Here is the big question all sellers must be able to answer to: “Sell me this pen,” or show me that you are able to sell one of the most undifferentiated products, highly replaceable, in a very competitive industry.
This question has made famous by the movie “The Wolf of Wall Street”, where Leonardo DiCaprio asks it first to his friends, who respond brilliantly, and then to a group of business executives, who have it totally wrong.
If you have not seen the movie or do not remember it exactly, here’s a video with the two scenes:
Since then, the question has become the recruiter’s favorite one during job interviews, chosen to tests the candidate’s selling skills and to understand his/her approach to selling.
Well, what is the correct answer?
It’s time to dispel the myth: there is not a single correct answer.
The poor seller’s approach
On the contrary, the wrong answer exists. The more spontaneous approach is also the wrong one: starting explaining the quality of the pen, as all the Wall Street business executives do, is the best way to make the client run.
Seller: “It’s an awesome pen, made by white gold.”
Client: “I don’t need a pen, and by the way this one is too expensive.”
Seller: “But the ink is first quality, try to hold it to feel the grip…”
Client: “No thanks, I have to go.”
A poor seller will focus on the functionalities of the pen, rather than the needs of the client. Regardless of the person he/she is talking to, the seller will start explaining the competitive advantages of the product, often submerging the potential customer with technical words and off-topic arguments.
The success seller’s approach
On the contrary, the correct approach is in asking questions to discover who are you talking with and their effective needs when it comes to pens.
The answer of Di Caprio’s friend is a perfect example of the concept:
Seller: “Write your name down on this sheet.”
Client: “But I don’t have a pen!”
Seller: “Here it is!”
This is obviously an extreme answer, a provocation to show how the secret lies in narrowing down and then targeting the customer’s needs, proving that the product you are selling, in this case the pen, is the solution they are waiting for. Not a stream of information, but a series of targeted questions that evolve based on customer’s feedback.
A clear example
Do you think it’s too difficult? Let’s see an example of the best answer to the question: “Sell me this pen” that people around the web loved more, written by Ian Adams from Senator Club. In the example, Ian is in a job interview with the CEO of a company, therefore his questions/answers are targeted to the CEO.
CEO: “Do me a favor, sell me this pen.” (reaches across to hand me the pen)
Seller: (I slowly roll the pen between my index and thumb fingers.) “When was the last time you used a pen?”
CEO: “This morning.”
Seller: “Do you remember what kind of pen that was?”
Seller: “Do you remember why you were using it to write?”
CEO: “Yes. Signing a few new customer contracts.”
Seller: “Well I’d say that’s the best use for a pen (we have a subtle laugh).
Wouldn’t you say signing those new customer contracts is an important event for the business? (nods head) Then shouldn’t it be treated like one. What I mean by that is, here you are signing new customer contracts, an important and memorable event. All while using a very unmemorable pen.
We grew up, our entire lives, using cheap BIC pens because they get the job done for grocery lists and directions. But we never gave it much thought to learn what’s best for more important events.
This is the pen for more important events. This is the tool you use to get deals done. Think of it as a symbol for taking your company to the next level. Because when you begin using the right tool, you are in a more productive state of mind, and you begin to sign more new customer contracts.
Actually. You know what? Just this week I shipped ten new boxes of these pens to Elon Musk’s office.
Unfortunately, this is my last pen today (reach across to hand pen back to CEO). So, I suggest you get this one. Try it out. If you’re not happy with it, I will personally come back next week to pick it up. And it won’t cost you a dime.
What do you say?”
CEO: (picks jaw up off floor) “Yes”.
It’s your turn: sell me this pen!
Don’t learn these questions and answers by heart, but assimilate the framework:
- Collect the information. Discover when was the last time they used a pen and why.
- React to the information. Emphasize the importance of the writing activity.
- Offer information. Sell more than a pen: a mental state, an opportunity; show that other customers are already happy with the product.
- Close the sale. Ask the client to buy and make an offer they can’t lose.
The point is not in selling the pen, but in proving to the person who asked you the question that you know how to sell it.
Thanks to these tips you’ll leave speechless every recruiter or know-it-all friend who will try to catch you out!