Stop the Trial Closes

By David Lewis


In 2013, we saw the greatest increase in retail auto sales in the last six years.  Industry researchers expect this year to follow in the same trend predicting even better sales ahead.  With that in mind, now would be a good time to discard some of the old practices that have plagued our business for decades. 


For a start, it is time to stop the use of Trial Closes. These only add to the negative public perception of our business.  The pressure that they bring to the Customer is certainly one of the main reasons most people would rather go to a dentist than to a car Dealership to buy a vehicle.


Knowing that Customers come in with defenses set on high, this should cause us to work harder to eliminate their fears and apprehensions.  Yet, even today, many trainers teach Trial Closes as a viable method for selling and many Managers still approve of this practice.  Why do we continue to do this?  The Customers even expect us to do it.  This defensive posture is undoubtedly a direct result of pressure tactics such as the trial close.


Someone once said, “If you’re gonna be dumb, you gotta be tough.”   With a good chance of having another year of record sales, now is not the time for repeating bad behaviors.  Instead, why not find a way to use this opportunity to mend our poor reputation with the public. With an industry rebound taking place, it’s a good time to put a new face on Dealer/Customer relations.  If 2013 shows us anything, it is that owning a new car is still a part of the American Dream. 


Most Salespeople believe that using Trial Closes helps them know where they are in the process and when to ask for the sale.  Though that may sound reasonable, it shortcuts the presentation and leaves out steps to the sale that are critical to what we should be doing.  If we feel the Customer is ready right after the Test Drive does this mean that we should just go for the Close?  What about the Service Walk?  Certainly that is a critical part of selling the Customer on the benefits of buying from our Dealership.


This may seem fine to someone only wanting to sell a car, but what if you are trying to sell the car, yourself and the Dealership?  Rushing to the Close before it is time weakens the potential for your Customer to take mental ownership.  The better you demonstrate all that you have to offer, the better your chances are for making the sale and earning a Customer for life.


In essence, every time you utilize a Trial Close you are asking for the sale.  The truth is, Trial Closes are usually done at the wrong time and in the wrong place.  Should we be closing on the lot?  No! Should we be closing on the Demonstration Drive?  Again, that is a no.  The best place to ask for the sale is at the end of a well structured sales process.  That’s when the time is right and when the Customer is best prepared to say yes.  And where should this take place?  At the Salesperson desk, not on the lot, where it may be cold, hot, rainy or snowy.


Consider this Trial Close that is often asked before the Customer has even had a chance to experience a proper Meet and Greet: “Are you buying a car today?”  Though it may seem innocent enough as a way to eliminate wasting time with a tire kicker, it is extremely rude and offensive.  Suppose this potential buyer had just been with a friend or family member who warned them to be on their guard against being pressured to buy a car today.  Do you think there is anything you could do now to eliminate that thought from coming to mind during your sales pitch?  Not very likely! They know and trust family and friends.  You, on the other hand, they just met; and you are a car Salesperson.


Telling the Customer to ‘park the car in the sold line’ after returning from a Demonstration Drive is another example of a Trial Close that is presumptuous and demeaning.  Before the Customer has even had a chance to tell you how they feel about the vehicle, you are trying to close the deal.  Even if they do like the car, you have probably just plummeted on their list of favorite Salespeople.  Don’t think they are buying the idea that you are protecting the car from some other Salesperson.  They know what you’re doing and all you just did was increase their defenses, not lowered them, and isn’t that the best way to earn a sale, to lower the Customers defensive posture?


Finally, let’s look at the Trial Close that is most often used and, in my mind, responsible for more lost opportunities than just about any other. This tactic is practically guaranteed to make the Customer more defensive and give you the one answer you do not want to hear:  “Mr. Customer, if we can come together on terms and numbers are you ready to buy the car today?” With that one question you have now reignited their defensive fires and more often than not their answer will be, “No, not today.”


Not only does the Customer move to a defensive posture again, but you have just shipwrecked all of the trust you may have developed to this point.  They will quickly move away to a place of safety and may even lie to avoid making a commitment of any kind.  Each step they take in reverse means your chances of gaining their trust again will be much harder than it was at first. 


Ironically, this statement is even more than just a Trial Close.  It is actually indirectly asking the Customer to buy the car.  Is this really the best place to do this?  When the Customer now says no, most of us will ask, why.  Now we are going to start overcoming objections.  And where is all of this taking place?  It happens right on the lot.  Again, not the best place to be asking a Customer to make a buying decision.  We will get an opportunity to ask for the sale.  Why not do it when all the value has been established and the environment is best suited for us to make the sale?


When a Salesperson uses words like now and today it pressures the Customer to rush to a decision they may not be ready to make. People don’t buy terms and numbers; they buy feelings. When your product, your personality and your Dealership make the Customer feel good they will usually find a way to buy what you are selling.  It is just that simple.  Pushing them to do so before they are ready only reinforces the fears they brought in with them and puts them on their guard.  This makes your job harder and less likely to produce a good result.


The Internet has given today’s Customers tremendous access to vehicle information, quality ratings and prices. This can often give them more confidence when they come to shop at a Dealership.  But it also lets them know that they have more choices of where they can go to buy what they are looking for.  If they do not get treated well and with respect at one Dealership they will go somewhere else to find what they want in a way they want to be sold.


The sooner we wake up and realize the harm that Trial Closes have done for this industry, the better off both we and our Customers will be.  It is the little foxes that spoil the vines. Though these may seem insignificant and acceptable, they are not.  Trial Closes will continue to have the same devastating effect on Customers and on the reputation of our industry if we do not stop using them once and for all.


When we forget that Customers are the most important part of our business, then we may as well get used to poor Customer satisfaction and declining profits.  By working hard to serve the Customer and do the best we can to give them everything they deserve, we insure for ourselves a bright future in this business.  People need cars and fulfilling that need is what we do for a living.  By doing it with integrity and professionalism we insure ourselves a fair portion of whatever the future holds for this business and for our individual careers.


David Lewis is the President of David Lewis & Associates, Inc. a National Training and Consulting Company that specializes in the Retail Automotive Industry.  He is also the author of 3 industry related books, “The Secrets of Inspirational Selling,” “The LEADERSHIP Factor,” and “Understanding Your Customer.” 





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Comment by David Ruggles on July 9, 2014 at 7:10pm

So how does the sales person know the customer is upside down before the appraisal?  Sounds like a short cut method to me.

Asking nosy questions prematurely is a sure way to spoil the relationship just getting started.  One has to earn the right to ask certain questions IMHO.  The bold, brazen, un-managed sales person will take every short cut possible.... its human nature....  and another great reason for a rotation system.

Comment by Jason Mickelson on July 9, 2014 at 6:54pm

Steven Chessin - Have you read SPIN SELLING by Neil Rackham?  Fantastic book for anyone who wants to learn about the four primary types of questions sales professionals use to work through large ticket item sales.

Comment by Jason Mickelson on July 9, 2014 at 6:52pm

Like all deep and profound topics, summing up right and wrong in a one page essay is impossible.  I agree, end obvious attempts to make the customer say the unmentionable.  Ex. Asking any question that tries to pry the words, yes I want to buy it. Body language and a series of small yes answers give us the ammunition we need to move forward toward final commitment.

Everyone knows that the salesperson is the enemy of the buyer.  Why would I (consumer) give the enemy (salesperson) my wallet and let him take all the cash?  Stupid.  This technique of asking stupid questions works on stupid buyers.  BAD PLAN!  Stupid buyers are rare these days. The real profit and retention may be found in the smart buyers because they want to be treated like an intelligent person.  Double wins occur because they also return more often to anyone who treats them right.  

Comment by steven chessin on July 4, 2014 at 4:05pm

Don't forget that most customers are on the wrong car.  A polite trial close helps to not waste everyone's time chasing a dream Lexus with Corolla credit. "Do you own your trade?" "How much do you owe on it?" Finding-out if a customer is upside-down sooner is better than later. 

Comment by Demetrius Walls on June 11, 2014 at 12:09am

I agree with a good amount of the content. I still do trial closes. here is why. i want to know were I am at in the deal and if  we are on the right car. If they are going to shop me with different brands i want to be able to SHOWCASE the positives on my brand against the others while they are in the store.

Also lets not forget our MOST VALUABLE tool = making them get mental ownership. I also think it depends on the client and situation & FYI my CSI is 98.5% doing trial closes ;-)

Comment by Michael Abrams on June 10, 2014 at 4:45pm

Nicely said.  I couldn't agree more.  The next thing to get rid of is answering questions with questions.  If salespeople are not trained on their product, as well as most of the used cars on the lot as well, then they don't have the answers most customers are looking for.  Answer the questions (in person, on the phone and in email) and you might make yourself someone that you would want to do business with.  And, what makes you that much different than your customer?

Comment by Fran Taylor on June 5, 2014 at 8:21am

If we keep teaching sales reps that customers come in all defensive and nervous that is a mental problem to start . If we teach them how to live on repeat and referrals all that stuff go away including 90% of people shop the net first .

Comment by James Jarrett on June 4, 2014 at 6:29pm

Well said Mr Ruggles.

Comment by David Ruggles on June 4, 2014 at 6:17pm

RE: "Thousands of dealerships are operating under so called old school ways with great csi, loyal service customers and gross profit."

Well stated James!  I don't think you and David are at odds.  "Old School" to me means "timeless."  It means staying with the "basics" based on developing a relationship.  There are many who want us to do nothing more than give the consumer the "Best Price" when they asked for it.  There might be some situations when that's called for.  Certainly not with everyone.  Consumers say they want "Quick and Easy."  Well, only about 22% have Fast Track credit and of those, many have DTI issues as well as Negative Equity.  Add in the massive paperwork and disclosure requirements and "Quick and Easy is relative at best.  Fully a third of consumers are either BHPH candidates or Sub Prime.  Ain't nothing quick and easy about that.  Everyone else is in between.  It takes as much time as it takes.  And its all according to customer perception. 

Comment by L Wittrock on June 4, 2014 at 6:13pm

 Clearly any type of comment that would lead them to believe that our goal is to sell them a car today.

David:since I was not an order take or clerk, as a salesman this was my job. Sometimes stated and sometimes implied, this was always my objective.

People really know this, and I believe actually expect it- asking for the sale TODAY.

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