Keenan Talks GAP Selling – The Uncensored Sales Madness Interview [Episode 782]

This is part one of my interview series with the four finalists of ringDNA’s Sales Madness bracket competition for the best sales book. Over 5,000 people voted and four authors were crowned the greatest of all-time: Jeb Blount, Keenan, Mike Weiberg, and Paul Smith.

Today, Keenan joins me to talk about why GAP Selling is such a hit, as well as the future of sales, what it means for salespeople, and how sales teams can successfully navigate it.

Episode Transcript

Andy Paul: Hi friends. Welcome to the sales enablement podcast. I’m your host, Andy Paul. Now today I have a special episode for you. I spoke with Keenan as part of my interview series with the four other semi-finalists of RingDNA’s sales madness bracket challenge competition. The other semi-finalists being Jeff blunt, Mike Weinberg and Paul Smith.

Now for those of you, those of you, excuse me, who didn’t participate. RingDNA matched up 64 of the most popular sales books of all time, and we matched them up in a March Madness style bracket competition and then we asked you to vote on your favorite sales book and over the course of several weeks, thousands, thousands of people voted and the book books by these four authors were crowned the top four favorite sales books as a result.

So today, Keenan joins me to talk about his book Gap Selling, which was one of the two finalists, the other being fanatical prospecting by Jeb Blount. And so you’ll hear me ask Keenan why Gap Selling has resonated with so many sellers and become so popular as a result.

Keenan: What’s up, baby? Thank you for having me glad to be here.

Andy Paul: Oh, pleasure to have you. So, we caught you on vacation, right?

Keenan: Staycation. I mean, yes. I came out to Manhattan Beach for the summer to just, I don’t know, change up the scenery before I

Andy Paul: Not a bad place.

Keenan: Yeah, no, no. I’m having a good time. Not a bad place at all.

Andy Paul: Surfers, anybody surfers?

Keenan: That

Andy Paul: was part

Keenan: of the reason to learn. Like the ultimate life goal is to do this every summer, moving here on here for which I’ll ski all winter and then come and surf all summer. I’ve done it a couple of times. I suck at it. So I got a lesson tomorrow morning, eight o’clock with the girls, rather than

Andy Paul: What’s the water temperature?

Keenan: Cold as shit,

Andy Paul: Wetsuits. Here we go.

Keenan: I bought the wetsuits right when I got here.

Andy Paul: Yeah, you need those? Okay. So first of all, congratulations, you are a finalist in ringDNA’s sales madness bracket challenge, Gap Selling. With one of the longest subtitles ever, etting the  customer to yes, how problems centric selling increased the sales by changing everything you know about relationships, overcoming objections, closing, and price.

Keenan: Yep. I wanted to win. I was mad. I give Jeb credit.

Andy Paul: I’d have to admit this. I thought you were gonna get knocked out in the first round by Spin Selling. I thought, you know, that’s an iconic book, but then once you not only won, but crushed Spin Selling, you at 82% of the vote that first round against Spin Selling, I thought, nah, I think we may have a potential winner here. I was not surprised you made it to the finals at all at that point. What is it about Gap Selling that’s resonated with people so much? This is the book that’s on everybody’s lips.

Keenan: You know, it’s hard for me to answer that question without feeling like I’m sounding like a douchebag, cause it’s my book. Right?

Andy Paul: You can brag a little bit. That’s fine.

Keenan: You know, I think if I were to sort of, if I sort of coalesced what I’ve been hearing from people, right? One of the things I’ve been hearing a lot is people really appreciate the fact that it is very direct, very straightforward and takes what is normally considered complex topics or theoretical topics and make it very, very simple, easy to understand. People are like, “Oh my God, I get it now, I know what to do.” And then I think they also appreciate that it’s got actual exercises in it. It doesn’t read or feel like a textbook or a traditional business book. I think people felt, it told good stories, it could walk them through, but then also it was just tons and tons of actual selling method and then they what to do with that selling method. I think that was what I’m hearing a lot. And I think the other one was the fact that it, it was just, it was different, right? This is different than what I’ve been hearing. We challenged a lot of the general notions and I think people are like, wait, I get it now. Like I get how this works. Oh my God. It’s making sense. Like, I think it’s, that’s it. I think for a lot of people just made lights go off and they knew what to do with those lights when they went off, those light bulbs went off.

Andy Paul: Well, give us e what some of those light bulbs are compared to other sales books or business books that might have read.

Keenan: I think the gap in itself, the very simple concept of the gap. And making people spend time and focus on the current state, right? It’s like, what I tell people all the time, no one buys anything. No one changes and changing is, is buying is getting someone to change, until their current state is untenable.

And if someone can’t associate with their current state, and say wait, this is untenable. I can’t stay here. This doesn’t work for me. That’s a problem. Then anything else you do is a waste of time. So I think it really helped people a lot to crystallize how people buy. And what I say all the time and I didn’t do a good job in the book is if you look at the Gap Selling framework, current state, future state and the gap, that aligns with how we actually decide as human beings in everything we do, whether it’s, you know, starting the ringDNA, March Madness Contest, whether it’s running out and getting something to drink at the store, running to the store and getting something to eat, whether it’s whether I want to clean my house right now or not. Every decision is done the exact same way and gap selling aligns with that. The first thing we do is like, Oh, do I need to clean my house right now? I really don’t want to. Well, let me take a look. Assess my current state. It’s a shit show and it stinks. And then you think, Oh, and I’ve got someone coming over. That is, that’s not tenable.

That’s not tenable. I have to change it. So once I’ve determined what the change is, do I do it now? Do I do it an hour? Or do I have someone hired, someone to do, do I  just do some of it. Will it be going into my bedroom? All of those are my options. Right? And then based on those options, I figure out which one is best going to give me the desired outcome that I want. Well, gap selling is exactly designed to sell how we decide to change.

Andy Paul: So this is sort of interesting thought processes. So it is what were people thinking before? So if your seller, and if you’re thinking my job is not to help this customer, it wasn’t to help this customer cross this gap, what was it? What was I thinking my sales job was?

Keenan: I don’t think they were thinking at all. Like, I mean, they were thinking they had to sell a product. That’s why I tell a product centric vs problem centric. Right. They abdicated much of the problem solving to the customer. And so a lot of sales people, even with decent sales training would run around and say, “Hey, look, I’ve got this phone and it does this. And it does that. If you have this problem, it’ll do this. And if you have this problem, right, if they even did that, look at it, it’s got this feature. You’ve got your kids and you can do this.”

Well, they don’t even know they’re going to have kids let don’t my kids at 25, but I don’t like my kids. Right. Well, there’s no way you can take pictures. Well I don’t really care about the picture. They don’t go anywhere. Like they just throw the shit at you and then they expected the buyer to like work through it on their own.

Andy Paul: Yeah. That’s an excellent point. And so start moving on a little bit from that. This is we’ve gone through this shutdown period. You’ve been in Denver area. What did you learn about yourself during this period? What was the biggest lesson you learned about yourself during shutdown

Keenan: I don’t  like sitting around for starters .

Andy Paul: You probably knew that already though.

Keenan: And I’m kind of lazy. I’m kind of lazy and I really need motive. Like I really need something to get me going. I mean, I’ve watched way too much fricking television. Way too much. In some areas I did some great stuff and others, I think I squandered time. But yeah, that I’m more lazy than I realized. too. I mean, yeah. I mean, look, I worked, I’ve been working as an, as an entrepreneur for years.

I mean, I think I’m almost, I’m in my 10th year at A Sales Guy, I started the company by myself, just me, you know what I’m saying? So a lot of things, I. I think I would have learned in this, I kind of learned long time ago when I’m, you know, got divorced just started the company, sitting at home on a Thursday, no kids trying to figure out where my next fricking paychecks I come from. And I was like, Oh, I better get my shit together. And I learned, you know, so I, yeah, it really wasn’t that

Andy Paul: How big is the sales guy empire now?

Keenan: Yeah. We’re you know, we’re now seven figures and, five people and handful of, you know, well it’s four fulltimes and a handful of 1099s that are, you know, seems to be growing by the day. And, we’re looking to hire another sales person here. So will be five soon. So, you know, not where I want it to be, but I will probably never be where I want it to be.

Andy Paul: I remember we had this conversation when your first book came out, Not Taught, is about, building your empire and you’ve made great progress since then.

Keenan: Right? Thank you, sir.

Andy Paul: So every period transition brings a lot of changes to it. I mean, after 9/11, who thought we had all, you know, have the patience to stand in line for security and these intrusive checks and so on yet, life’s gone on, more people travel than ever despite that, so what are the changes going to be in the sales world, as a result of what we’re going through right now?

Keenan: I think this, with the exception of certain things that by design or by product can’t be sold virtually, I think the concept of outside sales reps is dead. I think people are realizing I’ll be able to sell this shit without outside sales reps. Why are we going to pay that? Why are we going to lengthen the sales cycle like that? Why are we going to take so long to do that?

I think structurally, I think structurally is where you’re gonna see the biggest changes, right? I think sales team that organized around complete virtual selling and really challenged why they needed outside salespeople. I think the other thing that we’re going to see is, well, I like to see is that, more emphasis is put on the selling motion. Organizations really need to stop focusing on the selling motion and how are their salespeople literally engaging with their buyers and what are they focused on? And when you went through a period where people had very limited amount of money, the priority shifted, and you’re still trying to get them to see value in your product or service. You can’t do that by saying, “Hey, look at my phone. Right? You can’t do that, but he’s such a cool guy. You know, your son, you want a neat kid? Oh yeah. He used to have red hair. No kidding. My mom had red here. Like you can’t try to do this friendly bullshit. You got to really position yourself in a virtual setting with people you’ve never met before over a computer screen. You got to get them to recognize that, yeah, you can fundamentally change their business by solving some pesky problems that haven’t been able to solve, been able to solve today. And that’s not, that’s not how we’ve done it in the past, in my opinion, most salespeople.

Andy Paul: But you still have to make that connection with somebody you just don’t trust.

Keenan: Yeah. Yes. Trust, not likeability. Right. You know how I feel about this? I don’t need to like anybody, but trust can be done to credibility. Right. Like, I could get more credibility by asking three or four questions than I’ll ever get by asking you where you went to college or commiserating on the fact that we’re getting old and going gray.

So we got to teach our salespeople to have enough industry knowledge and problem knowledge. Yeah. Business accumen and problem knowledge so they can actually have conversations that create credibility with the buyers like, “Ooh, wait, wait, go back. What was that? Talk to me again. What? That was a great question.”

My favorite statement by buyers. My favorite statement, even more so than yes is. Oh, that’s my favorite one.

So how do

Andy Paul: we teach acumen? Well, I mean, if we say this is one of the big changes, and I agree with you, going forward is, I think the, one of the big stumbling blocks is lack of business acumen on the part of sellers is how do we, how do we teach that? How do we encourage people? Is that something we teach our people have to learn it on their own?

Keenan: Business acumen. They could teach them their own. I want to make it smaller, more precise. Yes, I want busines accumen, but I want problem acumen.

Andy Paul: Alight? Describe

Keenan: that.

That.

Problem accumen. So matter what product or service you sold, I mean, you sell, it was designed at some point in time to solve a problem.

So your ability as a sales organization and as an organization in general is to teach your salespeople and everybody involved as much as you can about the problem, why the problem exists, what the root causes are of the problem, how the problem manifests itself, the impact the problem can have on an organization, etc, etc. So when you become an expert in the problem, you can now have problem conversations. And through problem conversations, you develop credibility for understanding why the problem happened, how it’s impacting them, what the root causes are, what the potential solutions are, etc, etc, etc.

And that’s how you do it. Problem competency. Too many people try to do business acumen and then their salespeople start talking about business issues that have no impact whatsoever on the shit you sell.

Andy Paul: Yeah, they can. Absolutely. But I think that what you’re about problem accumen, for me, that is business accumen. Right? You have to understand the context of the problem the buyer has and sometimes the context is in the context of, well, how does this organization make money? And sometimes a lot of sellers, they don’t even understand how a company works.

Keenan: Yes. Okay. Okay. I agree with that, but that’s the upper evel business accumen, but let’s pick any product in the world and let’s, then let’s be more precise and I’ll show you why I kind of grimmace. Pick any product, I suck at that picking product.

Andy Paul: Call coaching.

Keenan: Okay. Call coaching. So, if I sell call coaching, to understand how a company makes money is important, but what I’m going to say a second or third level of importance, because I want to get right down to the problem. Call Coaching addresses underperforming  salespeople as a problem. Right? So the more time I can spend and speak to why underperforming, why salespeople underperform. When it comes to areas of lack, and I’m just making this, but I want people to understand the psychology around performance, I want them to stand things about ego around performance. I want them understand the importance of communication and how people can accept or deny a communication. I want them to, to understand the concept of self motivation. I want them to understand like everything you can, when it comes to how people perform by themselves, how people improve, how people learn.

Andy Paul: Right.

Keenan: That’s more important than how your company makes money. I can get that in a second or third level.

Andy Paul: Okay. Take that for granted, but talk about the things you just laid out there. It requires a ton of curiosity and self motivation on the part of the rep.

Keenan: Yes, but here’s the cool part. I would argue it doesn’t if the company does all the research and teaches you that shit. And educates you and all that. All you have to do as a basic discovery, know what you’re looking for?

Andy Paul: So why aren’t companies doing it?

Keenan: Ah! Cause they don’t know the problems they solve. Cause they’re too busy talking about the product, too busy calling, we get this great calling software. It’s the greatest thing in the world, or make your reps better. They sell the future state. All they do is sell the future state.,Andy. It’ll make your reps better or make you more money. They’ll be more productive. You’ll have better relationships. They forget to stop and ask what the root cause and get into the problem or what probably we solving. And why did these problems exist in the first place and what perpetuates the problems.

Andy Paul: So lets take this in a little bit different direction then. So part of your business is, or has been recruiting, right? So is the profile in the new normal, the next normal, is the profile of what a sales person needs to be in a purely virtual world, is that changing?

Keenan: This is a tough one for me, because I have been such a, a rebel and a rogue when it comes to the traditional hiring for salespeople. I’ve sort of ignored how people do or made assumption. So, based on my assumptions they had better change, right? I’m tired- if another person says to me when they come to us up and recruit. And so we need to find someone with Saas experience, I’m gonna punch them in the nose. What the fuck is Saas experience? Seriously, what I mean, really. Basically Saas is a cloud based application that can be accessed anywhere in the world. How does Saas experience, help you sell? I mean, stop. So for my opinion, it just needs to be what I’ve always thought it was.

And yes, it needs to zero in on people’s curiosity levels, their business acumen, their critical thinking skills, their drive, it’s almost all soft skills. I. And then the hard skills that your, your performance and your ability to articulate why and how you got shit done. Right. I don’t care if you, if it drives me crazy, like I will outsell 99.9% of most people want anything you want, like any that give me medical sales, give me fricking phones, give me gum, give me anything.

And I’ll also 99% of most people, but yet if I wasn’t Keenan and I didn’t have Gap Selling and I went and tried to get a job in medical sales, we go, you’ve never done it. We’re looking for people who’ve done it. You idiot, you just passed on the best sales person you’ve ever had.

Andy Paul: So how are people going to assess this when you say, I mean, how did, how they break out of the mold and say, yeah, this is a person has great potential per what you’re talking about?

Keenan: Well, the new criteria, a decision criteria or profile for what a great sales person looks like. Not a great medical salesperson. That shit can be taught. Yeah. It’s the first three, six months, depending on how complex it is, I might get my ass handed to me as I’m trying to learn the complexities of our cardiovascular, blah, blah, blah. But once I learned that shit, you’re done. Like it’s over, I’m going to crush everybody, everybody. So stop. So it’s the, it’s the, the decision criteria, the hiring criteria is all jacked up. They put stupid stuff or they’re like, I need a sass person with 10 years of medical experience, a degree, blah, blah, blah, who cares?

Andy Paul: Oh, I agree. A hundred percent. I was, I was a history major. I sold satellite communication systems. I mean, I don’t know. I mean, I taught myself as well. I taught myself what I needed to know.

Keenan: Yes. Look, I think part of the problem, Andy is, is part of the reason they do those things, because those are easy. Right. So is, I think it’s too easy. Like it’s easy checkbox, medical chip, you know, a 10 years experience. Yup. Check College. Yup. Check. They made quota, you know, every time in their job, they’re a great hire. It’s a lot harder to know how to interview for, qualified for, and uncover somebody’s intellectual curiosity. Somebody’s business acumen, somebody’s problem centric acumen, right? It’s much more difficult. So they just punt it. They don’t know how to do it.

Andy Paul: Well so, tell us, how do you do it? Because I know these things are important to you. We’ve talked about this before, it’s all over your first book.

How do you do it?

Keenan: It’s one of the first things I do. And this is the hard part about this is most candidates fail at it. So I literally have to staff- once I get a small crew of people who did some of it, I have to take a shot in the dark because most even screw it up. The very first thing I do when I’m interviewing this all right, what questions do you have for me?

Like none. And I’m like, no, well, here’s a minute. Like. As many questions you ask him, he had asked as many questions for you to help you understand, and they might ask one stupid high level question, and then want me to ask the questions first sign right there. That’s right. I’m literally begging you to do a discovery with me and you don’t do it. Right.

The second thing I do is within, in, in some people would probably say this is an HR support, but I’m very careful how I do it. I say I’d like you to pick a, a project that you did, something you started all on your own. And I want you to tell me, what was the project? Why did you start it? What was the motivation? What we desired outcomes, what happens? And it could be personal or professional. I don’t care. And I shut up and if someone has never started something, fuck you. I’m not hiring them. You’re out. I don’t give a fuck. Like literally, especially it, my kids, young kids, I’m a little dizzy, but if you start talking 30, 35, 40, 45 year old people, and you never, ever started something at work in your community or anything. You’re useless. I got no time for you. And the reason I ask that question is because think about what it takes, why’d you start it, they shouldn’t say I had, I saw a problem. This bothered me. I didn’t like this, this wasn’t getting done. Right. A problem. And then I’m like, well, what did you do the solution to the problem? And how did you execute it? That question tells me so much about business Akron, problem solving, drive, creative thinking. so that gets me 80% of the way right there.

Andy Paul: No, I love it. I love it. And yet, instead of doing that, as people will go through and do assessments right off the shelf personality assessments,

Keenan: I don’t touch that shit. I look, I might’ve been great when I take them, they fit me, but I had a personality assessment tell me I wasn’t good for a job once. And then somehow I got called, I forgot how I got called back to that job, but I crushed it? I was like, I’m not doing this. Like that. Yeah, no, I don’t like that random stuff.

Andy Paul: I took one a couple of years ago. I had a guest on my show and he wanted me to take his, and he calls back afterwards. Were you trying to game it? No. Oh, well, according to this, you shouldn’t be on sales. It’s like, okay, there you go. Yeah. So

Keenan: you get it.

Andy Paul: Alright. Keenan, we’re at time, but as always, thanks for your time.