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You’ll probably agree that the thought of being asked the “sell me this pen” question during a sales interview is one of the most daunting tasks you have to pass in order to land the job.
The question, made famous in The Wolf of Wall Street, may seem both simple and difficult at the same time.
In one scene of the movie, Leonardo DiCaprio offers a pen to a man training to be a salesman, who begins by describing the pen in detail. DiCaprio’s character reacts with a huge “no” at the attempt.
You may be asking yourself:
How do you sell something as simple as a pen without trying to convince the buyer about how amazing the pen is?
Everyone has extra pens laying around– so why is yours so special?
It can’t be THAT hard.
You are a top-class salesperson — selling a pen should be easy, right? Pretty much everyone uses pens, so you should be able to wing this question without any problems…Right?
If you’ve had any experience in sales, you know that the art of closing deals is not something that comes naturally to most.
It is a skill that takes practice and experience.
What if you have no experience? If that’s the case…
Practice. Luckily, practicing sales pitches is something you can do on your own, in advance of the interview, so you can fly through the interview with confidence, versus apologizing for it being your first attempt.
So doing a practice pitch makes sense, but why pens?
Why is the interview question, “sell me this pen” so popular?
The question, “sell me this pen,” is about more than just your ability to convince the interviewer that you can sell that specific pen.
The purpose of asking a job candidate in an interview to sell a pen is all about giving you the opportunity to demonstrate how you sell.
While you may have sales experience, you likely have never had to sell an actual pen before.
Something so simple as a pen can often be the most difficult to sell to customers. So the techniques you used for previous products may not be what’s best for selling a pen.
What interviewers are most keen to know is how you go through the decision-making process to make a sale for the pen.
And most importantly:
Does your decision-making process effectively connect you to potential buyers and therefore, result in successful closes?
In The Wolf of Wall Street, DiCaprio sits at a diner with his friends and asks one to sell him his pen. The friend takes it, then asks DiCaprio to write something down on a napkin, to which he responds that he doesn’t have a pen.
“See? Supply and demand.” Boom. Pen sold.
While the movie has some great advice for closing sales, you probably shouldn’t steal your interviewer’s pen and sell it back to them, because they now lack one.
But the movie does put you in the right direction for how to really sell a pen and do it in a way that will impress the interviewer.
DiCaprio states that the pen was an easy sell because his friend established a sense of urgency.
That sense of urgency was there, because he needed to take notes, but needed a pen quickly.
They were at a diner where pens are not in abundance, so he would likely take anything anyone offered to him to accomplish his task.
His friend knew the environment (diner) and the buyer (DiCaprio), so he was easily able to identify DiCaprio’s needs and buying the pen from DiCaprio was a simple solution.
The bottom line?
You need to know your potential buyers well and know how you can easily connect what you are trying to sell with them either through emotional connections to the product or by delivering easy solutions to their problems.
So how do you accomplish this feat with strangers? Keep reading, folks.
You know you will probably have to pitch a sales deal in a sales interview, so prepare for it.
1. Do Not Skip This Question. This question is not one you should do on the fly.
2. Know Your Audience. The first step to any sales interview question like “sell me this pen” is to get to know your audience.
You need to identify their needs.
Don’t even mention your specific pen at first.
Just begin by asking questions to know what angle you will later use to sell the pen effectively.
3. Connect the Buyer to Your Product.
Now that you have some juicy information about your potential buyer, you can use the answers to these questions to connect your buyer to your product.
You can now start talking about how the features of the pen will address the pitfalls of previous pens they’ve used.
You can connect the pen emotionally to the buyer by talking about how your pen will make more events that require pens successful.
If you are selling high-quality pens, you can talk about how your pens are more in-line with a successful image than a 5 cent pen from a bulk pack.
4. Ask the Potential Buyer to Try the Product Out
Give the pen to the potential buyer and ask them to try it out.
Once the pen is in their hand, it is more real.
They are more likely to buy if they are holding or using the object you are trying to sell.
5. Begin to Close
After they’ve had a chance to try it out and you comment on its pros, you can begin to close.
Whether your buyer decides to take the pen or not, your potential employer is most concerned about how you connect and interact with potential buyers.
Are you comfortable with them?
Did you make them feel heard and welcome?
The more the potential buyer connects with you and the item you are trying to sell, the more likely the close will be successful.
When given the interview question, “sell me this pen,” it is natural to get nervous.
But do not worry — if you prepare well in advance for the interview and practice getting to know your audience, it will be a piece of cake.
Practice on your friends, practice with your family, and even practice with yourself in front of a mirror.
Unfortunately, first impressions with sales can make a huge impact on the sale, and the same goes for the interview as well.
But don’t get too caught up in the details — practice makes perfect.
Follow the tips above, and you’ll find people suddenly interested in even the pen your dog chewed up last week.
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