Trial close? Or progress test question? You decide which is best.

I participated in a sales workshop recently and got involved in a vigorous debate about the use of trial closes, as some of the participants felt uncomfortable using them.  This surprised me because the trial close is one of the most useful tactics a salesperson has, and I was interested to learn what the problem was.

First let’s agree on what a trial close is.  You know that when you are ready to close a sale you basically summarize all you’ve learned, how your solution will help solve some problem, and then you make a direct request for the order or the business.

A trial close differs in that it is more of a “check-in” with the customer as you proceed through the process of qualification.  For example, you might ask, “What do you think about what we’ve discussed so far?” or “Do you see how this might be useful?”  Another useful one is “Where do you think we should go from here?”

Notice that these gentle trial closes have a number of benefits.  First, the answers will give you some valuable information about how you’re doing.  You are on the right track or you’re not, and this way you will find out.

Second, they are useful qualification tools. Notice that the last one asks the prospect to help you qualify him more effectively.  And finally, odd as it seems, if you find you’re not making any progress it will tell you to DIS-qualify the prospect, and get out before you invest more time.

So back to our workshop, I asked why the participants who did not use trial closes felt so strongly about them.  They said, “Trial closes always seem so manipulative and self-serving to me, like I’m trying to get people to agree with me on a bunch of small points so I can sucker punch them later on with a strong close.  We’re talking about being customer-centric and most trial closes don’t sound that way to me.”

Ah, now I see the problem more clearly. I asked them to give me examples of trial closes that sound manipulative. They came up with:

“If I can meet your price requirements, do you see anything else in the way of our doing business?”

“What would it take to win your business?”

“If I can show you how this product outperforms the way you are doing it now, will you agree to do business with us?”

Well, I guess I can understand their reluctance to use these types of questions, giving the prospect a locked-in, either-or alternative, or forcing him to state bluntly the one obstacle to the salesperson’s success. These questions sound self-serving and are a bit manipulative, don’t you think?

In the first sales training program I ever took, we practiced what were called “Progress Test Questions” and I like that terminology a lot better, as that is just what you are trying to do, get the prospect to partner with you in the qualification process by asking for sensible feedback from the prospect’s point of view.  Customer-centricity means the dialog is about the customer, not about the salesperson.

So if you’re a sales trainer, you might consider changing your terminology in the workshop from “trial closes” to “progress test questions.”  The progress test question ensures that before you ask anything you are careful to…

Think Like Your Customer

About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at

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