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Trial Closes – What Do They Really Accomplish?

Trial closing pits the salesperson against the customer and, in the end, creates negative tension that could have been avoided. BY DAVID LEWIS

Anyone who is familiar with what I teach, or has been exposed to my training for any length of time, knows how I feel about trial closes. Having been associated with the car business for going on 35 years, I can truly say that I see no value in them unless you are trying to put pressure on the customer. It amazes me how many professional trainers still recommend and teach trial closes as a way to sell cars. I understand that it may be acceptable for someone whose sole motivation is to sell a car today at all costs, but if you are trying to build a long-term career based on customer satisfaction and loyalty, the damage of trial closes is undeniable.

Consider the following trial close that has been very popular for many years: “If we can come together on terms and numbers are you willing to buy the car today?” Let’s dissect this trial close and examine this question, which is usually put to a customer after they have landed on a vehicle they seem to like.

“If we can come together on terms and numbers…”

The first thing we see is that this question immediately puts the emphasis on price. You are no longer selling the vehicle, yourself or the dealership. Your total emphasis and incentive for the customer is based on the price they are willing to pay. With most customers, you just put them on the defense. In an effort to push the deal forward for fear of loss, you just told the customer that you will do what it takes price-wise to sell them a car. You haven’t finished presenting all that you have to offer, yet you have started negotiating on the lot before you have earned the right to ask for their business.

Moving along to the second half of this trial close:

“…are you willing to buy this car…? ”

Here you have another problem. You don’t know if the customer has taken mental ownership of the vehicle, yet you are pressuring them to make a buying decision before they even know that this is the car for them. If you have managed to ease some of their defensiveness before you made that statement, you have just reignited it and put them on full alert. They are now thinking, “This person only cares about selling me a car. They are not at all interested in my wants or needs.”

The final word of your trial close question is:


This is the epitome of a pressure word and by using it, you have now affirmed what most people feel about car salespeople: “They want to sell me a car today no matter what I want, or if it is the best thing for me.”

Let’s look at another trial close that is gaining its own popularity with some salespeople:

“On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate this car?”

That would be good if you were asking someone to judge a chili cook off, but what kind of answer are you looking for? If they say seven, which most do, then what is your response? The common one is, “So what would it take to make it a 10?” Now you are increasing the pressure even more.

Did you listen when they were telling you what they were looking for during the qualification process, or were you so busy trying to sell them something that you never took the time to find out what they really wanted? If this car doesn’t fit what they are looking for, why are they even at the place where you would ask that kind of question? This is just another example of things that have given us such a bad reputation in the marketplace. It is also another example of deviating from a structured process before it has been brought to the place of asking for the close. Remember, it’s not just the car they are looking for most of the time; they want a salesperson they feel comfortable with and a dealership that they believe will be one they want to do business with.

A well-structured sales process doesn’t require trial closes because the salesperson isn’t going to get to the close until they have earned the right to ask for it. Until the customer has shown evidence of mental ownership and they have had a tremendous demonstration drive followed by a great external walk around and a strong service walk, the trial close has no value. When you know they are comfortable with the vehicle, with you and with the dealership, it is time to go to the closing table and not before.

Why would you want to start closing on the lot when you are probably only three to five minutes from completing your presentation and going to your desk? Why take the risk of negotiating at this point rather than to have the customer sitting comfortably in your office where they would be expecting you to begin negotiations? If you do start negotiating on the lot exactly what do you think you will be negotiating? Price and price alone!

Trial closes send a signal to the customer that you lack confidence in your vehicle and in them as buyers. Every customer knows that you are in the business to sell cars and they have come there because they are most likely looking to buy one. Let your sales presentation have its full effect before you start trying to close the deal. Pressure only makes them wonder why you have to use it and drives them to think maybe you are willing to go lower in the price rather than to lose the sale.

When you have taken ample time in every aspect of the process before moving to the next step, by the time you reach the opportunity to ask for the sale, both you and the customer should know whether they are on the right car and whether or not they like it enough to buy it. Shortcutting the process with trial closes is shortcutting your chances of selling the car and making a good gross. If you have done a good job, why should you need to do that? You don’t. In my experience, trial closes create less sales and lower grosses. It pits the salesperson against the customer and in the end, creates negative tension that could have been avoided completely.

Have confidence in yourself, your abilities, in the dealership and the vehicles that you sell. Do a great job presenting those things and if the customer is happy, you won’t have a problem when it’s time to ask the closing question.

David Lewis
David Lewis
David’s firm is a national training and consulting business that specializes in the retail automotive industry. He also is the author of four industry-related books, “The Secrets of Inspirational Selling,” “The Leadership Factor,” “Understanding Your Customer” and “The Common Mistakes Automotive Salespeople Make.” Visit his website at

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