What Is Gap Selling? (How to Use It + 8 Key Benefits)

What Is Gap Selling and How Does It Work?

Gap selling is a sales method that focuses on gaining a deep understanding of customers’ current challenges and developing a clear picture of their best-case scenario future. It then aims to find ways to continually narrow the chasm between the current scenario and the future state.

Throughout the discovery phase, sales professionals ask themselves one core question: 

“Can our products or services honestly close that gap?”

In essence:

Gap selling positions good salespeople as advisors to potential and existing customers. 

It’s a tactful, holistic approach to sales that avoids pushing solutions that aren’t likely to yield a big enough payoff for a customer. If the given solution makes sense, the massive positive impact for the buyer comes into plain sight.

Gap selling differs from a sales methodology like MEDDIC in that it’s tightly focused on people. 

For example, it takes a deep dive into the problems they’re facing, while MEDDIC is more about qualifying potential opportunities and determining if a deal makes sense to pursue.

Who developed gap selling?

Gap selling was originally developed by Keenan, CEO and president of A Sales Growth Company. It’s extensively documented in his book, "Gap Selling: Getting the Customer to Yes."

According to A Sales Growth Company, gap selling introduced the concept of problem centric selling, and it steers away from selling based on need or competing on product features. 

The company also indicates that gap selling can be considered the same thing as problem centric selling.


Because problem centric selling establishes the salesperson as a trusted expert, driven by the aim to efficiently address a genuine business issue for the buyer.

Keenan acquiesces that gap selling is no cakewalk. 

Plus, discomfort can abound along the way.

After all, the process is meant to challenge buyers’ assumptions and unveil the true scope of their problems. But it’s all with the end goals of genuinely making customers’ (and reps’) lives easier — providing them with deep satisfaction and forming long-term buyer-seller relationships.

To reach that goal, gap selling goes deep into three areas: the current state (the problem or problems), the ideal future state (the dream that would result if those problems were solved), and the gap that sits in the middle. 

Let’s take a closer look at each of those states.

The Three States of Gap Selling

1. The Current State

As Keenan writes: “Every sale starts with a problem.” In other words, a problem-free buyer is a non-starter in sales. 

In gap selling, the current state refers to the examination of that problem and the buyer’s existing situation. But it’s a wide and deep examination, not just a cursory assessment.

For instance, let’s consider the medical mysteries coming into the Center for the Undiagnosed Patient (a clinic at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles). 

The scope of a patient’s problem doesn’t stop at the fact they have an undiagnosed ailment. It extends to things like each of the symptoms they’re experiencing, the financial implications of being under constant medical care, the social and lifestyle impact their condition has on their life and the lives of their caregivers, and so much more.

Business problems are similar. 

For example, it’s not just that Salesforce updates are taking up too much of your time. It’s also the fact that the resulting inefficiency is detracting from the rest of your work, eating up time you’d normally spend having dinner with your family, and causing you to feel frustrated day in and day out.       

The current state is where a sales rep becomes a true investigator of these problems — peeling back the curtain and uncovering the litany of relevant angles, factors, events, barriers, and details related to a buyer’s current situation. It’s an exercise in getting context, unearthing influences, and picking meat off until you get to the bone. 

In many cases, a frustrated buyer isn’t even aware of the gravity of their situation (or how nuanced it actually is) until a rep starts unpacking details.

There are five key areas that comprise the current state and require close examination during this part of gap selling:

  • Environment: The buyer’s physical environment, business environment, and things that are happening in their world every day
  • Problems: The challenges the buyer is up against
  • Impact: How the buyers’ problems are affecting them
  • Root Causes: Why these problems are happening
  • Emotional State: How the buyer feels with these problems at play

The success of the rest of the gap selling process depends on how thorough and attentive you are about the current state. This initial evaluation serves as the foundation for the future state and everything that follows.

2. The Future State

The future state envisions what it would look like if the buyer were living the dream and if all their problems were alleviated. 

In gap selling, the sales rep collaborates with the buyer to define and outline what that ideal end-state would be for them. What would the impact be on their company, business results, environment, emotional state, and overall life? 

Now, for the most part, humans hate change. When we consider making a change, we wrestle with the answers to questions that usually hold us back — no matter how terrible our current state is. This includes questions like:

  • ‍Is the near-certain pain of the journey worth it based on the desired outcome?
  • What if the outcome is worse than what I’m experiencing now?
  • What if horrible things happen at any point?

We’re only willing to jump in and actually make a change if we have a vivid mental picture of a better future — an image that’s concrete and irresistible. 

And ultimately, we have to believe that the upsides of arriving at that future state trump any potential downsides of the journey we’ll have to take to get there.

A well-defined future state tends to open a rep’s eyes — and, in turn, the prospect’s eyes — to the full scope of the situation. It also opens the door to a host of potential opportunities to close the gap.

3. The Gap

The gap is essentially what it says on the tin: the crevasse that exists between your buyer’s current state and future state.

The power lies in your ability to fully illustrate and codify that gap for a buyer. Once they have an exhaustive and clear picture of where they are and where they could be, it’s much easier to determine and communicate the potential value of a problem-solving product or service.

At the end of the day, a wider gap can mean a bigger payoff.

Keenan sums this up: “There is no way customers can understand the value of your life-saving pill if they don’t realize they are dying.”

In addition, a vivid and motivating mental image of a glorious future state helps make any pain points that could pop up while traversing the gap more palatable and bearable.

Now that we have explored the fundamentals of gap selling, let's delve into the key advantages of using this sales tactic.

8 Key Benefits of Gap Selling

Gap selling might not make sense for every company or sales cycle

But for other businesses (especially ones with a long sales cycle), it offers a slew of potential benefits for sales teams and buyers. 

Consider a few of the upsides:

1. The Ability to Anticipate Buyer Hesitations and Decisions

In gap selling, you move through an in-depth evaluation of the buyer’s situation before the “selling” even begins. As such, you’ve already turned over every stone and explored every corner of their mindset and challenges. 

So, there shouldn’t be any surprises along the way.

2. A Highly Customized Buying Experience

Gap selling requires sales professionals to go deep during the discovery phase. So, the details that emerge naturally lead to a personalized experience and, in turn, solutions that are specifically tailored to each buyer’s situation.

3. The Ability to Inspire Change

The thought and care that goes into expanding the buyer’s vision of their current and future states (as well as shaping the gap between those states) helps them wrap their minds around the immense value a potential solution could provide. It also motivates them to make changes to get there.

4. Sales Rep Indispensability

The gap selling process makes for an intimate, empathetic, and profound experience. It also tends to build an unbreakable bond — turning the rep into much more than just another salesperson in the buyer’s eyes. Instead, the rep becomes an invaluable guide and resource for the customer during the sale process and beyond. Everyone involved becomes invested in building the relationship and nurturing it long-term.

5. Shorter Sales Cycles, Better Close Rates, and Increased Predictability

The potential value increase illustrated by the gap leads to a true sense of urgency, ultimately pushing deals to close faster. Plus, the quality and volume of information gathered during the process help reps identify deals that won’t reach the finish line early and make the whole buying process more predictable.

So, you’ll have shorter sales cycles, and there’s never an eleventh-hour panic about making a quota.

6. An Improved Approach to Troubleshooting

In gap selling, you essentially troubleshoot as you go. This ensures the sales guy doesn’t unexpectedly lose control of the situation at any point along the way.

7. Higher Average Selling Price

Gap selling often results in a higher average selling price. This is because the methodology effectively highlights the value and necessity of the product or service in bridging the customer's “gap.”

8. Competitive Advantage

Gap selling provides a significant advantage over traditional selling by focusing on the customer's unique problems — setting sales representatives apart as solution-oriented and trusted advisors. 

This approach enhances their competitive edge in the market — positioning them as more attentive and effective compared to those using standard, feature-centric techniques.

If these benefits pique your interest (and your business deals with complex problems that could benefit from an in-depth discovery phase), gap selling might be the sales methodology for you.

But then, this sales methodology also has its fair share of challenges.

3 Main Drawbacks of Gap Selling

Some of the challenges of implementing gap selling include:

1. Can Be Time-Consuming

When you begin with gap selling, it often involves a substantial investment of time. This approach often involves a detailed analysis of a customer's current situation, desired future state, and the “gap” that exists — requiring significant time investment from both the sales team and the client.

2. Challenging to Implement

Implementing gap selling can be complex and demanding. It requires a deep understanding of the client’s business, comprehensive sales training for your team, and a systematic approach to identify and address the specific gaps, which can be resource-intensive and difficult to manage.

3. Has a Restricted Scope of Use

The applicability of gap selling is limited in certain contexts. This method may not be effective in simple or transactional sales environments where customers are not looking for extensive solutions — making it less versatile compared to other sales strategies.

Since you've gained insight into the pros and cons of gap selling, let's now explore how to put this sales tactic into practice.

How to Give Gap Selling a Go

Fully embracing this sales methodology and implementing it into your team’s sales process is no small feat. After all, gap selling requires careful attention and a significant time commitment.

Here are the actionable steps and strategies to help you implement gap selling effectively:

1. Kickstart Gap Selling With Book Study and Online Training

Begin your gap selling journey by elevating your sales IQ with the best-selling book "Gap Selling" by Keenan. It offers a comprehensive understanding of the gap selling approach and its application in sales techniques — making it a valuable investment for your professional growth. 

To further enhance your skills and improve your sales IQ, engage in gap selling online sales training and interactive courses that provide practical, hands-on experience in gap selling.

2. Create What Keenan Calls a Problem Identification Chart

A Problem Identification Chart is a tool that acts as a reference resource in initial calls with prospects. It helps a rep assess the buyer’s current state. 

The chart should feature three columns: 

  • A laundry list of problems your product fixes
  • Another list of the detrimental impact those problems could have on a customer’s world
  • A list of known root causes for the set of problems you already outlined

3. Unearth the Prospect’s Problems

This is where you begin to do a deep dive into your prospect’s current state. There isn’t any selling happening yet — it’s all about understanding the problems your potential buyer is up against. Aim not to look at this piece of the puzzle as a moment in time, but rather as an ongoing conversation about the situation your buyer is in.

4. Assess the Impact of the Problems

Get to the root cause of each prospect's problem and evaluate the impact each one is having. Don’t forget to evaluate how the problems at hand are affecting the prospect’s emotional state.

5. Define the Future State

Team up with prospects to understand their dream state and why they see that state as the ideal outcome. What would their life be like if you could take away the problems they’re facing? 

Stack the desired future state up against the current state to define the gap and the value that would come from closing it.

6. Understand Decision Criteria

What pieces of information is your prospect (and their team members) using to make buying decisions? How are they evaluating potential solutions to invest in?

7. Seek to Narrow the Gap

If there’s agreement on your solution being the right one to solve the problem, this is when the selling happens. Position your solution as the missing piece that can close the gap between the prospect’s current and future states.

Pro Tip: While gap selling, make sure to track key sales metrics to gain insights into the effectiveness of your strategies. This involves measuring crucial sales metrics like performance and pipeline metrics.  

So, what kinds of questions should you ask clients when implementing the gap selling sales strategy?

4 Question Types to Apply During the Discovery Phase

In gap selling, the discovery phase makes up about 25% of the buying process, and the outcomes serve as critical jumping-off points for everything that happens from there. 

To become an expert information gatherer, you need to become an expert interviewer. These four types of discovery questions will help you level up the quality of information you collect during discovery. 

Pro Tip: When you’re done asking basic discovery questions, don’t forget to ask plenty of follow-up questions to ensure you’re being as thorough as possible.

1. Probing Questions

Probing questions are open-ended and intended to help you get the full picture of a buyer’s problems. Don’t just settle for the initial answer — continue probing until you’ve assessed the full scope of the problem.

Some examples:

  • "How is the [problem or pain point] affecting your daily operations? Additionally, have you observed any broader impacts on the organization as a whole?"
  • “You mentioned you have [current solution]. What’s working well with [current solution] in place? What improvements would better support your team?”
  • “How do members of your team react when [problem] happens?”
  • "In your organization, what aspects are functioning well, and which ones are not?"
  • "What are your expectations or goals for implementing new technology?"

2. Process Questions

Process questions are part of a deep dive into any operational issues a frustrated buyer might be facing. This could be issues related to workflows, service-level agreements between teams, or technical challenges. 

Some examples:

  • “Walk me through — step by step — how your company currently does [process].”
  • “How has [process] changed in the past year? Two years?”
  • "Can you take me through the events or activities that occur before and after [process]?"

3. Provoking Questions

Prompt “a ha” moments and new ways of thinking about a problem with provoking questions. These questions are intended to get the buyer to step outside themselves as a way of looking at their challenges from different angles and considering these challenges from other people’s perspectives. 

Some examples:

  • “Of the details you’re sharing with me, which ones might surprise your teammates? Why?”
  • "Have you pondered the consequences if [provocative insight] were to occur?"
  • “How would you feel if all the problems you’ve described to me suddenly went away?”

4. Validating Questions

Corroborate details you’ve already collected with validating questions. These are questions that will prompt your buyer to repeat information back to you. In some cases, they’re aimed at ensuring that the buyer has the opportunity to confirm (by saying “yes”) or raise an objection to any aspect of what you’re discussing. 

This can ensure you have a deep understanding of what they’ve revealed to you throughout the process. 

Some examples:

  • “Last time we spoke, you mentioned [existing information]. Is that still the situation, or have things changed?”
  • “Let me make sure I have the steps of [current process] correct. I’ll repeat them back to you, and please correct me along the way if needed.”
  • "It appears to me that [problem] is the primary issue here. Am I correct?"

While gap selling can be a powerful approach, it's important to understand and navigate potential pitfalls.

3 Common Pitfalls to Avoid When Gap Selling

Some of the common mistakes you should avoid while applying the gap selling sales strategy are:

  • Overstating Product Features: Be cautious of overselling or exaggerating the benefits of your product or service. This can lead to unrealistic expectations and ultimately disappoint the customer.
  • Not Fully Understanding Customer Needs: Avoid making assumptions about the customer's current situation or their desired outcome without thoroughly understanding their specific needs. Confirming these details with the customer is key to a successful gap selling approach.
  • Overemphasizing Product Benefits Over Pain Points: Focusing too much on the product's benefits rather than addressing the customer's pain points can result in a disconnect. The primary aim should be to understand and solve the customer's challenges.

Wondering how to shorten your long sales cycle, optimize your gap selling implementation, and achieve increased revenue?

Look no further than Scratchpad!

Scratchpad: A Reliable Tool to Use While Implementing Gap Selling

Traditional CRM tools like Salesforce may not fully meet the requirements in managing pipelines, particularly in automation capabilities, deal inspection, and accurate sales forecasting. These limitations could pose challenges in effectively applying the gap selling methodology.

This is where advanced Salesforce add-ons like Scratchpad become essential, providing significant advantages in these key areas.

Scratchpad enhances the capabilities of your sales team and revenue operations. It provides unmatched insights into deal forecasts, sales rep performance, and lead behavior. This allows you to quickly identify potential issues, offer more effective coaching, and achieve your goals with exceptional accuracy.

Here’s how this tool can help:

  • Boost efficiency with advanced views that simplify field, object, or next-step modifications in Salesforce.
  • Create convenient workflow tiles for swift access to essential data.
  • Spot pipeline gaps with deal spotlights and get alerts about missing fields to ensure deals align with close dates and forecasts.
  • Integrate Salesforce workflows with your sales notes and easily edit, share, and templatize them for future use.
  • Streamline manual tasks using no-code Slack automations and improve workflow efficiency.
  • Automate forecast roll-ups and track pipeline changes across all levels.
  • Generate visual forecasts based on historical data from trends analytics to track deal progress and ensure reps meet their quotas.
  • Use keyboard shortcuts with Scratchpad Command to effortlessly update Salesforce workflows and create records.
  • Effortlessly document sales conversations using Scratchpad’s AI Sales Assistant, a sophisticated feature for sales call recording equipped with AI-assisted notes.

Still need clarity on questions related to the gap selling methodology?

We’ve got you covered.

2 FAQs About Gap Selling and Other Sales Methodologies

Let’s discover how gap selling differs and aligns with other sales strategies that are used in the 21st century:

1. What Is the Difference Between Gap Selling, Solution Selling, and SPIN Selling?

Gap selling, solution selling, and SPIN selling are all sales methodologies that offer distinct approaches to closing deals and engaging customers.

Here’s how you can differentiate them so you can choose the most suitable method for your sales goals:

  • Gap Selling: Targets the gap between a customer's current situation and their desired state. It involves deep probing to understand underlying issues and positions the product or service as a bridge to the desired outcome.
  • Solution Selling: Focuses on first identifying customer needs and then presenting solutions tailored to those needs. It is consultative, emphasizing problem-solving and value creation for the customer.
  • SPIN Selling: An acronym for Situation, Problem, Implication, Need-Payoff. This method uses structured questioning to uncover and develop customer needs. It emphasizes understanding and addressing the customer's specific situation and problems.

2. What Is the Difference Between Gap Selling, Challenger Sales, and Sandler Sales?

Gap selling, Challenger Sales, and Sandler Sales represent diverse sales methodologies, each with its unique strategies and principles:

  • Gap Selling: Concentrates on the discrepancy between a customer's current situation and their desired outcome. It involves deep questioning to reveal underlying problems — positioning the product/service as the solution to bridge this gap.
  • Challenger Sales: Involves challenging and changing customer thinking — providing unique insights. It emphasizes “teaching, tailoring, and taking control” of sales conversations — positioning the salesperson as a trusted advisor.
  • Sandler Sales: Focuses on reversing traditional sales roles, with the salesperson acting as a consultant. It uses a questioning strategy to qualify clients — avoiding aggressive selling and promoting a no-pressure, mutual respect approach.

Close the Sales Gap With Tools Like Scratchpad!

Gap selling offers many advantages for sales teams trying to solve complex buyer problems and maximize business results, especially in today's competitive market. 

It helps reps anticipate customer decisions, provides a highly customized experience for the buyer, and pushes everyone involved to think differently about the sales process. It also establishes meaningful customer relationships and turns good salespeople into true partners with invaluable expertise.

But is there a tool that can support you as you implement gap selling across your team and beyond?

Yes, there is — and its name is Scratchpad!

Explore the power of a Scratchpad for faster pipeline management, more pipeline visibility, and a better way to forecast. You’ll also discover how the tool can shorten your sales cycle and help you achieve increased revenue.

Try it free today.