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Sales Solutions
Are You Trying to Close, or Trial Closing? vol 7, issue #11
November, 2010

For many sales people who were trained (or not trained, as the case may be) in the 80s and 90s, these "closing techniques" were considered gospel.  I myself, I must confess, attempted to master these "closes" when I was learning the profession. That is, until I realized that they were as manipulative as they sounded, at which point I quickly abandoned them.  In the famous GlenGary Glen Ross scene pictured above, Alec Baldwin trots out the then-accepted mantra, "Always Be Closing". While that advice has been derided as manipulative by every sales trainer and management guru, I contend that by adding one letter between the "B" and the "C", the saying is not only perfectly valid, but eminently advisable.

That letter would be "T", for Trial, as in Trial Closes.

Trial closes are questions you ask after you have presented a feature and benefit that gauge the prospect's acceptance - his "buy-in" - of what you just presented. They are non-threatening questions that simply confirm that both you and the prospect are on track and in synch with each other (they also surface misunderstandings or objections which, had you not paused to use the trial close, might never be voiced, leaving you wondering a month later why you lost the deal, or why the prospect "suddenly" went silent).  Trial closes are to sales what quizzes were to the final exams we all took in high school and college: a necessary, lightweight intermediate step on the way to successfully completing the ultimate, intimidating step - the final exam.  If you did a good job on the quizzes, you were likely to do well on the final exam, which was just an extension of - and the final step after - the quizzes.  Likewise, if you do a good job trial closing throughout the sales engagement, the sale, which is just an extension of - and the final step after - your trial closes - will more often than not come naturally and effortlessly.

So just what does a trial close look like?  Here are some examples:

  • "How does that sound?"

  • "Is that what you were looking for?"

  • "Does this make sense?"

  • "What do you think?"

With trial closes, you are "closing" on acceptance of an aspect of your offering that you believe is important to your prospect.  Trial closes work because you're not asking the prospect to make the decision to (gulp!) commit to anything.  You're simply asking for feedback, and seeking confirmation.  It is much easier for a prospect to agree that something "is valuable", that it "makes sense", and that it "meets his needs" than it is to agree to commit to buying what you're selling, because none of those agreements commits him to anything. Think of a sequence of trial closes as stepping stones to the actual close; because you've kept the prospect in a relaxed - as opposed to an adversarial and therefore agitated - state, he's more likely to be receptive when you ask for the order, which is the natural conclusion to a professionally implemented sales process.  And the "final" close is simply the question you ask after you summarize all the features and benefits the prospect has previously bought into: "Are we ready to put this evaluation behind us and move forward with getting you going?"  

Using trial closes provides one more benefit: it eliminates the reluctance, or even fear, of asking for the order that many sales people experience.  It's a lot easier - and more natural - to do so once you've gotten lots of little agreements along the way, since both you and the prospect have been moving in lockstep throughout the process.


Using the examples above, create a half dozen trial closes of your own that fit what you're selling.  Then grab a colleague, or your manager, and set up a role playing session.  Take 3-4 features of your product, describe them and the associated benefits, and then use one of your trial closes on your "prospect".  If your prospect responds favorably, great!  Repeat the process with another feature.  Perhaps this time your "prospect" does not agree, in which case you'll have to address his issue before proceeding (but after asking another trial close to ensure that you've satisfactorily addressed the issue).  How many trial closes should you use?  The fewest necessary to sell the prospect!  In the real world, you'll develop a feel for when your prospect is "sold", at which point you transition from "selling" mode to "closing" mode, as discussed above.  Which you can now expect to happen more often, and more often successfully.

Good selling!

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