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PODCAST 51: How to Move from Feature Selling to Gap Selling

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This week on the Sales Hacker podcast, we interview world famous sales expert, consultant, trainer, and thought leader Keenan. We walk through his humble beginnings at the Denver Chamber of Commerce and dive deep into the concept of “Gap Selling,” the book Keenan wrote, and unpack how to move from product-centric to problem-centric selling and, in doing so, transform your win rates and sales effectiveness.

If you missed episode 50, check it out here: PODCAST 50: Building Diversity Into Your Revenue Organization w/ Simmone Taitt

What You’ll Learn

  • Why feature selling will get you fired
  • How to use effective discovery techniques to drive up deal size
  • Why sales is contextual and how to leverage context in the right way
  • The key tenets of Gap Selling
  • How to approach sales with the right attitude to deliver results

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Show Agenda

  1. Show Introduction [0:00]
  2. About Keenan: An Introduction [2:21]
  3. Building a Career off a Blog [12:10]
  4. “Please Mind the Gap” [15:26]
  5. Closing the Gap [19:51]
  6. Problem-Centric Versus Product-Centric Selling [33:33]
  7. Lose the Script [42:01]
  8. Sam’s Corner [46:57]

Show Introduction

Sam Jacobs: Hey everybody, welcome back to the Sales Hacker podcast. It’s Sam Jacobs, your host and the founder of Revenue Collective, an exclusive community for commercial operators of growth companies all over the world.

We’ve got Keenan on the show today. Keenan is the founder of A Sales Guy, which is his consulting, recruiting, training firm. He’s the author of Gap Selling, and he is a passionate and controversial sales leader and thought leader.

We want to thank our sponsors. The first is Chorus.ai. Chorus records, transcribes, and analyzes business conversations in real time to coach reps on how to become top performers.

Our second sponsor is Outreach.io. They are the leading sales engagement platform. Outreach supports sales reps by enabling them to humanize communication at scale and by automating the manual work.

About Keenan: An Introduction

Sam Jacobs: Today we’ve got a very special guest. Keenan runs a sales consulting, recruiting, speaking, and training company called A Sales Guy, and he also wrote a very powerful and influential book called Gap Selling. Keenan, welcome to the show.

Keenan: What’s up Sam Jacobs, my man?

Sam Jacobs: You’ve written Gap Selling, you are a very influential and noteworthy thought leader on the sales scene. Tell us what A Sales Guy is and what you focus on.

Keenan: A Sales Guy is an international sales consulting, recruiting, and training company. We help companies make their number. We try to change the way people sell by providing the guidance, direction, insight, knowledge, and foundational elements to develop and execute bad-ass sales teams. And we help recruit great salespeople, too, which can be tough sometimes.

Sam Jacobs: How did you become “a sales guy”?

Keenan: I’ve been a sales guy my whole life. My aunt used to call me that. I just had a knack for influencing people, and that’s what sales is all about.

I was a little hustler. My school had this big raffle competition, and I sold more tickets than anybody; I did it door to door and busted my hump. I convinced other kids to pool their money and we did lemonade stands. I built haunted houses in my basement. I was always selling something.

In 1997, I was living in South Beach Miami. I was modeling. My buddy called me up and said, “Keenan, you’re not going to be a supermodel. You’re getting old. I’ve got a job for you selling chamber memberships.” So I said, “Fuck it,” and came home.

Sam Jacobs: So the Denver Chamber of Commerce was your first official sales job.

Keenan: When my buddy called he said, “Listen Keenan, the chamber is packed with the who’s who of Denver, so go there for one year and you’ll be able to parlay that into a new job.” I broke every sales record you could imagine: biggest sale, most sales in a month, most sales in a year. I was crushing it.

Then this company that sold IT consulting services came to Denver. The branch manager says, “Hey, I hear you’re interested in coming to work for us. I’ve heard good things about you, but we need somebody who can hit the ground running. You have no experience in our space. I’d like you to come in six months after we’re established and we can give you the attention you need.”

I said, “Okay, that makes sense. But let me ask you, have you found this person who has all this experience and can hit the ground running?” And he said, “No we haven’t.” And I looked him right in the eye and I said, “I challenge you to find this person quickly because if you don’t, you’ll be behind the eight ball because you could have hired me. I would’ve been training and been on the ground running by the time you found this guy.” He chuckled a little and he said, “Okay, great idea.”

He calls me back two weeks later and said, “You son of a bitch. All I keep thinking about is you saying, I challenge you.” So they hired me. I became a top producer. I was the number one rep in that branch, then I became the manager, then I became a partner. And then another client came along and they hired me to run their managed modem division. I went from modeling in Miami to running a 125-person, $300 million sales division in three years.

Building a Career off a Blog

Sam Jacobs: Wow. That’s amazing. And then you started a blog? There was a moment at which you started describing your experience. Walk us through that process.

Keenan: My career went so fast that my resume couldn’t support it. Technology was moving to broadband and my company didn’t have a broadband solution so they went from flying high to nothing, and I lost my gig. I went out to get a new gig, and people said no. It was before social media so I couldn’t really compete. The guys that were doing the same thing I was doing were older with 15, 20, 30 years of experience. When I took another job, it was a step back. But I crushed it there again.

I didn’t want to be in a position again where I have to compete on my resume. I started to blog every single day about running sales teams, coaching salespeople, building sales organizations, building processes, the whole gamut. If I ever needed another job, all I’d have to do is say on the blog, anybody know of any opportunities? That was the logic.

I wrote a blog post for 712 days straight. People started reaching out to me. My stuff was getting retweeted. Established people were sharing my stuff and saying, “Pay attention to this guy.” Next thing I know I’ve got people calling me up asking me to consult with them. I left my job and started A Sales Guy. That was the name of the blog. I had so much SEO cred, it didn’t make sense to try to come up with a new name.

“Please Mind the Gap”

Sam Jacobs: What are the main themes that you are trying to get salespeople to adopt so they can crush it the way you did?

Keenan: I work really hard on the substance because when you have a personality like mine, and you don’t conform to the gray suit, blue tie bullshit, people look for a reason to discount you. Selling has nothing to do with you. It is not about you. Nobody could give a shit about you or your product or your services or anything.

I learned a long time ago that you need to focus on the buyer. What is the buyer’s desired outcome? What does the buyer want to accomplish? What is the buyer’s current state? What makes them unhappy with the current state? What is the future state they’re trying to achieve and how can you influence that? And that space between the current state and the future state is called the gap. The bigger the gap, the greater motivation they have to buy, the more money they’ll pay, the more engaged they’ll be with you, and the higher probability you have of closing the deal. And that’s what gap selling is all about.

Closing the Gap

Sam Jacobs: How do you teach it?

Keenan: Their current state needs to be untenable. Your job is not to tell the customer anything when it comes to their current state because perception’s involved. What you can and should do is ask enough questions to uncover the full extent of where they are today and what their environment looks like.

I break it down into five sections. You want to know as much as you can about the literal and physical environment they’re in as it relates to the product or service you sell. Ask questions to uncover the physical and literal environment in which that buyer is currently living. It’s nonjudgmental stuff. If you sell cybersecurity, you may want to ask is it on prem, is it off prem? What type of software is it? Who’s involved? How big is the organization? You just want to get the physical and literal.

From there, you want to understand the problems within that current situation. “We can’t stop this many phishing attacks, we can’t train our people, they’re not following the rules, they’re not taking the training.” Now I know the problems. From there I want to dig a little deeper and get to the impact of those problems.

“Because more phishing deals are getting in and because people aren’t taking the training, we’re getting more malware. We have to buy more computers, we have to shut down the network, we have people coming in at 2:00 a.m., we missed our numbers for Q4, we got sued, we’re out of compliance, we’re in a lawsuit over HIPAA.” Okay, those are some big impacts.

Then I want to go the next level and understand what’s the general emotional state? It could be indifference, it could be fear, it could be anger.

The last thing I want is the root cause. I want to be able to ask or suggest what the root cause might be because that acts as the conduit to my service. If I know the root cause, and my product or service addresses it, I have just created a seamless transition from their current state to the desired future state.

When you take a buyer through that whole process, you don’t have to do anything. They basically sell themselves.

RELATED: How To REALLY Run An Effective Sales Discovery Call

Problem-Centric Versus Product-Centric Selling

Sam Jacobs: Walk us through the difference between problem-centric and product-centric selling, and then talk about why product-centric selling doesn’t work.

Keenan: Product-centric selling puts your product at the core. It’s about the features, the benefits, what your product can do. It’s focusing on the technology. Salespeople talk about the product. They focus on their company. They tell. They explain. They’re motivated by quota. Product experts have technical discussions. They react to demand; I need this, I need that. Their emails and cold calls say, “I’d like to talk to you about my product. Can I tell you how my product can do this?” Product centric people can’t control the sale because they’re beholden to what their product or service can do. They’re not connected to the problem. They sell features and benefits.

Problem-centric selling starts with uncovering, assessing, evaluating, and focusing on solving the problem. Problem-centric salespeople talk about business problems, not the product. They focus on the buyer, not their company. They ask questions and inquire, rather than tell and explain. They’re motivated by the customer’s success, not by quota. They’re more like a business analyst. They have business discussions. They can create demand, as opposed to react to demand. They rarely have to compete on price, whereas product-centric people do. Problem-centric people can challenge the buyer. They control the sale. They focus on the outcome.

It’s an entirely different concept. It flips the whole script on its head.

Lose the Script

Sam Jacobs: I was on LinkedIn this week and you did a video where you said “no more scripts.” That generated a lot of outrage.

Keenan: My definition of a script is when you write down something and you put it in front of the salesperson to drive the conversation. Where they need to read it verbatim, use it as talking points, use it as a guide to talk on the phone, that’s a script to me.

I don’t want my salespeople having to look at anything to guide the conversation because selling is not telling. I don’t want you telling the buyer what we have. I don’t want you telling the buyers anything. Anything.

Our job as salespeople is to diagnose, like a doctor. You can’t give a doctor a script. You educate the shit out of them so they have command of the ailment. When a patient comes in, they know what question to start with and then they know, based on your answer, what question to ask next. They don’t need a script. They’re knowledgeable.

That’s what I said on the video, which everybody missed. You need to start teaching your salespeople and your SDRs and BDRs the business that they’re in, and the problems and issues and impacts and challenges their customers are having. Make them experts in those so they can engage them on the fly without a fricking script.

Sam’s Corner

Sam Jacobs: Hey everybody. It’s Sam’s Corner. That was an exciting and inspiring interview with Keenan. We’re lucky to have him on the show. He’s a passionate sales leader and thought leader, and I really enjoyed the conversation.

Things We Learned

  • Why feature selling will get you fired
  • How to use effective discovery techniques to drive up deal size
  • Why sales is contextual and how to leverage context in the right way
  • The key tenets of Gap Selling
  • How to approach sales with the right attitude to deliver results

Don’t Miss Episode 52

If you want to check out the show notes, see upcoming guests, or play more episodes from our incredible lineup of sales leaders, visit www.saleshacker.com/podcast-subscribe. You can also find the Sales Hacker podcast on iTunes or Stitcher. If you enjoy this episode, please share with your peers on LinkedIn, Twitter, or elsewhere.

If you’ve got a great idea or a guest for the show, or if you want to get in touch with me, you can find me on Twitter or on LinkedIn. Finally, thanks again to our sponsors: Chorus the leading conversation intelligence platform for high growth sales teams, and Outreach the leading sales engagement platform.

Sam Jacobs

Sam Jacobs is the Founder of Aqueduct Revenue Advisors and the New York Revenue Collective and regarded as one of the top start-up CROs in the tech community.

He has has over 15 years of experience scaling companies from post-revenue to ~$300M, has helped raise over $400M in institutional capital, and has helped companies of all sizes achieve an average annualized revenue growth rate of 48% over the last 15 years.