Sell me this pen: sales experts tackle the Wolf of Wall Street interview trick

Sales experts have different ways of answering the problem

Zlata Rodionova
Thursday 26 November 2015 16:57
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“Sell me this pen.”

It’s the interview task made famous in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. In the film, Leonardo Dicaprio’s character, the stockbroker Jordan Belfort, asks his colleague to sell him a pen.

Belfort himself agreed it was a ‘trick’ question to help him make a distinction between an amateur and a real sales talent. But the trick still comes up in sales interviews.

Sales experts have different ways of answering the problem:

Do the opposite

According to the real-life Jordan Belfort, the question is actually a trap. You have to do the exact opposite of what the question implies.

Stockbrokers first have to investigate their client’s needs in order to understand what kind of person they are and what he might use the pen for.

“The real answer is, before I’m even going to sell a pen to anybody, I need to know about the person, I want to know what their needs are, what kind of pens do they use, do they use a pen? How often do they use a pen? Do they like to use a pen formally, to sign things, or use it in their everyday life? The first idea is that when you say ‘Sell me this pen,’ I want to hear [the salesman] ask me a question,” Jordan Belfort told the Global Mail.

Ask questions

Sales director Mira Zaslove agrees you should not start talking about the pen’s properties. According to her entry on Quora the “sell-the-pen” speech should always include these four steps:

Step 1: Ask the person what they do – The key is understanding the person you are selling the pen to. Asking him questions and paying attention to his background will give you the tools to understand their needs and how to persuade them to buy your product.

Step 2: Acknowledge how important their job is and get them talking about the last time they used the pen – Link their job importance to the use of your product. For instance associate.

“Highlight a feature of the pen you are selling, and associate it with a signature fitting for the work they are doing. For example, if they are signing important legal documents they should sign in your pen's strong blue ink, so they can distinguish the original document from a copy,” Mira Zaslove said.

Step 3: Highlight an emotional use for the pen – After selling the important and practical uses of your product in the second step tell your ‘customer’ a story and connect to their emotions.

“Highlight how you have started writing your spouse, parents, and friends handwritten notes. Get them thinking about someone in their life that they appreciate, and that they would like to thank.” According to Mira Zaslove.

Step 4: Hand them back the pen and close the deal - Close with connecting to the things that they connected most strongly to.

“If they seemed to resonate more with step #2, tell them it's time to buy the pen and get back to work signing contracts. If they told you their mother's birthday is tomorrow and they haven't gotten her a gift yet, tell them it's time to buy the pen and write her a special card,” Mira Zaslove said.

Get them to value the pen

Another answer, quoted on Quora by Mike Majors, was given by reportedly best salesman of our times Zig Ziglar when he was interviewed by TV host Johnny Carson:

Carson said: “I understand you sold more than any other salesman this year at your firm. How about you sell me something.”

“They say you’re the world’s greatest salesman,” he said, “so sell me this ashtray.”

“Well, before I could do that,” replied Zig, “I’d have to know why you wanted the ashtray.”

Looking at the ashtray on the table, the Tonight Show host said, “I guess it’s well made, it looks pretty nice, and it’s a good ashtray.”

“OK,” said Mr Ziglar, “but you’d have to tell me what you think it’s worth to you.”

“I don’t know,” was the reply. “I guess $20 would be about right.”

Zig Ziglar looked at Johnny Carson, smiled, and said: “Sold!”’

Use more than one approach

The goal of this question is to see that you have the ability to be persuasive about something as simple and random as a pen, according marketing specialist Micah.

He wrote on the website Everyday interview tips: “You shouldn’t be afraid of using a more interactive approach. One applicant used a more interactive approach. He took a check out of his pocked, wrote out a $100 check, kept the name blank, handed the check to the interviewer and said: ‘Wouldn’t it be great if you had a pen right now?’”

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