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Our Complete Guide to Gap Selling

Jonathan Costet August 1, 2022

Close the gap, and you’ll close the deal. That’s the basis behind Gap Selling — a sales methodology developed by Keenan, CEO and president of A Sales Growth Company.

The “gap” refers to the space between where a prospect is now and where they want to be in the future. Your goal as a seller is to help prospects fill that gap.

But how exactly do you achieve that? How do you close this gap in your prospect’s mind?

In this guide, we’ll explain what the Gap Selling Methodology is and how this framework can help boost your sales. We’ll also help you determine if this sales methodology is right for your team and how to implement it.

What is Gap Selling?

Gap Selling takes a problem-centric approach to approach. The “gap” refers to the space between a prospect’s current state and their future state or “where they want to be.” Gap Selling is all about understanding both states and positioning your solution to fill that gap.

Gap Selling methodology overview

When you focus on diagnosing your prospects’ problems, you’re building a strong foundation for the sales process. It also positions you as a trusted advisor whose main concern is solving their problems.

What makes the Gap Selling methodology unique?

“Identify a need and sell it.” 

It’s sales advice that you’ve probably heard before, and on the surface, it makes sense. A computer sales rep won’t know what to recommend unless they know what you need.

However, Keenan argues that selling based on need is the wrong approach. Here’s a direct quote from his sales book Gap Selling:

“Never sell to need. If you only solve the problem your buyer thinks they have instead of the one they really have, you haven’t helped them at all.”

So what should you do instead? Focus on your prospects’ problems instead. 

Keenan clarifies his position in more detail:

“Problems get you to the impact and the impact is where urgency, value, and need live and where the sale takes root.”

Determining what those problems are and how you can solve them is at the heart of the Gap Selling methodology, which consists of three parts: current state, future state, and the gap. 

Let’s take a closer look.

Current state

A prospect’s current state represents their physical and literal situation. It describes what they’re going through right now.

Main elements of a prospects’ current state

Keenan describes five elements of a prospect’s current situation:

  • Environment: Where your prospect is based and what their environment is like.
  • Problem: The problems or challenges they’re experiencing.
  • Impact: The impact that these problems are having on them and their organization.
  • Root cause: The fundamental issues that are causing these problems to occur.
  • Emotion: How their current state is affecting them emotionally.

With this information, a sales rep can learn a prospect’s future state.

Future state

A prospect’s future state represents their ideal outcome. What do they want their future processes to be like? What impact will solving the problem have on them and their business?

As reps work with prospects to determine their future state, they’re also evaluating how their solutions can help get them there.

The gap

The gap represents the “distance” between your prospects’ current and future state. A wider gap means a stronger motivation to buy (and a higher chance of closing the deal).

Once you know where your prospects want to be and you’ve determined that the gap is wide enough to warrant purchasing your solution, you’ll have an easier time convincing them why they need to make a change.

Examples of Gap Selling questions

Understanding your prospects’ current station and where they want to be requires asking the right sales questions. In Gap Selling, Keenan shares four types of questions that will help you get to the heart of your prospects’ problems.

Probing questions

The discovery process is all about gathering information. Here you’ll ask probing questions to get prospects to share more insight into the problems they’re facing. These are open-ended questions meaning you’re eliciting responses beyond “yes” or “no” answers.

Sales rep asking probing questions

Examples of probing questions include:

  • “You mentioned [problem]. Can you tell me more about it?”
  • “What kind of impact is [problem] having on your organization?”

Always follow up and dive deeper when prospects mention a particular problem. This will help you better understand the root cause of a problem.

Process questions

Process questions help you learn how your prospect performs a specific action. They can help you get to the root cause of technical or operational problems.

Examples of process questions include:

  • “Can you help me understand how your company currently does [process]?”
  • “Can you walk me through what happens before/after [process]?”

For example, let’s say that you offer accounting software. To learn more about a prospect’s processes, you’d say something like, “Tell me what happens when a new invoice comes in.”

Don’t be afraid to follow up with probing questions. The responses you get will provide more insight into the organization’s inner workings, which will help you position your products or services more effectively.

Provoking questions

Your prospects may not understand the extent of their problems. They might only understand how certain issues affect them, but not how it affects their team or the company.

Provoking questions get your prospects to think about their problem in a way that they hadn’t considered before. The goal here is to get them to see the bigger picture and the larger impact of their issues. 

Examples of provoking questions include:

  • “Have you considered what would happen if [provocative insight]?”
  • “What impact does [problem] have on the rest of your team?”

When you ask questions that get your prospects thinking, they’re more likely to see you as a trusted advisor. Why? You’re helping them consider things they may not have thought of on their own, not just pushing a product without understanding their situation.

Validating questions

Don’t make any assumptions. Throughout the discovery process, you should always ask validating questions to confirm what your prospects just said.

Examples of validating questions include:

  • “To me, it seems like [problem] is the main issue here, am I understanding you correctly?”
  • “Last time we spoke you said [key issue or concern]. Has anything changed since we last talked?”

Unlike probing questions, validating questions are typically close-ended, meaning that you’re trying to elicit a “yes” or “no” response.

This does this two things:

  • Keeps you and your prospect on the same page
  • Shows that you’ve listened to what they’re saying

By removing ambiguity, you’re also preventing any miscommunication that could frustrate potential customers and derail the deal.

Is the Gap Selling methodology right for your team?

Gap Selling is a question-heavy sales methodology. In fact, Keenan says that you should spend a quarter of the sales cycle on learning your prospects’ current and future state. That means a large part of your sales process will be spent on discovery.

However, spending this much time on discovery isn’t always practical. For transactional sales like household goods, potential customers won’t have the patience to sit through this line of questioning.

Gap Selling isn’t a good fit for transactional sales and retail environments. But it’s ideal for B2B businesses, especially ones that solve complex problems with (often) custom solutions.

Some examples that come to mind include:

  • Commercial insurance
  • Managed IT services
  • Project management software
  • Workflow automation
  • Payroll processing

If you offer products or services that don’t have a standard solution, then the Gap Selling methodology could be a good fit for your team.

Something else to consider is that Gap Selling is difficult to master. There isn’t a script that you can just hand to your reps. Keenan even says that reps need “off-the-charts business acumen” to successfully implement this methodology.

If you decide to implement Gap Selling, make sure to invest in sales training for your reps, so they have the necessary foundation. 

How to get started with the Gap Selling methodology

Gap Selling only consists of three steps: learn your prospects’ current state, determine where they want to be, and close the gap. Unfortunately, implementing this methodology isn’t as easy as it sounds.

The step-by-step process outlined below will help you implement the Gap Selling methodology in your organization.

1. Create a Problem Identification Chart

One of the top sales mistakes that sales reps make is reaching out to prospects without first understanding their challenges. This often leaves reps unprepared during their sales calls.

Keenan recommends creating a Problem Identification Chart where you list the different problems that your products or services can solve, including their impact and root cause. You’ll create this chart before reaching out to a prospect.

Here’s an example of a Problem Identification Chart: 

Example of a problem identification chart

Let’s say that you offer project management software. 

The first step is to list the problems that your solution solves. One problem could be a project manager who struggles with keeping their team aligned. The impact is that projects are frequently delayed, leading to unhappy clients and a loss of revenue.

The next step is to write down what you know about the problem. What’s behind these particular issues? In this case, project managers may not have a single source of truth. Data about their projects are in different places, which makes delegation and resource planning difficult.

Of course, problems can often have multiple root causes. Brainstorm with your team to ensure that you know enough about each issue before you engage with a prospect.

2. Get the facts about your prospects and uncover their problems

The first order of business is to learn your prospects’ current state. The goal here is to gather as much information as you can.

  • What is their physical and literal situation?
  • What are their business processes like?
  • What types of challenges are they facing?
  • How are they currently addressing those challenges?
  • Why are they doing something about it now?

Keep in mind that you don’t want to bring up your products or services during this stage. That’ll only make you come off as too pushy or even greedy. Your priority is to simply gather facts about your prospects and learn more about their problems.

Pro sales tip:

Discovery is an ongoing process. 

Average reps tend to frontload their discovery questions as if they’re checking off items from a to-do list. This is a mistake. According to our data, the top sales performers ask probing questions throughout a call.

Discovery question flow for top and average sales performers

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Don’t treat discovery as a one-time thing. Always ask follow-up questions throughout sales conversations with your prospects.

3. Discover the impact of your prospects’ problems and identify root causes

You’ve uncovered important facts about your prospects, and you have a basic understanding of their problems. But you’re not done with the information-gathering stage yet.

The next step is to dig into your prospects’ problems and determine their impact with questions like:

  • “How is [problem] affecting the bottom line?”
  • “What are the consequences each time it occurs?”

Then ask probing questions to follow up. 

For example, if your prospect says something like, “Our customers are churning at a high rate,” you would probe by asking, “Can you tell me more about that?” or “Why do you think that’s happening?” And then actively listen to what they have to say.

Once you have a clearer picture of the root cause of a problem, you’ll have a better idea of how to position your solution.

Pro sales tip:

There’s a strong correlation between your prospects’ response length and success rates.

How customer story length affects success rates

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How you phrase your questions matters. Start your questions with these phrases to evoke longer responses:

  • “Can you help me understand…”
  • “Can you walk me through…”
  • “Can you talk to me about…”
  • “Can you tell me about…”

Starting your questions with these phrases signals to prospects that you’re looking for longer responses. You’ll get more in-depth responses and boost your success rates.

4. Know your prospects’ future state

The next step is to determine your prospects’ future state. This entails determining the environment they want to create and how their ideal outcome would affect them emotionally.

Examples of future state questions include:

  • “What goals do you want to achieve?”
  • “How would you measure success?”
  • “What would solving [problem] mean for your team?”

Of course, don’t forget to follow up. If your prospect tells you about an outcome they’d like to achieve, find out why. This will help you determine what’s most important to them.

Pro sales tip:

Spend more time listening to your prospects than speaking.

According to our data, the top reps have a 46:54 talk-to-listen ratio. They spend more than half the time on a call (54%) listening to their prospects than talking. In contrast, average reps have a 68:32 talk-to-listen ratio.

Winning talk-to-listen ratio for top and average reps

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Want access to call analytics data like this? With Gong’s sales enablement software, you can measure talk-to-listen ratios for all your reps (and much more).

5. Determine your prospects’ decision criteria

Think about a recent purchase you made. There’s a good chance that you compared different options and narrowed them down based on certain criteria before making a decision.

Similarly, your prospects are likely considering multiple solutions. They’re comparing criteria like ease of use, capabilities, and data security to help with their decision. Understanding what these criteria are will help you tailor your messaging.

Ask these questions to understand how your prospects evaluate new purchases:

  • “What are the most important criteria for a purchase like this?”
  • “Can you tell me more about your company’s buying process?”
  • “Who will you speak with to finalize this decision?”
  • “How did you decide on the previous solution?”

Don’t forget to ask validating questions to confirm the criteria they value most (e.g., “You mentioned that [criteria] is a main deciding factor. Is that correct?”). Once you understand how your prospects make purchasing decisions, we can move on to the last step.

6. Close the gap

You know your prospects’ current state and where they want to be. Now it’s time to present your solution and close that gap.

Closing the gap in sales

A wider gap is a major sales opportunity. Keenan says, “Sales happen when the future state is a better state.” Prospects have a greater motivation to buy once they acknowledge that the status quo is unacceptable, and change is necessary.

Here are tips for creating a kickass sales demo and winning your prospects over:

  • Stick to a few features: Your solution may have a ton of features, but you don’t want to reveal all of them at once. Doing so will only overwhelm your prospects. Instead, focus on the features that address their problems (keep it to six max).
  • Anchor your prospects: One way to motivate your prospects to act is to “anchor” them in your solution. After showcasing a feature, ask questions like: “Can you see how [feature] can help you address [problem]?” This will get your prospects to envision a better future state.
  • Focus on business problems: There are two types of problems: technical and business problems. Keenan says that the key to getting a sale is to focus on how your solution helps prospects solve their business problem (e.g., frequent project delays, high churn rates, declining sales, over something like lack of integrations).

By following these steps, you’ll help your prospects close the gap and take the first step towards their desired outcomes — signing your deal. 

However, if you’re struggling with overcoming objections, then get our free Objection Handling Masterclass, where you’ll learn how top reps turn objections into commissions.

Gap Selling vs. Solution Selling: What’s the difference?

Gap Selling places a strong emphasis on identifying a prospect’s problems, while Solution Selling is more about uncovering their needs.

However, Keenan says that focusing on needs is the wrong approach. A prospect may have identified an immediate need, but they may not know the extent of their problem. This makes it difficult to effectively position your solution.

In Gap Selling, you’re taking a more problem-centric approach. You’re spending a lot of time just on discovery alone to learn about your prospects’ problems. This helps position yourself as a trusted advisor rather than a pushy salesperson.

Gong + Gap Selling = higher win rates

Gong gives you full visibility into your sales pipeline, so you can pinpoint what’s working and what’s not. Get a complete breakdown of your sales data and leverage key insights to inform your sales strategy.

Gong’s sales analytics software captures every interaction, allowing you to understand what separates your top reps. Armed with this information, you can get to work on “cloning” your top reps and replicating their success with the rest of your team.

Sales data for top performers

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Want to really put the Gap Selling methodology to the test? With Gong, you can set up trackers and see how your sales messaging plays out in the field in real-time.

See how you can use Gong to transform your sales process and unlock revenue.

Additional Gap Selling resources

Check out the following resources to learn more about the Gap Selling methodology.

Gap Selling: Getting the Customer to Yes

Gap Selling: Getting the Customer to Yes was published in 2018 by Keenan, making it one of the youngest sales methods out there.

In Gap Selling, Keenan explains his methodology in complete detail — why you should focus on uncovering your prospects’ problems, the four steps of the discovery process, how to set the right cadence, and more.

Gap Selling Online Training

If you prefer to follow a more structured learning program, you can enroll in Gap Selling Online Training that Keenan offers through his sales consulting firm. Courses are available for both individuals and teams. 

The curriculum for Gap Selling Online Training looks like this:

  • Intro to the gap
  • Problem identification
  • Discovery part 1
  • Discovery part 2
  • Demo / solution
  • Pipeline

There are video lessons and activities for each. Individual training costs $499 per year. There are three annual plans for team training: Team Work ($2,599), Small Company ($5,299), and Large Company ($14,999).

Conclusion

Gap Selling takes a problem-centric approach to sales. It asks that you diagnose your prospects’ problems and determine desired outcomes before discussing your solution.

If your sales reps are struggling to connect with prospects, then adopting this methodology can help boost their win rates. But you’ll need to equip them with the right tools to track their performance and provide the guidance they need to crush their goals.

Request a demo today to see how Gong’s revenue intelligence software can take your sales strategy to the next level.

WRITTEN BY
Jonathan Costet

Senior Growth Marketing Manager @Gong | Au revoir opinions, bonjour reality