Most of us have heard or even passed through this question, whether in a job interview or in a sales process. even if it’s the first time for you to hear about it, I could assure you that one day you will pass through it. it may seem easy to answer, and more you will think it’s a silly one to stop and think about, but believe me it worth stopping for a while and discussing it from the business, marketing and sales point of view, so let me clear it for you.
I guess it’s the most famous and dodge phrase in the history of sales and marketing. It’s what Leonardo Dicaprio once said in “The wolf of wall street” movie, the movie that tells about Jordan Belfort, a former stockbroker who pleaded guilty to fraud and related crimes in connection with stock market that made him the most famous hustler in the history of American stock market with the nickname of “The wolf of wall street”, he said that phrase after handing a pen to a group of senior sales managers.
According to Belfort, this question is so deceptive and not as easy as it seems, wherefore asking it helps him to distinguish passionate salespeople from talented ones.
Since a while ago this question is being used in job interviews, because in counter to many other questions this one has no specific right answer.
This question is considered a real challenge for any professional salesman, moreover, it can distinguish between the sales representative that knows what he is doing and could really close his sale and the sales representative that could not even reach his selling target.
Although the “sell me this pen” question has been used a lot and repeated enough but still it’s not expired and it’s useful, not because it’s hard to answer but because it’s so easy, and if the sales candidate doesn’t know how to answer it, that means he doesn’t know the basics of sales.
Belfort and other sales experts have various methods and strategies to deal with such situations as selling a normal pen. But before talking about them, let’s discuss the importance and indications of the “sell me this pen” question.
What’s behind this question?
The various choices of answering the question reflect the existence of various styles of salesmen, may be the most famous one is the “value-based selling”, where the salesman stresses the features and benefits of the product being sold.
The sales representatives use phrases like: “This pen is good and will identify you from your peers” or “This pen is refillable and you don’t need to buy another one” or “In comparison with other pens, this helps you writing smoothly and fluency”.
95% of people who haven’t practiced sales before will use the previous techniques, even those who comprehensive trainings will give up to interviews stress and use such techniques.
The problem with using the value based technique in such scenario is that what you actually know about the buyer needs is literally 0%, so you are shooting in the dark, you don’t know which bullet will hit the target.
You have to do the opposite, according to Belfort, to avoid the trap of this question, you have to do the opposite of what it hints to, which means you have to study the needs of your buyer first to understand his personality, only then you could know the reasons he will buy your pen.
Belfort says: “The right way is, before I try to sell any person, I need to know him, know his needs, what kind of pens he use, how frequently he buy pens? Does he use it for signatures or for other tasks? What I should hear from the good salesman after asking him to sell me this pen is questioned about my needs, not just an enumeration speech about the features and benefits of the pen”.
In a TV interview where Johnny Carson was hosting Zig Ziglar, one of the most famous sales professionals in history, Carson pointed to the ashtray on the table in front of him and said to Ziglar: “They say you are the greatest salesman in the world, could you sell me this ashtray?”
Before answering, Ziglar thought for a moment then said: “Before doing so, I would like to know why you want that ash tray?”
Carson looked at it and said: “I guess it is well made and looks nice, I see it’s good”
Ziglar said: “ok, now I need you to tell me how much you think it costs?” Carson replied: “I don’t know but 20 dollars seems suitable” Ziglar smiles and say: “sale is done”
Of course, practically things don’t go that smoothly, but the point that you have to ask enough questions to know the customer and his needs, and sometimes you may have to go even further and build a relationship with him before you could close your first sale.
Use more than technique
The objective of the “sell me this pen” question is knowing your ability to persuade as a salesman by selling a small and random product such as a pen.
As I mentioned before, there is no ideal or unique answer to this question, therefore you must not hesitate using various techniques in answering it. And that’s what a job applying candidate once made, he took his checkbook and write a check with 100 dollars with leaving the name box empty and pass it to the interviewer who asked him to sell him a pen, and said: “wouldn’t be great if you had a pen now?”