Gap Selling: A framework for getting buyers to their ideal future state
Most sales methodologies focus on convincing prospects that your solution is the key to a brighter future.
The problem there is, the prospect may not understand why they’re experiencing a problem — much less how to solve it. In many cases, they may not even know what the ideal solution should look like.
Gap selling takes problem-solving to the next level. It’s not just about sellers working through the process of uncovering pain points and identifying solutions.
The seller’s goal is bridging the gap between the prospect’s current state (where they are right now) – and their ideal future state (where they want to be – assuming they’ve solved the problem).
Here, we’ll explain the concept of gap selling in more detail, break down the framework, and share some tips for implementing the strategy in your own organization.
What is Gap Selling?
Gap selling was created by sales coach/influencer Keenan (yes, just the one name) who wrote the book, Gap Selling: Getting the Customer to Yes and now runs a B2B sales training program built on the methodology.
It’s a problem-centric methodology where sellers go deep into the discovery process to understand the full scope of a prospect’s problem/pain point and work with them to identify the gap between their current state and ideal future state.
From there, all interactions focus on closing the gap by diagnosing problems and presenting solutions.
For reference, here’s an illustration that explains the basic framework of the Gap Selling methodology:
Here’s a bit more about each of the three pieces of the puzzle:
Current state represents where things are right now. Here, sellers focus on understanding the prospect’s business environment, the problems and challenges they’re dealing with, and the impact of those problems on the business—and on the prospect’s emotional state.
It’s important to note that gap selling dives deep into the discovery process. So, you’re going beyond basic pain points and instead, trying to uncover the root cause of that pain.
Future state represents the ideal outcome. Once you’ve gathered enough info about the current state, you can start discussing the future state. In other words, where would the prospect’s company be if they solved the problem?
What kind of environment does the prospect want to create? What kind of impact will solving the problem have on the business--how will it affect them emotionally?
Here, the goal is determining what needs to happen in order to get the prospect to that ideal future state. In some cases, it might also involve helping prospects define the ideal outcome before assessing possible solutions.
The gap represents the distance between current and future states. Your goal is determining how much of a difference exists between the two states, and whether or not the gap is wide enough to justify an investment in your product or service.
How much will it cost to make the change? What kind of effort is involved? And are those costs even worth it? The bigger the gap, the easier it’ll be to prove the value of making that change.
Keenan says the discovery process should happen within the first 25% of the sales cycle. The reason being, that without this information, you can’t know what the buyer’s goals are, what challenges they’re up against, or what their decision criteria is based on.
Without that information, you can’t influence the deal or create the kind of urgency that drives action.
How to put together a winning gap strategy
While gap selling operates on a relatively simple framework, mastering the strategy isn’t easy.
Keenan says gap selling boosts sales by changing everything sellers thought they knew about relationship-building, objection handling, pricing, and closing deals.
In many cases, reps must unlearn old habits – like selling features or making assumptions about the prospect’s ideal solution. And instead, embrace a more collaborative, problem-focused approach to buyer interactions.
Below, we’ve outlined some best practices for putting this strategy to work – though you’ll still need to put in the work when it comes to mastering these tactics:
Maintain a problem-centric mentality throughout the sales cycle
That said, Gap Selling takes on a different approach.
In Challenger Sales, reps do their own research to identify problems and opportunities before presenting them to buyers – often in a way that “challenges” or “antagonizes” them. Gap Selling is a collaborative, empathetic process, which, like Customer-Centric Selling, allows the buyer to take the lead.
But, what makes this process unique is that discovery spans the entire sales process.
Reps need to stay in “problem-centric” mode during the entire sales process, and constantly look for new ways to deliver value to the customer.
So, in that sense it’s similar to the Agile, Lean, or DevOps methodologies used in manufacturing and software development to drive continuous improvements.
Gap Sellers need to invest in becoming experts in their prospects’ industries, and really understand the opportunities and challenges that come with the territory. It’s also about being an empathetic, active listener.
This approach requires reps to analyze all of these different data points, so they can connect the dots and find new solutions.Your goal is always about helping customers understand their problems and figure out a solution.
It’s also about keeping an eye toward the future. So, even after that initial deal closes, reps need to keep a pulse on new developments in the industry and look for cross-sell/upsell opportunities that solve future problems.
Ultimately, staying in problem-centric mode allows you to discover the information you need to cut through the noise and close gaps the buyer may not even know about.
Ask the right questions
Gap selling begins with some serious information gathering. Initially, your goal is defining the three elements we’ve mentioned above–current state, future state, and the gap.
The best way to gather this information, of course, is asking the right questions so you can find the right answer.
Note that the types of questions you ask (as well as the content of those questions) depends on the situation. That said, questions need to be very specific and aimed at uncovering the following information:
- Facts about the situation
- The problem
- The impact of the problem
- Emotional responses to the problem
- Root causes
- The ideal future state
- Possible solutions
Here are some examples of questions you might ask to understand the current state, future state, and the gap.
Current state questions:
- Tell me about your current reporting solutions?
- If you had to change something about your current technology, what would you change?
- What are the biggest shortcomings with your current solution?
- What features do you like most about your current solution?
- How confident are you that you’ll hit X goal by next quarter?
- What is your business environment like?
- How many users have access to X solution?
- What activities/processes do they use X solution for?
- When do they work? And where?
Future state questions
- What changes would you like to see–and why?
- What is your plan for making the change?
- What steps do you plan on taking?
- What would solving X problem mean for your team?
- What would you be able to accomplish with extra time/resources/better reporting (whatever)?
Questions to ask yourself:
- Why is achieving X goal so critical to the prospect’s business?
- Why does X goal matter so much to the prospect on a personal level?
- What is the catalyst driving this change?
- What specific business drivers are at play?
Questions to ask the prospect:
- What have you done to solve the problem so far?
- Are you/your team committed to taking action?
- If not, what needs to happen so you can move forward?
- When do you need to see results?
- How will you measure success?
We’ve put together a list of Gap Selling questions you can share with your team.
Calculating the gap
Locking down the “win” is all about your ability to expose gaps and help customers see problems they may not have seen before.
As mentioned, the bigger the gap, the greater the opportunity. The stakes are higher, because prospects stand to gain more from making the change and more to lose by not taking action.
Exposing the gap and creating a compelling narrative that moves the deal forward points back to the discovery process.
But – beyond asking questions like the ones we’ve just outlined, you’ll want to dig deeper to uncover the “why.”
Why is a specific process so inefficient? Why is the company losing money? What, exactly, do they hope to gain by adopting your product/service?
Keenan uses this example in an article he wrote for LucidChart to illustrate all of the moving pieces that must come together to influence the deal.
While this example focuses on the process of selling a car, you can see how the seller moves from gathering basic facts about the buyer’s situation to really detailed information about the impact of the problem, the future state, and finally, potential solutions.
So, here, the buyer is dealing with an older car that he uses primarily to commute to work and drive his kids to school. The seller is only able to learn that the state of the car prevents the family from taking vacations and frequent breakdowns impact their financial situation.
With that information, the seller can start looking for affordable cars that address the buyer’s problems – and present those options by tapping into the emotional and financial impact the purchase stands to have on him and his family.
Weflow users can use the platform’s Notes function to keep track of these details throughout the sales process – by automatically syncing transcriptions and notes back to Salesforce for later use.
Keenan is upfront about the fact that Gap Selling is hard.
You have to understand the problems your buyers are up against–and the impact, urgency, and pain they cause.
And while this may sound like a pretty straightforward methodology, it requires sellers to break up with long-standing habits and embrace a new, problem-centric mentality.