The Gap — no, not the American retail store, this refers to the gap between where a prospect is and where they want to be.
These two states consist of both physical and emotional elements, and the thing bridging them is an unmet need that your product can provide. Honing in on that unmet need is the magic of gap selling.
“Gap Selling” is a methodology developed by self-described “loudmouth” and world-renowned sales coach, Keenan. Yes, he’s one of those hallowed personalities that have earned the clout to be known by a single name. And if you’ve read about the methodology in his book, Gap Selling, or heard him talk about it then you know why.
Gap Selling can help you make more deals, develop deeper, longer-lasting relationships with your customers, and improve your sales process. If that sounds good to you, but also reading a whole book isn’t your jam, then read on for a 5-minute summary.
What is Gap Selling?
Why do people buy anything? It’s because they are in one state, want to transition to another state, and they believe that a product / service will get them there.
Gap Selling is about understanding both the current and desired states, and positioning your product or service as the bridge to get them from A to B.
The current state
Where is the prospect now? Namely:
- What is the literal and physical environment of the prospect’s current state?
- What problems are they struggling with, and how are those problems impacting their organization?
- How is their current state affecting them emotionally?
The future state
Where does the prospect want to go? Again, you need to find out:
- What literal and physical environment do they want to create?
- How would this future state affect them emotionally?
This will help you determine which aspects of your product could help them get to their desired future state.
- How big is the difference between their current state and their future state?
- Is the gap big enough to even warrant buying your product or service?
- What would the cost be in terms of time, money, and effort?
- Is the cost worth it for them?
The bigger the gap, the greater motivation they have to buy, the more money they’ll pay, the more engaged they’ll be with you, and the higher probability you have of making that sale and generating a long-lasting relationship.
Approaching the sale by focusing on the gap gives you more influence on the sale.
That’s what gap selling is all about.
Why gap selling works
To explain this, it would help to contrast it with traditional, product-centric selling.
Product-centric selling revolves around the product and what it can do. The product-centric seller focuses on the company and the product. They lead the conversation. They are motivated by meeting their quota, and they want to get the contract signed and the product out of the warehouse. But since they are not connected to the problem and are basically selling features and benefits, their sales approach can’t be nimble.
That is, They can’t talk their way into more product functionality if the product fundamentally doesn’t do that thing.
In Keenan’s own words, “If we’re selling and we don’t understand the size of the gap, then we’re not selling, we’re taking orders, because we have no influence on the sale”
Gap selling solves that issue by shifting the focus to the problem as opposed to the product.
A problem-centric seller focuses on the prospect, rather than themselves. They are driven by the customer’s success, not quota. They can create demand rather than reacting to it, and they rarely need to compete on price.
A problem-centric seller can control the sale because they are focused on the outcome and on taking that journey with the prospect.
Gap Selling helps us take a prospect to their desired future state by first fully understanding their current state. We do this by asking good questions, listening, and understanding them, their situation, their challenges, and the root cause of their problems in their current situation. In short, doing good discovery.
According to Keenan: “There’s no other methodology out there that maps to the decision and change processes like this one does. It allows you to sell the way we buy, which is incredibly powerful and effective.”
“There’s no other methodology out there that maps to the decision and change processes like this one does. It allows you to sell the way we buy, which is incredibly powerful and effective.”
When it comes time for a demo, you can then only show those few features of your product that address their problems. Your product may have a million features, and you don’t need to (or want to) explain them all. That will only wind up overwhelming or confusing them. If they told you they are struggling with X, then you just show them which features can solve X. That’s what they really need.
Furthermore, Gap Selling doesn’t have much to say about closing. In fact, Keenan says closing is BS, because if you have to close at the end then it means you didn’t do something in the beginning. It means you ran too far ahead of the buyer. What you should be doing is getting the prospect to come along with you on the journey of discovery, checking off all the concerns and issues they have. You need to get them to “the next ‘Yes’”. At the point when you share a solution with them, you anchor them in that solution, and through the rest of the process they are basically closing themselves by becoming more and more convinced that your solution is the one they need. They arrive at the conclusion themselves.
Granted, Keenan is maybe overstepping here, since closing is in large part about building urgency to get prospects to make their decision on your timeline rather than yours, but the point is that if you’ve successfully uncovered the current state, the future state, and positioned your solution as the best road from A to B, then you shouldn’t need to convince them at the end of your cycle.
An example of Gap Selling
Here’s an example of how Gap Selling works, as told by Keenan himself.
First of all, remember that it’s not your job to tell the prospect about their current state. You need to ask enough questions to uncover that and to understand the full extent of where they are today and what their environment looks like.
Keenan breaks it down into five steps.
So, let’s say I’m selling cybersecurity.
The first step is to gather as much information about the literal and physical environment the prospect is in as it relates to my product. It’s doesn’t require any judgment. So I would ask questions like, “Are your data servers on-premise or off-premise? What type of software do you make? Who are all the stakeholders involved? How big is the organization?” This will give me a nuts-and-bolts picture of where they’re at.
(Pro tip: try and get as much of this information as possible ahead of time, so you’re not wasting your prospects’ time on questions you can figure out on your own).
Next, I want to understand the problems within that picture. They might say something like, “We can’t stop this many phishing attacks, we can’t train our people, they’re not following the rules, they’re not taking the training…” Now I know the problems.
From there, I want to dig a little deeper and get to the impact of those problems. In response, the prospect tells me, “People aren’t taking the training, and so our systems fall prey to a lot of these phishing attacks. And so we’re getting more malware. Because of this, we have to buy more computers, we have to shut down the network, we have people coming in at 2:00 AM., we missed our numbers for Q4, we got sued, we’re out of compliance…” Great, now I know how the problem is hurting them from a business perspective. And remember, the more you can tie this to what the business is measuring (revenue, profit, COGS, etc...), the better off I’ll be.
Next I want to understand what the prospect’s general emotional state is regarding this problem. It could be anything: indifference, fear, anger, and so on. And broadly speaking, this is the thing they’re really trying to solve, so it’s important to understand it well. Empathy helps! In this case, my prospect is facing a lot of stress over these security issues.
The last thing I want to get at is the root cause. By this stage of the conversation, the prospect should be able to tell me what the root cause might be, or I should be able to suggest what it might be. This acts as a conduit to my service. So, let’s say the prospect tells me that the basic flaw in the system is that their current cybersecurity cannot keep up with the new kinds of phishing attacks and is not able to successfully flag them.
Now I can say that my cybersecurity system is up-to-date in real-time with the latest phishing methods and scams, our system actively monitors their system and we can proactively detect suspicious activity at our end, and our 24/7 support is always available to answer emergencies. I have just created a seamless transition from their current state to the desired future state.
This is also a good point to realize that you and your prospect might not be a fit. You might learn the root cause isn’t something your solution can help with – and that’s totally fine. Wrap up your conversation, and move on to prospects you can service.
How to start Gap Selling
To be successful, Gap Selling requires the seller to have in-depth knowledge of the product, the problems it solves, and the business around it. You can’t go in with a script, you need to be able to engage with the prospect and pivot the conversation on the fly according to what they say.
Do not get entrenched in trying to get the prospect to answer a certain way. If you can’t get them to reveal where they are, where they could go, and what things could be effecting them, then you won’t get to the core of the issue.
Keenan gives us the analogy of a doctor. Some doctors just ask us a few basic questions, make a prescription, and send us on our way. On the other hand, some doctors ask random questions out of left-field that make us think about the problem and possibly reveal something we had never thought about before. This indicates that they have a deep level of understanding of the issue. Doesn’t that increase your comfort level and belief that they can solve your problem? It is their command of the problem more than just the solution that gives them that credibility.
The previous section covered how Gap Selling works. Here’s what you’ll need to work on before trying Gap Selling:
- Understanding of the business: Gap Sellers invest in themselves learning customers’ industries, their challenges and opportunities. Essentially, they must become specialists in their field, committed to solving problems and helping customers.
- Deliberate learning: Never let up on growing your business knowledge. You have to keep up with the latest developments in your industry especially as pertains to your products. Take learning seriously.
- Listening capability: Salespeople are trained to talk, but at the right time it’s best to shut up and let the customer figure out things for themselves.
- Problem-solving capability: That’s what you’re there to do! You’re not parroting a features-list, you are listening to a prospect and figuring out a solution to their problem.
- Empathy: Emotions are part of the prospect’s current state and future state. You need to be able to connect to these emotions to truly understand them to suggest the best solution.
- A questioning attitude: You have to want to know more about the customer’s problem. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. And you need to ask good questions, which you’ll be able to do with more understanding of the business and practice.
- Future thinking: You should be able to connect the dots and see into the future, so you can predict potential problems your prospect might run into and cross-sell later on.
- Coachability: No one is perfect, and there’s always room for improvement. A Gap Seller is confident, but also aware that they can always learn more, and are open to feedback.
Gap Selling wrap up
As you can see, Gap Selling can transform the way you interact with prospects and the relationships you develop with them. When you focus on their problem and offer a fitting solution, you become the person who saved them from the headaches of their current state. Salespeople come and go, but problem-solvers are remembered.
Besides, you are not barraging the prospect with a list of benefits from a script. You are engaging them in an open and honest conversation about their problems, and you are essentially arriving at the solution with them. This is a better and more human way to connect with them than calling them up and just saying, “Hi, our product does A, B, C, D, E…”
It’s not easy, and it’s not for everyone. You need to be nimble to sell on the gap, and that requires deep expertise and empathy. Not to mention lots of practice. But like the thousands of sellers that have benefited from Keenan’s coaching, you will find the returns are well worth the effort, not only for business but for yourself as a salesperson.