At the heart of sales is knowing your customers. But some sales strategies focus so rigidly on the product being sold that they’re oblivious to the customer’s unique pain points and how to address them. Gap selling is a sales technique that ensures this doesn’t happen. It’s about first learning a customer's current state (where they are now), desired future state (where they’d like to be), and the distance between them before proposing solutions.
Your job is then to bridge that gap by presenting solutions (i.e. your offerings) to help prospects reach their goals. This article will dive into the gap selling methodology and how to implement it to improve sales.
Gap selling is a customer-centric sales approach developed by Keenan, the CEO of A Sales Growth Company. His book, Gap Selling: Getting the Customer to the Yes, outlines three critical elements of the buyer's journey:
According to the gap selling methodology, by focusing on customer problems in their entirety through intentional questions, you can position your product or service as the means to bridge the gap between their current and desired future state, generating high demand and increasing the likelihood of them buying.
The customer's current state is where their problems live. According to Keenan, there are five key elements of the current state:
By asking the right questions, you can help prospects tap into their pain points and unmet needs, which naturally leads to their desired future state.
The prospect’s desired future state represents their end goal. When you know where they want to be, you can determine how your offering might get them there. In this stage, you have what you need to brainstorm potential solutions to present to your prospect.
As a salesperson, you have some influence over how the prospect imagines their future state. They might have a goal in mind, but by guiding the conversation through strategic questions, you can encourage customers to envision a brighter future — one that’s achievable with a little help from your offering — which brings us to the gap.
The gap refers to the space between where your prospect is versus where they want to be. This is where you can determine the appropriate solutions to their problems and position your services as the answer to their needs — called "bridging the gap." Below, we walk you through a simplified example of gap selling in action.
Imagine you're a project management software company. When interviewing a marketing manager at a technology company whom you’ve identified as a prospect, you find that their team often runs into communication issues.
You ask questions to help uncover the root of the problem, such as, "Can you tell me more about why that is happening?" or "What impact is this having on your work productivity?" Your prospect explains that their team is struggling with tool sprawl, using multiple outdated team chat tools and project management tools across departments, causing miscommunication that impedes productivity and causes missed deadlines. This is your prospect's current state.
You then ask your prospect, "How do you hope your team will be operating by next year?" They say that they envision seamless cross-department communication and minimal bottlenecks. They may even have a personal stake — such as a bonus tied to workforce productivity. This is your prospect's desired future state. Lucky for your customer, your project management software incorporates collaborative tools designed to break down team siloes and enhance communication — team chats, commenting features, automated notifications when a task is completed, etc.
In the gap-closing phase, you explain your software's unique features, presenting your product as a must-have solution to streamline communication and enhance efficiency. Your prospect agrees, and you complete the deal, thus closing the gap and winning a new customer.
With so many different sales strategies, it can be hard to differentiate one from the other. A few sales approaches overlap with gap selling, but with unique differences.
Here’s how gap selling differs from other similar sales techniques.
SPIN selling focuses on asking specific questions that help uncover a prospect’s problems, how those problems affect them, and how your product can be the solution. The questions are focused on four categories: situation, problem, implication, and need payoff.
Admittedly, this strategy is very similar to gap selling. The difference lies in the framing of the conversation — gap selling’s primary focus is getting a prospect from where they are currently to where they want to be in the future, while SPIN selling focuses on uncovering a buyer’s problems and finding a solution.
The PAS (problem, agitate, solution) formula is a framework that focuses on creating a dialogue to help uncover buyer pain points, frustrations associated with those pain points, and how your product can help alleviate them.
The difference between this strategy and gap selling is on the emphasis. The PAS formula is all about helping a buyer understand the frustrations of not reaching a solution (focusing on the negative), while gap selling helps you identify a buyer’s problem and come up with a solution to get them to their goal state (focusing on the positive).
Solution selling is a strategy centered around your prospect’s needs and how your product or service is the best solution to help meet them. It’s often used when you have a variety of products or services you can offer a buyer to meet their highly specific needs — and that often comes with customized plans or solutions.
In short, the goal of solution selling is to demonstrate how your product or service can fulfill a customer’s needs (making it product-centric), while the goal of gap selling is to make a buyer aware of their problems before offering a solution to get them to their goal state (making it customer-centric).
Challenger sale is an approach where you act as the educator to a buyer and completely own the conversation. It typically involves prior research to uncover a buyer’s problems before you educate them on how your product or service can be the best solution.
Gap selling takes a more collaborative approach, involving careful listening and encouragement to help a buyer understand their problems before providing a solution.
A successful gap selling strategy requires you to ask questions that get to the root of your prospect’s problem. These questions should be thoughtful and customer-centric, helping customers understand how your offering can meet their needs.
Below, we’ve included five key steps to successfully implement gap selling as well as different gap selling questions to kick-start your sales strategy.
Start by engaging with your prospects and asking probing questions to get an overview of the specific issues they're facing.
Probing questions are useful for uncovering customer pain points. These questions should dig deep into the difficulties the customer is experiencing, so ask open-ended questions that allow them to describe their problems in detail.
Examples of probing questions include:
Next, dive into your prospect's issues and how they will impact their business's future. Do this by asking provoking questions that offer more insight into the root cause of their problems.
Provoking questions challenge the prospect to consider the more significant impact these issues have on them or their organization.
Examples of provoking questions include:
Avoid superficial solutions, like those that may only provide temporary relief. Help your prospect understand the long-term implications of these issues on their business. There are typically deeper business problems under the surface, often related to revenue, productivity, churn, efficiency, or even employee happiness.
The next step is to try and understand your prospect's desired goals and tap into their emotional state by asking desired state questions. Desired state questions explore what the customer envisions for their future and help you understand their goals and aspirations.
Determine the desired outcome by asking the following questions:
Then, identify what might stop your client from purchasing your product and prevent you from closing the gap by asking process and priority questions.
Process questions uncover how the prospect or organization handles a situation. Asking these questions allows you to determine operational or financial obstacles, including how to overcome potential objections to proposed solutions.
Examples of process questions include:
On the other hand, priority questions highlight the most pressing issues and help you assess the importance of resolving certain difficulties for your prospect.
Examples of priority questions include:
Finally, you want to present your product or service as the solution, focusing on the features and benefits that help buyers understand how your offerings will solve their issues.
You can do this by asking validating questions. This ensures you and the customer are on the same page, confirming that your solution aligns with their goals and expectations.
These are typically "yes or no" questions that reaffirm what your prospect needs, show you've listened and understand the root of the problem, and prevent misinterpretation.
Examples of validating questions include:
Try not to oversell your product, or your proposal may appear disingenuous. Keenan says:
"Trumpeting feature benefits that may or may not be of value to your customer will not get you closer to the sale. Mentioning your place on the Fortune 500 will not get you any closer to the sale. Every time you talk about yourself, you risk triggering those change-resistant, emotionally fraught thoughts and feelings in your customers."
So, to effectively close the gap and promote your solution:
Implementing these approaches can improve your lead nurturing processes and facilitate more deal closings.
While gap selling can be highly effective, there are some common mistakes sales professionals should avoid, such as:
These mistakes can quickly derail your gap selling strategy and turn an interested prospect into a dissatisfied one. Prioritizing and understanding the customer's needs and goals is essential before presenting your solution.
An effective gap selling strategy offers several benefits for sales growth, including:
To get started with gap selling, download our interactive template:
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Guided by AI technology, our virtual receptionists answer inbound calls 24/7 to boost lead conversion and promptly respond to customer inquiries — so you have more time to handle other essential business tasks. We offer outbound calling through Outreach Campaigns, too.
To learn more, schedule a consultation or reach out to email@example.com.