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What Is a Trial Close and How to Leverage It in Negotiation

The Scotwork Team


If you don't usually work in sales, the term trial close might sound a bit foreign. Still, you might be surprised at how often we encounter trial closes in our daily lives. For example, when you are browsing in a shop, and a staff member asks if you are finding everything okay today or if you need help finding something specific. Or when you are trying out facilities at a new gym, and their representative asks if you see yourself coming to the gym regularly.

These questions help the person asking to understand where you, as a prospect, stand in your decision-making process and can guide them in how to proceed to secure a commitment or sale. And this is what we call a trial close.

Not only do trial closes help sales professionals close deals faster, but they can also be of benefit to negotiation. Let's look at how you can best leverage a trial close to move negotiations forward the next time you are at the negotiation table.

What is a trial close?

A trial close is a question – more often than not, open-ended – you ask to gauge the other party's interest and readiness to make a decision without directly asking for a final commitment. This sales and negotiation technique is a way to test the waters and gather feedback that can help you understand where the other party stands in the negotiation process.

Trial closes are typically low-pressure queries, prompting those being asked to reveal their thoughts and/or concerns that might prevent them from sealing the deal. For example:

  • Would this meet your needs/requirements?

  • Are you comfortable with the terms we have discussed?

  • If we could agree on these terms, would you be ready to move forward?

  • Is there anything else you need to make your decision?

  • Do you see any potential issues with this proposal?

  • Would this timeline work for you?

  • Does this pricing fit within your budget?

  • How does this compare to what you had in mind?

  • Is this the kind of support you were looking for?

  • Do you think this would solve your current problem?

The goal of trial closes is to identify any objections or hesitations early on so that you can address them and move the negotiation forward.

It is important to note that trial closes and haggling are different. A trial close is a technique to assess the buyer's readiness and interest throughout the sales process, whereas haggling is a negotiation over price or terms, typically occurring near the final stages of making a deal.

When to use trial closes in negotiation?

There are many situations in which you can employ trial close during a negotiation. Unlike a final close, which signifies the end of the negotiation/sales process, you can use multiple trial closes for different purposes. What's more, all parties can practice using trial closes, not necessarily only the ones who are trying to sell. It's a negotiation after all!

1. To assess readiness

A major benefit of a trial close, as mentioned above, is its ability to help you pinpoint where the other party is in the decision-making process. It's natural for a negotiation to take place more than once, but you surely don't want to set up a fourth or fifth meeting with someone who is not ready to formalise a decision. While it is perfectly fine if people want to shop for options, you need to know when to walk away if the negotiation is not progressing. For example,

Now that you have tried out a few of our classes now. Do you see yourself as a regular here at our gym? Do you think you are ready to sign up?

This trial close helps determine if the prospect is genuinely interested in committing or if they are still uncertain. This insight allows you to decide whether to invest more time in them or focus your efforts elsewhere.

2. To identify objections

Now that you have assessed the readiness and seriousness of the other party and decided to move forward, some objections may arise and need to be addressed before proceeding further. When negotiations hit barriers, whether on your terms or those of the other party, you can use trial closes to determine what must be met to progress.

We have made really good progress on the timeline so far. Is there anything that's still a concern for you?

This trial close helps you pinpoint specific concerns that the other party might have. By bringing these to light, you can address them directly so that both parties are on the same page and can proceed smoothly.

3. To close on minor points

Sales professionals use the minor point close technique to guide a prospect toward a final decision by getting them to agree on small, seemingly insignificant points throughout the conversation. This way, you create a series of small agreements that can lead to a smoother and more confident final close. You can use trial closes to reinforce minor point closes.

Since we have decided on the project timeline and deliverables, how about the communication plan? Are we good with regular updates every week?

This step-by-step confirmation can help build trust and make the final negotiation stages less daunting and more seamless.

4. To find common ground

If you engage in integrative negotiation, which involves seeking solutions that mutually benefit all parties, you are likely to need to find common ground. In doing so, all parties try to understand each other, build trust and rapport, and ensure their goals and values align. Ideally, everyone should express these freely, but this doesn't always happen, especially in cultures where people tend to avoid direct discussions. This is where trial closing questions can help.

We both obviously care about sustainability and keeping costs down. Can we agree that whatever solution we pick should meet those goals?

This trial close emphasises mutual interests and encourages a cooperative approach. By highlighting shared goals, you can create a foundation for solutions that benefit both parties.

5. To break deadlock

When negotiations reach a deadlock or impasse, and neither party is willing to move forward, trial closes can help identify areas of potential agreement, unlock new avenues for compromise, and facilitate progress towards a mutually acceptable solution.

It looks like we are stuck on the budget issue. How about we explore some different funding options or maybe tweak the project scope a bit?

This trial close suggests alternative solutions that help both parties move past the deadlock and keep the negotiation on track.

Do's and Don'ts of Using Trial Closes

What to do when using trial closes

  • Listen actively: Pay close attention to both verbal and non-verbal cues. Their words convey their thoughts, while their body language can reveal their level of interest and any concerns.

  • Always address the feedback: Ensure you respond to any concerns and feedback. There's no point in using trial closes if you don't address the issues raised.

  • Use positive assumptions: Phrase your trial closes positively, assuming the prospect is interested. For example, say, "When we get started, how soon would you like to see results?" instead of "Do you think you'll be ready to start soon?"

  • Be subtle: Keep trial closes conversational and low-pressure, making them feel like a natural part of the conversation.

  • Use multiple trial closes: You can use multiple trial closes at different points in the conversation to continually check the prospect's comfort level and readiness to proceed. However, be careful not to overuse them, as this can come across as very pushy. Balance is key!

What not to do when using trial closes

  • Don't be aggressive: Avoid pressuring the prospect with overly assertive or pushy trial closes. This can lead to resistance and discomfort.

  • Don't use yes/no questions: Steer clear of yes/no questions that can shut down the conversation. Instead, use questions that encourage discussion and exploration.

  • Don't assume readiness: Don't assume the prospect is ready to close based solely on one positive response. Confirm their readiness through multiple touchpoints to ensure a genuine commitment.

So, did we deliver the goods?

Next time you find yourself at the negotiation table, try incorporating trial closes into your strategy. You will likely find that these simple questions can make a substantial difference in moving the negotiation forward and closing the deal!

Master the art of sales closing techniques with Scotwork's Advancing Negotiation Skills (A.N.S.) course. Join us and gain practical skills, receive expert feedback, and boost your confidence in negotiations. Get in touch today!

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