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Gap Selling: Getting the Customer to Yes Summary

“Gap Selling: Getting the Customer to Yes” by Keenan is a book that fundamentally changes how we think about sales. It teaches a problem-centric approach, where salespeople focus on identifying “gaps” between a customer’s current situation and their ideal future state.

The book argues this deep understanding of the customer’s problems is key. This approach replaces traditional pitching and objection handling with presenting tailored solutions that address the customer’s core pain points. The goal is to build influence throughout the entire buying process and ultimately drive more successful sales outcomes.


Keenan opens with a bold critique of traditional sales approaches. 

He believes that the common focus on building rapport and presenting features leads to misalignment between what a salesperson says and what a buyer actually needs. 

This focus on features often misses the critical connection to deep-seated customer problems.

Traditional techniques are ineffective because buyers don’t truly care about product specs or even your likability in isolation; they care about solving their pain points.

The Power of Identifying Gaps

The core of the Gap Selling philosophy is recognizing the gaps between a buyer’s current state and their desired future state.

 These gaps represent problems the customer faces. 

Keenan identifies distinct types of gaps:

1. Current State

  • Physical Environment: This includes tangible aspects of the customer’s workplace, resources, technology, or infrastructure that contribute to their problem or limit their performance.
    • Example: Outdated software hindering productivity, inefficient office layouts, unreliable equipment.
  • Business Processes: Focuses on workflows, systems, and internal procedures. Are they inefficient, cumbersome, or failing to produce desired outcomes?
    • Example: Slow approval processes, communication bottlenecks, lack of data standardization.
  • External Forces: Factors outside the customers’ direct control that negatively impact their business. This could include market trends, regulations, competitive landscape changes.
    • Example: A new competitor with disruptive tech, shifting customer preferences, upcoming industry regulations.
  • People: Skills gaps, morale issues, or strained dynamics within the customer’s workforce or external partnerships that create problems.
    • Example: Lack of specialized knowledge on the team, high employee turnover, poor vendor relationships.
  • Emotional State: This explores how the customer feels about their current situation. This could be frustration, stress, worry, or a general sense of being overwhelmed.

2. Future State

  • Vision: What are the customer’s long-term aspirations? What does success look like in their ideal world?
    • Example: Expansion into new markets, becoming an industry leader, increasing shareholder value.
  • Desired Outcomes: Specific, tangible goals they want to achieve to move closer to their overall vision.
    • Example: 20% increase in sales revenue, streamline production time, improve customer satisfaction scores.
  • Unleashed Potential: This involves identifying areas where the customer could achieve more if their limitations were removed.
    • Example: Untapped markets, underutilized talent, potential cost savings.
  • Emotional State: How does the customer envision feeling once they’ve achieved their ideal state? This could be excitement, pride, peace of mind, or a sense of accomplishment.

3. Implications

  • Direct financial costs: Revenue loss, wasted resources, fines, missed opportunities
    • Example: Paying for inefficient software, high customer churn, costly regulatory penalties.
  • Employee morale and Productivity: Low morale, burnout, turnover, reduced output
    • Example: Frustrated employees, talent drain, project delays.
  • Reputational damage: Loss of customer trust, poor brand image, difficulty attracting partners
    • Example: Negative reviews, declining market share, damaged industry standing.
  • Missed Growth Opportunities: Inability to scale, slow innovation, being outpaced by competitors
    • Example: Lost market share, delays in new product launches, inability to adapt.

4. Obstacles

  • Lack of resources: Budget constraints, limited manpower, insufficient technology or knowledge.
  • Internal resistance to change: Fear of failure, lack of buy-in from key stakeholders, bureaucratic processes.
  • Competing priorities: Other urgent projects, limited attention from decision-makers, shifting business focus.
  • External barriers: Market conditions, regulatory hurdles, availability of suitable technology or solutions.

Key point: Identifying these gaps in detail is crucial, as it allows the salesperson to paint a vivid picture for the customer of what it costs inaction and motivates them to seek a solution.

Uncovering Gaps and Building Influence

Gap Selling departs from standard questioning techniques. Instead of trying to qualify a customer based on budget or timeline, salespersons must become skilled interrogators by focusing on questions that:

1. Expose and Explore Gaps

Unpeel layers to reveal the core issues that the customer may be only partially aware of themselves

This stage is about going beyond surface-level problems. 

A customer might say “our reporting process is slow.” 

The Gap Selling salesperson digs deeper to uncover the root of the issue. 

They might ask questions like, 

“What specific tasks within the reporting process take the longest?”

“How much additional time do you think these delays add to your overall workflow?”

“Are there any errors or rework that happens because of the slow process?” 

This line of questioning peels back layers, leading to the realization that the true problem isn’t just about a slow process, but about lost productivity hours and the potential for inaccuracies creeping into important data.

2. Quantify Implications

Attach tangible impact (costs, lost revenue, wasted time) to the customer’s pain, creating urgency for a solution

Once a gap is exposed, the next step is to make the customer feel the weight of its impact. 

A skilled salesperson won’t just say, “inefficient processes are bad.” 

They’ll guide the conversation with questions like, 

“You mentioned these delays add hours to your workweek – can you estimate how many hours across your team? 

“Does this additional time cut into billable hours or delay project completion?”

“Have any inaccurate reports led to costly mistakes for your business?” 

By translating the problem into lost revenue, wasted time, or damaged reputation, the customer begins to see the gap as a critical problem demanding a solution.

3. Explore Obstacles

Uncover what is preventing the customer from reaching their future state on their own, highlighting where your solution becomes indispensable

Even when a customer recognizes their gap and its impact, there might be reasons they haven’t solved the problem themselves. 

Gap Selling teaches salespeople to explore these obstacles through questions like, 

“Have you tried other solutions in the past?”

“Why didn’t they deliver the desired results?”

“Are there budget restrictions or internal expertise limitations that have been preventing you from achieving your ideal state?” 

Understanding these obstacles positions your solution as the unique key to overcoming them. You’re not just offering a product, you’re providing the exact path to the customer reaching a future state they couldn’t get to on their own.

By skillfully asking these powerful questions, the salesperson doesn’t just understand the problem, they help the customer fully understand and feel the impact of the problem.

The Gap Selling Sales Cycle

The book outlines a revised sales cycle focused on gap-awareness rather than the traditional close:

Exploration Stage

This phase is the foundation of the Gap Selling approach. 

The salesperson’s task is to step into the role of an investigator, leaving their product or solution knowledge at the door. Instead, they must ask a series of open-ended, probing questions crafted to uncover the customer’s current state. 

The focus here shouldn’t just be on surface-level problems, but on teasing out the underlying reasons for those problems, their root causes. 

Effective questioning in the exploration stage helps both the salesperson and the customer develop clarity about the true scope of the problem.

Impact Stage

Once gaps have been tentatively identified, the salesperson now works to make the customer viscerally aware of the true impact these problems have on their business or life. 

Rather than just listing pain points, the salesperson needs to guide the customer through a journey of connecting the dots. 

This could mean quantifying the financial losses due to inefficiencies, the missed opportunities caused by a lack of capabilities, or perhaps the damage to reputation and customer satisfaction stemming from the problem. 

The Impact Stage isn’t meant to scare the customer, but rather to ensure they fully realize the consequences of inaction.

Capability Stage

This is where the traditional product pitch gets reimagined. 

Instead of simply listing features and benefits, the salesperson directly links the capabilities of their solution to addressing the gaps and obstacles uncovered in earlier stages. 

Demonstrations, use cases, and customer stories become powerful tools to show, not just tell, how the solution would enable the customer to achieve the desired future state they’ve painted. 

The focus here is on highlighting how the product or service will solve the core problems and bring about their vision.

Objections and Closing Made Obsolete

Keenan’s perspective is that within Gap Selling, the nature of objections and closings changes dramatically. 

When a salesperson fully executes the process–deeply investigating the customer’s current state, desired state, and the pain points of the existing gap– the traditional “battle” of the sales process diminishes. 

Since the salesperson has spent considerable effort helping the customer truly visualize and quantify their problems, the value proposition of the solution becomes clear. 

The customer has, in a way, participated in the discovery of why your offering is the right solution.

Key Lessons

Gap Selling isn’t just about tactics—it’s about a mindset. 

Here are 3 lessons that you can learn from it. 


Problems come first. Products and solutions are simply the tools to bridge the gap.

Gap Selling fundamentally shifts the salesperson’s perspective. 

Instead of leading with features, benefits, and pushing their product as the immediate answer, the salesperson must become a problem detective. This means learning to ask questions that dig deeply into the customer’s pain points, uncovering root causes, and even highlighting issues the customer may not be fully aware of. 

The product or solution itself becomes secondary; it’s only valuable to the extent that it directly and effectively solves the uncovered problems.

Customer Advocacy

The best salespeople become advocates for the customer’s desired future state, not mere product pushers.

The Gap Selling approach encourages salespeople to move beyond transactional thinking and adopt a mindset of genuine advocacy. 

This means truly understanding the customer’s ideal future state – what does it look like when their problems are solved and their goals are achieved? 

The salesperson’s role then is to help the customer see a clear path to that future state and establish how their own solution acts as the essential bridge. 

This builds trust and establishes the salesperson as a partner in the customer’s success rather than simply a vendor trying to close a deal.

Influence not Manipulation

Gap Selling involves asking thoughtful questions and guiding discovery, not using sales tricks.

While traditional sales methods often rely on a certain level of persuasion and manipulation tactics, Gap Selling emphasizes building influence through thoughtful exploration. 

The goal is to ask questions that lead the customer to their own realizations about the size of the gaps they face, the true impacts of those gaps, and the barriers to achieving their desired state. 

This type of questioning guides a customer toward a deeper understanding of their own needs. 

When skillfully done, it positions the salesperson’s solution as the logical and necessary answer without the need for heavy-handed persuasion techniques.

Final Thoughts

“Gap Selling” provides a powerful critique of outdated sales models. It offers a revised focus on deep customer understanding and problem-solving that promises improved sales success, more satisfied customers, and a shift from order-taker to trusted advisor.

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