the small tree, you have the power to withstand the wind.

What is the source of your power?  Unlike the customer, you are not angry, you are in control, and your only problem at the moment is helping him with his problem.  If you step out of this positioning, and start reacting to the customer in an emotional way, you’ll lose control, you’ll lose your power, and the situation will be likely to escalate into a lose-lose for everyone.  So, begin with a mindset that says, “No matter what, I will respect the customer.”


Put yourself in the customer’s shoes, and try to see the situation from his/her perspective.  Don’t try and cut him off, don’t urge him to calm down.  Instead, listen carefully.  If someone is angry or upset, it is because that person feels injured in some way.  Your job is to let the customer vent and to listen attentively in order to understand the source of that frustration.  When you do that, you send a powerful unspoken message that you care about him and his situation.

Often, as the customer comes to realize that you really do care and that you are going to attempt to help him resolve the problem, the customer will calm down on his own, and begin to interact with you in a positive way.

Here’s how you can use these two tools in an easily-remembered  process for dealing with angry customers.


Imagine that you have a hard-boiled egg.  The rich yellow yolk at the center of the egg represents the solution to the customer’s problem, the hardened white which surrounds the yolk represents the details of the customer’s situation, and the hard shell represents his/her anger.

In order to get to the yolk, and resolve the situation, you must first crack the shell.  In other words, you have got to penetrate the customer’s anger.  Then you’ve got to cut through the congealed egg white.  That means that you understand the details of the customer’s situation.  Finally, you’re at the heart of the situation, where you can offer a solution to the customer‘s problem.

So, handling an angry customer is like cutting through a hard-boiled egg.  Here’s a four-step process to help you do so.


Let’s say you stop to see one of your regular customers.  He doesn’t even give you time to finish your greeting before he launches into a tirade.

At this point, about all you can do is LISTEN.  And that’s what you do.  You don’t try and cut him off, you don’t urge him to calm down.  Not just yet.  Instead, you listen carefully.  And as you listen, you begin to piece together his story.  He ordered a piece of equipment three weeks ago.  You quoted him X  price and delivery by last Friday for a project that’s starting this week.  Not only is the equipment not there, but he received an invoice for it at a different price than was quoted.

“What kind of shoddy operation is this?” he wants to know.  Do you understand how important his project is?  Do you know how much time and money is at stake?  If he doesn’t get his equipment and something happens to this project, you’re going to pay for it.  He knew, he just knew he should have ordered the equipment from your competitor.  What are you going do about it?

Now you have the basic story.  Hopefully, after this gush of frustration, there will be a pause while he comes up for air.

More often than not, once the customer has had an initial chance to vent his rage, it’s going to die down a little, and that’s your opportunity to take step in.

Even if he has started calming down on his own, there comes a moment – and I can almost guarantee you’ll sense it – to help calm him down.  Try something along the lines of: “It sounds like something has gone wrong, and I can understand your frustration.  I’m sorry you’re experiencing this problem.  Let’s take a look at the next step.”

Try to calm yourself first, and then to acknowledge his feelings.  Say, “I can tell you’re upset…”  or, “It sounds like you’re angry…”  then connect to the customer by apologizing, or empathizing.  When you say something like “I’m sorry that happened.  If I were you, I’d be frustrated, too.”  It’s amazing how much of a calming effect that can have.

Remember, anger is a natural, self-defensive reaction to a perceived wrong.  If there is a problem with your company’s product or service, some frustration and disappointment is justified.

This is so important, let me repeat it.  First you listen carefully and completely to the customer.  Then you empathize with what the customer is feeling, and let him or her know that you understand.  This will almost always calm the customer down.  You’ve cracked the shell of the egg.  Now, you can proceed to deal with the problem.


Sometimes while the angry customer is venting, you’ll be able to latch right on to the problem because it’s clear-cut. Something is broken.  Or late.  Or he thinks a promise has been broken.

But sometimes in the middle of all that rage, it’s tough to comprehend the bottom-line issue.  This is a good place for some specific questions.  Ask the customer to give you some details.  “What day did he order it, when exactly was it promised.  What is his situation at the moment?”  These kind of questions force the customer to think about facts instead of his/her feelings about those facts.  So, you interject a more rational kind of conversation.  Think of this step of the process as cutting through the white of the egg to get to the yolk at the center.

It’s important, when you think you understand the details, to restate the problem.  You can say, “Let me see if I have this right.  You were promised delivery last Friday because you need it for an important project this coming week.  But you haven’t received our product yet.  Is that correct?”

He will probably acknowledge that you’ve sized up the situation correctly.  Or, he may say, “No, that’s not right” and then proceed to explain further.  In either case the outcome is good, because you will eventually understand his situation correctly, and have him tell you that “Yes, that’s right.”

And at that point you can apologize.  Some people believe that an apology is an acknowledgment of wrongdoing.  But you can appreciate and apologize for the customer’s inconvenience without pointing fingers.  Just say, “Mr. Brady, I’m sorry this has happened.”  Or “Mr. Brady, I understand this must be very frustrating.  Let’s just see what we can do fix it, OK?”


You don’t want to blame the customer by saying something like “Are you sure you understood the price and delivery date correctly?”  This will just ignite his anger all over again because you are questioning his credibility and truth-telling.

And you don’t want to blame your company or your suppliers  Never say, “I’m not surprised your invoice was wrong.  It’s been happening a lot.” Or, “Yes, our backorders are way behind.”

In general, you AVOID BLAME.  Which is different than acknowledging responsibility.  For example, if you know, for a fact, a mistake has been made, you can acknowledge it and apologize for it.  “Mr. Brady, clearly there’s a problem here with our performance.  I can’t change that, but let me see what I can do to help you out because I understand how important your project is.”


Now you’re at the heart of the egg.  You won’t always be able to fix the problem perfectly.  And you may need more time than a single phone call.  But it’s critical to leave the irate customer with the understanding that your goal is to resolve the problem.  You may need to say, “I’m going to need to make some phone calls.”  If you do, give the customer an idea of when you’ll get back to him:  “Later this afternoon” or “First thing in the morning.”

Then do it.  Make the phone calls.  Get the information.  Find out what you can do for this customer and do it.  Then follow up with the customer when you said you would.  Even if you don’t have all the information you need, call when you said you would and at least let him know what you’ve done, what you’re working on and what your next step will be.  Let the customer know that he and his business are important to you, that you understand his frustration, and that you’re working hard to get things fixed.

Use the tools of respect and empathy, and the “crack the egg” process, and you’ll move your professionalism up a notch.

About the Author:

Dave Kahle is one of the world’s leading sales authorities. He’s written twelve books, presented in 47 states and eleven countries, and has helped enrich tens of thousands of sales people and transform hundreds of sales organizations. Sign up for his free weekly Ezine. His book, How to Sell Anything to Anyone Anytime, has been recognized by three international entities as “one of the five best English language business books.” Check out his latest book, The Good Book on Business.