Engage More Sales Prospects with GAP Questions

We recently put out a blog titled The #1 Sales Lesson from Kramer, for all of our Seinfeld fans. We highlighted Kramer’s questioning technique in the episode “The Keys,” where he attempts to persuade George to move to California with him. 

I sat down with our CEO, Tom Stanfill, to take this topic a step further and discuss an advanced questioning strategy that we call GAP (Get At the Problem) questions. This skill helps sales reps navigate the 3 main challenges that sellers face today: struggling to Engage our virtual audience, demonstrating our Expertise, and having the customer Embrace our solution. We’ve come up with 4 steps to help sales reps develop a GAP question strategy to use with their prospects and customers. 

If you’d prefer to take this topic on-the-go, you can listen to a full conversation on sALES with ASLAN podcast episode 105:


The Challenges of the “3 Es” 

Because of the selling environment we’re in right now, our challenges in selling (often virtually) are amplified. Sales reps struggle with engagement, showing expertise, and getting our customers to embrace our recommended solution. GAP questions can help sales reps address and overcome these 3 big challenges. 

Engaging customers can be tricky, because virtual selling can get bogged down by too much monologue. We need to figure out how to create more dialogue with prospects, and keep them engaged throughout the interaction and the sales process. 

Demonstrating expertise is a challenge for sellers both virtually or face-to-face. Sales reps need to be able to establish for a customer why they are worth listening to and following. In the world today, sales reps are becoming “less important” as a conduit for information thanks to the internet. Customers can do their own research and make their own preliminary decisions based on all the readily available information that is out there. Salespeople need to demonstrate their importance and credibility for assisting their customers in the decision making process. 

And finally, getting customers to embrace our recommendation is always a challenge for sales reps. When we’re influencing customers and prospects, we’re getting people to change or shift beliefs, to think differently and/or move in a different direction. And that’s not easy. 

This questioning strategy, or skill, addresses all three of those barriers that sales reps often face. 


What is the purpose of GAP Questions?

Using GAP questions is about asking the right types of questions to help your customer make the right decision for themselves or their business. Your motive is to serve, not to manipulate. Your goal is to ensure that they solve their problem and your role is to help them by providing expertise. If you make this clear, your customer will be drawn to you, they will follow you. It’s about being Other-CenteredⓇ. 

GAP is an acronym for Get At (the) Problem. Tom frames it up this way:

Your customer has a desired destination – that’s why they’re looking at your solution. They are trying to solve a problem and you are (potentially) part of the solution. They need help getting to where they want to go – and they need a plan. 

“What I’ve found is that most customers are not experts in buying. You (sales reps) are experts in your product or solution, but they are not. They may have only tried to solve this problem once in their career.”  – Tom Stanfill

Therefore, the seller needs to demonstrate that they have the expertise to help the customer get to their destination. This means helping the customer think through all that is required to get there. GAP questions are designed to help do this. They highlight problems that the customer hasn’t thought about. And simultaneously, these questions clearly demonstrate to your customer that you have thought about all aspects of the road to their desired destination – that you have the insight and expertise to help them accomplish their goals. It shows your customer that you are looking at their problem from a macro level (the benefit they want and the elements needed to achieve it), and that you have a unique perspective and value to add. 

When you move beyond just the products you sell, to examine their problem in its entirety, you become incredibly valuable to that buyer, customer, or decision-maker. 


Why should sellers ask GAP questions? Why not just come out and tell the customer what they should be thinking about/ considering?

Tom says, “People buy more when they’re talking than when you’re talking. People don’t argue with their own data.”

If sellers can lead the customer through the interaction by asking good questions, they’re interested and engaged. And if they land on the idea, or come to the solution themselves, they won’t argue with it. But if you tell them what to do, it won’t have the same effect. They won’t be as apt to embrace your recommendation. 

The goal is engagement. And GAP questions create dialogue. 


4 Steps to Overcome Selling Challenges

As previously mentioned, the 3 main challenges that sellers face today are: struggling to Engage a virtual audience, demonstrating Expertise, and getting the customer to Embrace the recommended solution. We can help overcome those challenges with the aid of these 4 steps:


Step 1 – Identify the Problem 

This seems obvious, but it’s not. As human beings, our natural tendency is to be concerned with ourselves and our own problems. We default to self. As comedian Brian Regan puts it, we all have a “Me Monster.” As sales reps, we tend to focus on our products, our solution, our company. We think about what we want (and need) to sell. 

Sellers need to begin by backing up and zeroing in on what actual problem the customer has. At a macro level, think about the people that you serve and what problems they have. Don’t think about your solution. You need to first identify the macro problem they have, not just the need that you can solve (of course the problem is one that you can help solve). 

This is where GAP questions start – by identifying the real problem and leading from there. 


Step 2 – What’s Required to Solve the Whole Problem

This is where many sales reps struggle – because oftentimes, what’s needed to solve the problem is beyond what a seller can offer. It’s beyond their portfolio of solutions. 

In this case, salespeople need to remove themselves from the equation and think of themselves as a consultant. Become a student of the industry and people they serve. 

Sellers, think about the problem your solution solves. For that problem to be completely and truly solved, what is required beyond your solution? What are the other pieces of the puzzle? Then, become an expert. Become versed in the “best practices” or “formula” for solving that problem, including and beyond your solution. Be able to confidently say to your customers, “Here are the 5 (or any other number) things that need to happen for you to solve that problem.”

Define the problem, come up with the best practices that need to be in place to solve that problem, and then make your list. It’s important to recognize that you don’t do everything on that list; but helping your customer understand how to solve their entire problem will almost guarantee they use your solution to solve the parts that you can. 

When you speak with authority and knowledge about the scope of the problem and the total solution, people will follow you. You become a trusted partner, (not just a sales rep selling “stuff”), and you will have influence. 


Step 3 –  Circle the Elements

This step is about highlighting certain things on that list (mentioned in Step 2) to develop your GAP questioning strategy. 

When doing so, think about 1) what customers typically overlook and 2) what gives you a competitive advantage. 

Let’s use our own company as an example. At ASLAN, a sales training company, we sell transformation of sales organizations. The problem our customers have is that they’re trying to transform or change the way their employees sell. We don’t sell “training,” we sell change, we sell increased revenue. 

Part of the solution to that problem (transforming a salesforce) is frontline leaders. This is an element that we “circle.”Many of our customers come in asking us to train their sales reps. But the truth is, real change happens one-to-one, not just in a training workshop. So our competitive advantage is to train and develop those sales managers or frontline leaders. That’s where we focus when selling, because it’s something that most people overlook and it’s something that gives us a competitive advantage. 

Figure out what those elements are for your solution and start there. Begin your GAP questions with something that will get them to lean in and stay engaged. When you ask good, unique, insightful, probing questions that get at the real (often unconscious) problem, your customers will open up on a whole new level. They’ll bring other people into the meeting to help answer and discuss. The goal is to have them learn from the questions you ask. Make them think differently. 

You’ll know when you ask good GAP questions because you will see and feel the impact. 


Step 4 – Develop Your Questions

This is the final step and it’s simple, but critical. Take the time to develop questions that lead to the gap. Don’t be obvious or patronizing. Again, they should learn something from what you’re asking them. The dialogue should be thought-provoking. 

You need them to see that they haven’t considered all the barriers and elements that go into solving their overall problem. 


Summing it Up

To summarize, the purpose of GAP questions is to help sales reps overcome these challenges: struggling with engagement, showing expertise, and getting customers to embrace their recommendation. When generating your GAP question strategy, remember to 

  • Identify the problem
  • What is required to solve the whole problem
  • Circle the elements
  • Develop your questions 

We hope these insights will help you in all your sales interactions, whether virtual or in person. 


What Next?

As VP of Marketing at ASLAN Training & Development, Scott’s passion is to share our solution with those in need and those who seek sales transformation. Find him on: Facebook | LinkedIn | Instagram

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