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Best Ways to Answer “Sell Me This Pen” 

Pen

“Sell me this pen” is a question posed by job interviewers and marketing consultants and made famous by the Martin Scorsese film, Wolf of Wall Street. Many interviewees make the mistake of thinking it’s not a real question, but the truth is that it is very, very likely to come up in a job interview. Are you prepared to sell somebody their own pen?

Is This a Real Question?

The 2013 movie starred Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort a real-life stock-broker turned white-collar criminal who did years in prison and then later wrote the book about it. Twice in the movie, Belfort asks somebody to “sell me this pen.”

In the first, at the beginning of the movie, another character asks to see the pen and then asks Belfort to write down his name. When Belfort responds by saying that he can’t write down his name because he doesn’t have a pen, the opposing characters responds with, “supply and demand.”

In the second, Belfort slips a pen from his pocket and asks some of the top salespeople in the company to sell him that pen.

Unfortunately, neither the salespeople’s responses in the second scene nor the friend’s response in the first scene will win you any points in a real-life interview. What kinds of responses will work, then?

5 Tips for Answering the Questions, “Sell Me This Pen” 

The interviewers don’t want to buy a pen from you, of course, but they do want a chance to see you in action. Do you slip into sales mode easily? Can you handle challenges? Can you think on your feet? Here are a few tips to help you handle the question like a pro:

1. Prepare

Do not make the mistake of thinking you can “wing” the interview, no matter how good you are, how experienced you are, or how much you’ve accomplished already in your career.

Michael Jordan, one of the world’s top basketball players in his time, was famous for the amount of time he practiced. It was the shots that nobody saw, repeated over and over again, that allowed him to sink the shots when everyone was watching.

We recommend practicing in front of a mirror and recruiting others to help you practice by asking you interview questions. Think through your best answers and if possible, get feedback.


2. Respond With a Question

One of the first things that most people resort to when trying to sell something is a list of features. You might, for example, rattle off a great story about how well-made and well-designed the pen is. You might highlight its warranty or how other famous people use it. You might be able to come up with a long list of features.

However, if you don’t know who you’re selling to, you’ve made an arrogant mistake. Think for example, what would happen if a somebody walked into a real estate office, told the realtor, “I want to buy a house,” and the realtor immediately tried to sell him a penthouse condo without first taking the time to find out the man had three kids and a dog and dreamed of country living?

The man would walk out, and the agent would lose a valuable sale.

When your interviewer asks you to “sell me this pen,” he or she has given you a valuable opportunity to demonstrate your ability to learn about the needs and felt wants of the individual you’re selling to.

Here are a few questions you might ask:

  • Can you tell me why you’re looking for a pen?
  • When was the last time you used a pen?
  • What frustrates you the most about pens?

3. Don’t Sell Features; Sell a Need

Writing

Many people think sales is about sleazy marketing techniques and tricking people into buying something they don’t need. However, the best salespeople know that good salesmanship is about matching a deep need (or felt need) with the right product.

We’ve already explained how important it is to understand your customer. One of the reason’s that’s so important is because of the difference between a feature and a solution.

A feature, for example, is an ergonomic grip. By itself, that feature does nothing to help you sell the pen, and while it’s easy to expect your customer to make the mental leap to how the feature will benefit him or her, you as the salesperson are responsible for making that leap for him.

If your customer has, say, explained how cramped her hand is when she draws with her currents pens, you can point to the ergonomic grip on your pen and share how she’ll be able to draw for longer in greater comfort because of this pen.

Here’s another example: you might be tempted to mention is that the pen is made in factories that prioritize fair labor practices, but that fact might mean nothing to most people and will, in fact, become a waste of words.

If you know that fair trade is emotionally important to your customer, however, you’ll want to explain how he can use this pen without the worry that it was made by a child in awful factory conditions.

These are just two examples, but by now you probably get the point. Don’t show your potential future employer that you can make up a big, shiny list of features on the spot; show her that you can match her needs with the right product. Doing so will put you miles ahead of the competition.

4. Don’t Let the Conversation End

Successful salespeople also know that one of the quickest ways to turn off a potential customer is to do all the talking. When your interviewer asks you to “sell me this pen,” this question provides you with an opportunity to show how you’re able to keep the back and forth of a conversation going.

The more you can keep your potential customer talking, the better an opportunity you’ll have to learn about him or her, and the more confident and positive they’ll feel throughout the interaction.

Need some ideas for coping with conversation dead ends? Here are a few:

  • “I hate using pens.” Wow, tough crowd! Here’s a great answer for this sort of situation that demonstrates your ability to recover quickly and not waste your time (or your potential customer’s): “I completely understand. Since you don’t need a pen, can you connect me to somebody who does in your company?”
  • “No.” You don’t want to pester your interviewer/customer, but it’s ok to ask a few more questions even if you’ve received a negative response. For example, “is the timing wrong for you, or is there another kind of pen that would meet your needs today?”

5. Ask for the Sale

Another common mistake even experienced salespeople make is not asking for the sale. You can have a great presentation with a strong emotional response from your customer, but if you don’t ask for them to pull out their wallet, you probably won’t make a sale.

Sometimes, especially, with large purchases, your goal should be to ask your customer to make a serious of micro-decisions that will soften the blow of the large decision. Asking them to have a seat inside your office, for example, or to choose colors, will lead naturally to filling out the paperwork.

No matter how you do it, make sure you don’t finish your answer without asking for that sale!

Final Tips for Crushing Your Interview

Practice Creativity

We like to think creativity is something that’s either unimportant or innate, but neither are true. Creativity helps a salesperson immensely, as being able to creativity meet challenges and objections on the fly is an important part of being able to sell.

Further, creativity isn’t something just for artists; you can do things to increase your own personal creativity. Here are a few ideas:

  • Learn a new skill (like sketching or watercolor)
  • Foster an idea mindset be refusing to classify ideas as good or bad
  • Play! Grab legos or a coloring book and channel your inner child

Project Confidence (Even if You Don’t Feel It)

Believe it or not, even if you’re nervous, it’s possible to project confidence. Maintaining a positive attitude as you prepare for your interview can help you stay calm and collected, even when the butterflies are kicking around.

Use mantras and positive self-talk to replace negative thoughts and to motivate yourself. These might include:

  • I love interviews!
  • I have a lot to offer this company
  • I am doing the best I can do

Here’s to a Great Interview


Now, you’ve got everything you need to crush that infamous “sell me this pen” question. We’d say good luck--but you won’t need it.

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