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Gap Selling: Is It Right for Your Organization?

Gap selling is a sales approach that helps sales reps close more deals by focusing on the core of a customer’s problem. Unfortunately, many reps fail in this area. Fifty-six percent of organizations said they had a high degree of purchase regret over their largest tech-related purchase in the last two years, according to a new survey by Gartner, Inc. Much of this regret was the result of frustration in the buying experience.

Read on to learn more about the gap selling methodology, how it works, and some tools that are valuable in successfully using this approach in your organization. Key points include:

  • How Gap selling uncovers the root of the customer’s problem to identify the gap between the current and ideal future state.

  • How Gap selling leads to better relationships, increased revenue, and process efficiencies to avoid wasting time on unproductive deals.

  • Gap selling is a collaborative approach that lets customers fully understand their problem and its impacts.

  • Gap selling is a successful approach because it requires reps to dig deeper than other methodologies to understand the problem thoroughly.

  • Gap selling requires reps to remain in discovery mode through the entire sales process.

Process vs. Methodology

A sales process is a set of repeatable steps that guide sales reps toward closing a deal. The typical sales process involves several steps, including prospecting, preparation, approach, presentation, handling objections, and closing.

A sales methodology is the model for how to execute the process. A sales methodology maps to specific stages of the process. The model you adopt will depend on your organization’s process, culture, and values and may change or evolve as your company grows.

Do I Need a Sales Methodology?

A sales methodology isn’t necessary, and you can execute your sales process without one. However, a methodology is an essential tool for successfully streamlining the buyer journey and increasing efficiencies across the company. A methodology helps you evaluate, navigate, and improve sales opportunities and challenges. It also helps you scale your processes and make sure they are consistent across your organization.

What Is Gap Selling?

Gap selling is a sales methodology created by sales coach/influencer Keenan. In his book Gap Selling: Getting the Customer to Yes, Keenan explains that gap selling is a problem-centric approach to sales where the sales rep identifies the gap between the customer’s problem and the solution that can help them overcome it. This approach showcases your product or service in a way that enables customers to see its positive impact on their lives. Closing that gap is the motivation for the buyer to purchase the product.

What Problems Does Gap Selling Address?

Many sales methodologies focus on the product or service rather than the customer’s needs. Product-focused processes compete based on features and price rather than the value they provide. When using a product-focused methodology, there is no guarantee the solution actually meets the customer’s needs or that it will provide value. This leads to customer frustration and dissatisfaction as companies struggle to make the solution work.

As a result, their problem perpetuates, and they end up spending more money to find a better solution. Gap selling addresses that problem by focusing on the gap between the ideal state and the future state. This approach better ensures the solution aligns with the company’s needs.

Gap Selling Benefits

Gap selling works according to the way buyers think. Customers don’t buy on problems, they buy on the impact the problem is having on their goals and quality of life. Gap selling helps the buyer see how the root cause of the problem impacts their current state and what their ideal state could look like. In gap selling, the conversation rarely focuses on product features until the current state, the gap, and the future state are identified. That way, you sell based on the outcome—the value the customer receives from purchasing your product or service.

  • Gets rid of objections: Identifying the root cause of a prospect’s problem and what’s necessary to fill the gap will dissolve objections in the sales process. If the rep has followed the process, there should be minimal objections. If the rep has taken the time to guide the customer through identifying the problem and understanding the gap, the solution should be obvious. If not, the rep may not have done enough discovery to help the client get to that point.

  • Better customer satisfaction: Customers appreciate it when a solution solves their problem and eliminates a pain point. They are more likely to invest in additional services when you deliver a proven solution.

  • Better relationships: When you spend time working with the customer to diagnose the problem, they perceive you as an expert. They will trust an expert who shows a vested interest in helping them succeed.

  • Shorter sales cycles: Once a buyer understands the impact of the problem, they are more motivated to buy quickly to alleviate the pain.

  • Increased revenue: Problem-centric selling often uncovers more problems than buyers realize. As a result, this approach uncovers opportunities to add value to the customer. This in turn increases revenue.

  • Less time wasted on unproductive deals: Getting to the root of the problem helps you see whether your product solves it. Uncovering this information early enables you to assign the appropriate lead score and saves time. You can move on to other prospects before getting bogged down in sales presentations based on features rather than needs.

Sales Enablement With Gap Selling Tools

Gap selling is a straightforward process. Especially with the right tools in place. A customer relationship management (CRM) system is computer software used for lead capturing and lead management. It tracks customer interactions and data about their preferences, purchase history, and other pertinent information. This information is stored in databases that companies can search quickly to find the information they need. With this type of tool, you can manage your sales pipeline in one spot to keep track of everything. Additional benefits include:

  • Helps in organizing and managing customer data.

  • Improves productivity by automating repetitive tasks.

  • Improves sales productivity by sharing information between sales and marketing teams.

  • Provides a single view of every customer interaction.

How Gap Selling Works

Gap selling focuses on three key areas: the current state, the future state, and the gap. Let’s explore further:

The Current State

The current state involves understanding the prospect’s business environment, challenges, and impact on the prospect’s emotional state. Gap selling requires a deeper discovery process to uncover the problem’s root cause. The customer’s current state consists of:

  • Environment details: Basic customer details such as their physical location, product or service, target market, and business stakeholders.

  • Type of problem: Addresses the type of problem the customer faces. Is it a technical problem? Is it a business problem?

  • Impact: This factor considers how the problem affects the business. For example, if the problem costs money and how much.

  • Root cause: The underlying issue that causes the problem.

  • Emotion: This factor gets to the heart of what the buyer feels about the problem.

To uncover a problem’s root cause, you’ll need to ask a variety of questions.

Probing Questions

Probing questions are designed to encourage deep thought about a specific topic. For example:

  • How would you describe the problem you’re facing?

  • What is working and what isn’t in your company?

  • What do you expect to achieve with new technology?

Provoking Questions

Challenge the customer’s current perspective on the problem. The goal is to get them thinking about the problem in a way they may not have previously. Examples include:

  • Have you ever considered […]?

  • What do you think about […]?

Validating Questions

Closed-ended questions to validate what you know about the customer or problem based on your discovery. For example:

  • If I understand correctly…

  • Just to confirm…

  • Do you mean…

The Future State

Future state discussions revolve around the ideal outcome. This involves understanding what the prospect’s company would look like if they solve the problem, as well as understanding why it is important to them. The goal is to determine what needs to happen to get to that future state.

  • New physical: What new environment do they want to build?

  • Problems: What is the current problem? What long-term problems do they foresee?

  • Desired outcomes: What is their ultimate goal or expected outcome?

  • Desired emotions: How will the solution make them feel?

  • Potential solutions: Have they researched solutions?

The Gap

The gap represents the distance between the current and future state of the customer’s environment. Knowing the buyer’s goals, challenges, and decision criteria is important to influence the deal or create urgency for action. When exposing gaps, it’s also essential to quantify their impact. Showing the impact creates a more compelling narrative that plays to the prospect’s emotions. Lead conversion is almost effortless when you use this process.

Example of Gap Selling

The first step for a sales rep is to gather as much information as possible. If the product is a cloud-based accounting system, one possible discovery question would be, “How would you describe the problem you’re facing?”

The prospect might describe their problem as an inability to keep up with and identify all the various accounting fraud schemes. Digging deeper shows that the prospect’s company only catches about half of all fraudulent transactions. Further discovery reveals the problem cost the company $5M last quarter. As a result, the prospect is in a state of fear and stress. Ultimately, it is determined the company’s inefficient manual processes are too slow to catch fraudulent transactions.

The sales rep could then present their solution to the problem. Specifically, their solution uses artificial intelligence algorithms that perform three-way matching every time a transaction gets entered. The sales rep would describe how the system alerts the appropriate company leaders if the transaction looks suspicious. That way, the prospect’s company will detect issues earlier and avoid catastrophic financial losses.

How To Achieve Success With Gap Selling

Gap selling is a great way to ensure you’re focusing on the right leads. It helps you understand their challenges and how your solutions could help them overcome them. To be successful with this approach, keep a few things in mind.

Maintain a Problem-Centric Mentality

Stay in problem-solving mode throughout the sales process. Doing so keeps you aware of opportunities to add more value.

Ask the Right Questions

Getting to the core of the issue involves asking the right questions. The questions you ask are specific to each customer. Your aim is to uncover the facts about the problem. You also want to discover the emotional impact the problem causes on the buyer. All of this helps you uncover the root cause of the problem and influence the future state.

You will find a lot of information during discovery. Keeping track of it all is essential to ensure you remain aware of the root problem. CRM tools have integrations with popular sales tools that make tracking things easier. For example, using Google Drive to store documents.

Be the Expert

It’s not enough to be an expert in your product or service. As a gap seller, you’ll need to be an expert in your prospect’s industry. Why? Because it helps you understand the challenges the prospect faces. It gives you insight into what future changes could impact their business. All of this makes you empathetic to their needs, which builds trust and credibility.

Expose the Gap

The goal of closing the deal is to uncover the gap. The bigger the gap, the bigger the opportunity.

Stay Future Focused

Being an expert in the prospect’s industry helps you identify new opportunities to cross-sell/upsell to solve future problems. You’ll show customers you care about them and have a desire to help them remain successful after the sale. That is why continued communication after the sale is crucial. A CRM tool automates contact with customers after the deal. A CRM has email integration that lets you write and schedule emails from your dashboard.

Is Gap Selling Right for Your Organization?

A strong sales methodology is essential to a successful sales process. Aligning the methodology with your sales process makes your reps more efficient. When deciding on a sales process, use your product and corporate culture as a guide.

Gap Selling vs. Solution Selling

The key difference between gap selling and solution selling is the focus. Solution selling focuses on the need, whereas gap selling focuses on the problem. Although the concepts seem the same, the difference is subtle. In a solution-based approach, the seller looks for a need that’s causing pain. The seller then identifies how their product meets that need in comparison to others. This approach overlooks the root of the pain. Sellers using this method rely on the perception of a need rather than the actual problem. And because of that, they risk selling a product that does not meet expectations. Solution selling is best for highly customized products or services.

Gap Selling vs. Customer-Centric Selling or Challenger Sales

Gap selling is similar to customer-centric selling or challenger sales in that it focuses on identifying problems and solutions that will deliver the most value. However, gap selling takes a different approach. The gap process is collaborative and empathetic. With this approach, sales reps remain in discovery mode through the entire sales process. Reps are always looking for new ways to deliver value. Challenger sales help sales reps build trust and differentiate their offerings from competitors by controlling the conversation. It is most effective in B2B sales environments where the rep can influence the discussion to lead the customer to the benefits of the rep’s product or service.

Gap Selling vs. S.P.I.N

S.P.I.N. is an acronym for Situation, Problem, Implication, Need-payoff. This approach uses questions that focus on these four areas. This methodology is all about sales reps building rapport with their buyers and understanding their challenges.

  • Situation questions help define the state of things.

  • Problem questions get to the heart of the issue.

  • Implication questions probe the prospect to consider the consequences of not fixing things.

  • Need-payoff questions encourage prospects to consider how their environment would benefit from change.

The key difference between S.P.I.N. and gap selling is the focus and the level of detail collected. The gap method focuses heavily on identifying the gap between the problem and the solution.

S.P.I.N. selling helps salespeople create authentic relationships with their clients and add value. It’s best used when the prospect hasn’t identified their problem or isn’t fully aware of the implications.

When Is Gap Selling the Right Fit?

Gap selling works for any product. However, If your product is easy to understand and doesn’t take much effort to turn a lead into a prospect, gap selling isn’t for your team. If your organization has a complex product or service, taking a problem-centric approach is ideal. This is also true if your client is in a complex or heavily regulated industry.

Getting Started With Gap Selling: Unlearning Old Habits

Gap selling can be a tough transition for some sales teams. Getting them to unlearn old habits such as focusing on features or making assumptions about the problem may take time. The best way to get reps more comfortable is by giving them the right training and tools. Here are some skills your team may need to develop when starting your journey with this approach:

  • Strong listening skills: Salespeople are trained to talk. However, they will need to adopt active listening skills to learn what matters to the customer.

  • Problem-solving skills: Sales reps will need to move from product specs to see how the product solves a problem.

  • Empathy: Emotions play a big role in purchasing decisions. Reps need to be able to understand those emotions to recommend the best solution.

  • Inquisitive attitude: Sales reps will need to keep digging on each topic. This can be uncomfortable for some. However, doing so is critical to uncovering the root of the problem.

Gap Selling With Teamgate

Gap selling is a problem-centric sales process where sales reps work collaboratively with their leads to identify the gap between the current state and the ideal state. Closing this gap is the motivation for the buyer to purchase the product. This sales approach helps you build better relationships with customers, save time, and drive revenue.

Teamgate offers a head-start on the competition by providing you with the tools needed to accelerate your gap selling process. Our CRM gives you customizable tools such as lead management, sales pipeline management, and your favourite integrations. Access notes from your initial discovery call, contact history and more all from one location. With customizable fields, tags, tasks and pipelines, you can create your own sales process to match the gap selling methodology. Plus, your Teamgate sales management CRM hands you the insights, reports, and forecasts you need to keep your pipeline flowing smoothly and compare the performance of different sales methodologies. Reach out to us for a demo or sign up for a 14-day trial to see for yourself.

Andrew Martin

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