How To Answer “Sell Me This Pen” (With Examples): Job Interview Question

By Heidi Cope - Oct. 3, 2021
Articles In Guide

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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.

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.

Whatever your experience level, we’ve got you covered on giving a winning answer to one of the most common interview questions in sales: “sell me this pen.”

Why Interviewers Ask “Sell Me This Pen”

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 conversions?

How to Answer to “Sell Me This Pen”

You know you will probably have to pitch a sales deal in a sales interview, so prepare for it.

Here’s a step-by-step process for responding to “sell me this pen:”

  1. Know your audience. This question is not one you should do on the fly and 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

    Sample questions to understand your potential buyers

    • When is the last time you used a pen? (Establishes frequency of use)

    • Do you remember what type it was? (Determines if pen use is of great importance to them)

    • Do you remember why you were using the pen? (Gives you information about potential emotional connections to the pen use)

    • What if you don’t have the right type of pen? (Lets you know if the pen is a status symbol to them)

    • Are there any features you don’t like about pens? (Gives you information to not use to sell the pen)

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Answering “Sell Me This Pen”

While there are some surefire ways to make your sales pitch a success, there are also pitfalls to watch out for:

  • Focusing on features. The biggest mistake any salesperson can make is selling on features alone. The thing is, features are boring, static, and of no inherent value. It might be important that the pen is made of solid gold or that it writes smoothly — but you don’t know if your buyer cares about those things.

    Instead, focus on benefits that directly entice the buyer based on your questions. Instead of saying that the pen writes smoothly, say that it makes writing documents feel less like a chore; instead of saying it’s made of gold, say it will impress people who see you using it.

  • Dodge the prompt. The other cardinal sin of answering this question is refusing to attempt the sale at all. Your interviewer isn’t asking this question just to make you dance like a monkey; it’s important for them to see how you approach sales, unexpected situations, and personal relationships.

    Sure, you can say the question makes you feel uncomfortable, but it’ll also make the hiring manager feel uncomfortable about hiring you.

  • Assuming you know what the person wants. A big no-no in sales is assuming you already know what problem your customer has. Before you jump into a sales pitch, take a second to qualify your buyer and see what their needs are.

    Never open with benefits or features; open with questions instead.

Tips for Answering to “Sell Me This Pen”

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.

Example Answers to “Sell Me This Pen”

Let’s take a look at some ways you can answer the prompt “sell me this pen” in an interview.

  1. Qualifying the Sale

    I’d love to learn more about how this pen could help you in your daily activities. Can you describe to me when you frequently use a pen during your day and what sort of tasks you perform with it? Do you have any frustrations with your current writing implement?

  2. Addresssing the Customer’s Needs

    It sounds like you’re having problems with your pen drying out when it’s been sitting on your desk for awhile. This pen stays moist even when exposed to air for long periods of time. So if you’re in between meetings and getting some paperwork done, you don’t worry about picking up where you left off — this pen will be there, ready to write, right away.

  3. Closing the Deal

    I’d love to become your top provider of high-quality pens that won’t quit, no matter what the day throws at you. If you choose to begin a relationship with our company, I will work tirelessly to make sure you’re 100% satisfied at all times. Can we go ahead and put you down for your first order?

  4. Social Proof

    This is the pen brand that the stars of Hollywood use — Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie actually used this pen to sign their wedding certificate, and it was gifted to them by Jennifer Anniston. When you use one of our pens, you’ll be recognized as a member of the social elite who will settle for nothing but the best, even for everyday objects like pens.

  5. Scarcity

    Well, this is the last of a limited time collection that we put together last fall. Our customers have talked about our pens as long-term investments that will be retain and gain value over the years because of their intuitive design. If you act now, you can own one of these stand-out pens that’s sure to act as a conversation starter with your clients and coworkers.

Final Thoughts

When given the interview question, “sell me this pen,” it’s natural to get nervous. But don’t 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 with your friends, practice with your family, and even practice with yourself in front of a mirror.

Unfortunately, first impressions can make a huge impact on the sale, and the same goes for the interview.

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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Author

Heidi Cope

Heidi Cope is a former writer for the Zippia Career Advice blog. Her writing focused primarily on Zippia's suite of rankings and general career advice. After leaving Zippia, Heidi joined The Mighty as a writer and editor, among other positions. She received her BS from UNC Charlotte in German Studies.

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