29 replies
Ever been asked to "Sell me this pen"?

It's a common question asked by people interviewing sales candidates or by someone wanting to test someone's on-the-spot persuasion ability.

I was googling around to read answers to this question and came across this pretty good blog post:

Sell me the Pen… « How to be a hardcore salesperson
#pen #sell
  • Profile picture of the author Aaron Doud
    I've always hated that question because honestly it is always asked by people who don't really know how to sell themselves.

    I don't need to have someone sell a pen to me in an interview. If the interview is going well they are already selling me..... on themselves.

    It's far easier to judge how one sells by watching them sell when they are just "doing". Anyone can fake a process or "sell" if they have been taught. But do they know how to ask questions? Do they know how to answer questions? And can they make the person want to buy?

    If they can I will want to hire them. Hell I might have another 10 interviews set up for the position and I will hire them on the spot.

    But most interviewers don't get that. The jobs where I learned the most about selling never once asked me to "sell the pen(or whatever else they use)" because those sales managers understood something that I never understood till years later and that was that I was already selling. I just never realized it.

    In the end if you can't sell yourself it means you either can't sell something you believe in or you don't believe in yourself. And no matter which it is I know that person will not be able to sell what I want them to sell for me.

    On a related side note I have a personal policy now that if I am asked to "sell the pen" that I turn down the job offer. I know the company can offer me nothing but money and I can get money anywhere.
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  • Profile picture of the author vndnbrgj
    I have never been asked that...
    I have thought about it though.

    I like how he started.
    I don't know if I would have asked about pricing right there.

    On one hand it tells you whether or not he's willing to spend $500
    On the other hand, I don't think enough value has been built...

    Thoughts
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    • Profile picture of the author DeafAndy
      I got asked this about 13 years ago when interviewing for a telemarketing position with MCI. All they wanted was to see if you would try. I tried and got hired with the standard features and benefits approach. As an older, wiser salesman, taking the client need approach is definitely preferable.

      Nice article Bob.
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  • Profile picture of the author bob ross
    What I really liked about his post was the last line:

    Hopefully you have gotten the hint. Before you ever introduce the pen into the presentation you need to know that I actually want a pen. Always, Always, Always focus on the client’s needs and you will be surprised how easy it is to sell a pen. Focus on the pen and you will always struggle.

    I clicked this link and got some really good stuff as well:

    Supercharge your sales speak with these simple standardised statements… « How to be a hardcore salesperson
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  • Profile picture of the author Rearden
    Sell me this pen, G.U.T.S. Style:

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    • Profile picture of the author Claude Whitacre
      I was asked once. Aaron Doud gave a great answer. Better than mine. I'm not going to read the links or watch the video until after I give my reaction.

      But this is about what I said;

      "As you can see, this pen is molded to fit your hand. The ball is machined from the finest steel, and guarantees to keep your ink fluid and your pocket dry. It writes in any language. This pen will write at any altitude. You can use it right or left handed. And you can use it to write a love letter, job application, or to create a best selling novel. And it's mightier than the sword.

      A hundred years ago, this pen would have been more valuable than gold. Crowds would gather to watch the magic as words flowed from your hand.

      But I only have one. You can't buy more. Just this one. Think of all the great ideas you could capture if you only had this pen. Here. Hold it. Feel the weight. Is that going to be lightweight enough for you? Give me one dollar"

      OK, now I'll see what the others said.

      By the way, this was years ago. Now, the first question would be "Do you need something to write with?" , "What would you use it for?", and "Would it be worth a dollar to get the job done?'
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      • Profile picture of the author MarkJez
        One of my favorite business stories of all time involves a pen....

        Apparently, in the 1960's NASA invested about a million dollars to try and create a pen which would work in space. It needed to write perfectly in ultra low temperatures, in a vacuum, upside down etc. etc. After a great deal of trial and error and expense they came up with a pen which worked!

        The Russian Space Agency had to also come up with a solution to writing in space. But they simply chose a pencil
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  • Profile picture of the author Claude Whitacre
    Originally Posted by bob ross View Post

    Ever been asked to "Sell me this pen"?

    It's a common question asked by people interviewing sales candidates or by someone wanting to test someone's on-the-spot persuasion ability.

    I was googling around to read answers to this question and came across this pretty good blog post:

    Sell me the Pen… « How to be a hardcore salesperson

    Good stuff. The problem with asking "How much are you looking to spend?" right away is that, once a price is uttered, that price kind of firms up in the prospect's mind. What if he said "Something really good. I'll go as much as $3."?

    I might say 'In the finest gift pen sets, we have a few price ranges. Some people consider price as no object, and they spend as much as $1,000 for a set. Some are wanting the gift to be remembered, and used for years. Our most popular pen gift sets are in the $200-$500 range. And some are on a budget and can't go more than $100-$200 for a gift. Where would you fit in there?"

    Now, instead of saying $3, the guy may say "Well, I wasn't thinking of spending $200, but what do you have?"

    That's a very powerful technique to get the price expectation up there. I fudged the prices. I have no idea how much pens cost.
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    • Profile picture of the author ewenmack
      This reminds me Johnny Carson asked the man dubbed the Worlds Greatest Salesman
      to sell him a ashtray.

      I don't know if all of the story is fiction, some of it or a important piece left out.

      Anyway, the punchline was...

      "If you were to buy this ashtray, how much would you expect to pay for it?"

      Johnny names a price.

      Salesman says "SOLD!"

      The salesman's name has escaped me.

      He coined the term KISS, keep it simple salesperson.

      An idea on how to sell the pen would be to recount how this same pen was the one used to sign the American Independence document.

      Suddenly the value has grown into much more valuable than a mere utility.

      My first thought when I read the thread title was going to ask us to sell it.

      Would of been fun.

      We did the same exercise on the copywriting section for a brick.

      I had fun coming up with it being used as the only remaining one out of 26 used to
      make the background cover on Pink Floyd's Album The Wall.
      Expanded on that story.

      Anyway I'm going off the threads track so I'll end.

      Best,
      Ewen
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      • Profile picture of the author Claude Whitacre
        Originally Posted by ewenmack View Post

        This reminds me Johnny Carson asked the man dubbed the Worlds Greatest Salesman
        to sell him a ashtray.

        I don't know if all of the story is fiction, some of it or a important piece left out.

        Anyway, the punchline was...

        "If you were to buy this ashtray, how much would you expect to pay for it?"

        Johnny names a price.

        Salesman says "SOLD!"

        The salesman's name has escaped me.

        He coined the term KISS, keep it simple salesperson.

        An idea on how to sell the pen would be to recount how this same pen was the one used to sign the American Independence document.

        Suddenly the value has grown into much more valuable than a mere utility.

        My first thought when I read the thread title was going to ask us to sell it.

        Would of been fun.

        We did the same exercise on the copywriting section for a brick.

        I had fun coming up with it being used as the only remaining one out of 26 used to
        make the background cover on Pink Floyd's Album The Wall.
        Expanded on that story.

        Anyway I'm going off the threads track so I'll end.

        Best,
        Ewen
        Ewen; I saw that show. I believe it was the late Great Zig Ziglar. But it could have been Joe Gerard.
        And you gave an exact quote, as far as I remember.
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        • Profile picture of the author ewenmack
          Originally Posted by Claude Whitacre View Post

          Ewen; I saw that show. I believe it was the late Great Zig Ziglar. But it could have been Joe Gerard.
          And you gave an exact quote, as far as I remember.
          Ah the name Fred Herman comes to mind.

          Does that sound right?

          Best,
          Ewen
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          • Profile picture of the author Claude Whitacre
            Originally Posted by ewenmack View Post

            Ah the name Fred Herman comes to mind.

            Does that sound right?

            Best,
            Ewen
            YES! It was Fred Herman.
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            "Those who know that they are profound strive for clarity. Those who would like to seem profound to the crowd strive for obscurity" Friedrich Nietzsche
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    • Profile picture of the author ewenmack
      Originally Posted by Claude Whitacre View Post

      Some are wanting the gift to be remembered, and used for years. Our most popular pen gift sets are in the $200-$500 range. And some are on a budget and can't go more than $100-$200 for a gift. Where would you fit in there?"
      Great way how you tied each group into their thought pattern Claude.

      You also lead them which made it easier to make a decision
      plus you used social proof.

      A very potent mix!

      Thanks,
      Ewen
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      • Profile picture of the author Claude Whitacre
        Originally Posted by ewenmack View Post

        Great way how you tied each group into their thought pattern Claude.

        You also lead them which made it easier to make a decision
        plus you used social proof.

        A very potent mix!

        Thanks,
        Ewen
        I actually learned the framework for that from the book How To Master The Art Of Selling by Tom Hopkins. It's one of the few techniques that I've used consistently over the years, that I got directly from a book.
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        "Those who know that they are profound strive for clarity. Those who would like to seem profound to the crowd strive for obscurity" Friedrich Nietzsche
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  • Profile picture of the author Aaron Doud
    I've never read that book. Would you recommend it beyond just the one tip you mention here?
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    • Profile picture of the author Claude Whitacre
      Originally Posted by Aaron Doud View Post

      I've never read that book. Would you recommend it beyond just the one tip you mention here?
      For you? Yes. It has a strong base of techniques. It was written in 1981 (about). You have enough experience in selling to instantly see the valuable methods included.

      But it completely crystallized how I was selling at the time. A few of the techniques I still use to this day. Certainly worth the read, and about a buck on Amazon. Get the 1981 edition.
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      "Those who know that they are profound strive for clarity. Those who would like to seem profound to the crowd strive for obscurity" Friedrich Nietzsche
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  • Profile picture of the author misterme
    Please, please... just take the pen. It's on me!

    And when you need refills, it only takes the ones I sell.
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    • Profile picture of the author Claude Whitacre
      Originally Posted by misterme View Post

      Please, please... just take the pen. It's on me!

      And when you need refills, it only takes the ones I sell.
      Damn you. Damn you again, for having the best answer in a thread, and one I absolutely didn't consider. I stand impressed.
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      • Profile picture of the author ewenmack
        Originally Posted by Claude Whitacre View Post

        Damn you. Damn you again, for having the best answer in a thread, and one I absolutely didn't consider. I stand impressed.
        My exact thoughts too!

        Damned you for making me look stoopid! lol.

        Best,
        Ewen
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    • Originally Posted by misterme View Post

      Please, please... just take the pen. It's on me!

      And when you need refills, it only takes the ones I sell.
      Nice. Whole industries are built on this approach.
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  • Profile picture of the author Aaron Doud
    The "free" (or cheap) pen and charging for refills is a business model I am suprised we don't see more of today. It's been a proven money maker for years. But it seems outside of a few industries (razors the biggest) that it has fallen out of fashion. I think we have become a great throw away society. Why buy a refill when you can just buy another from China?

    The biggest relatively new version of this would be the Kindle Fire. Sold for break even prices in the hopes that Amazon becomes your content provider.

    Can anyone thing of any other companies really using it today with newer products?
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    • Profile picture of the author ewenmack
      Originally Posted by Aaron Doud View Post


      Can anyone thing of any other companies really using it today with newer products?
      None come to mind at the mo.

      The mobile phone companies use the deep discount on new mobiles and smart phones for signing up to contracts.

      It would seem they would need to charge some price for the phone to at least break even on buying the customer on the first sale.

      Plus the mobile and smart phone makers probably have a stipulation they must not be sold under a certain price point to hold their value.

      Best,
      Ewen
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    • Profile picture of the author Claude Whitacre
      Originally Posted by Aaron Doud View Post

      The "free" (or cheap) pen and charging for refills is a business model I am suprised we don't see more of today. It's been a proven money maker for years. But it seems outside of a few industries (razors the biggest) that it has fallen out of fashion. I think we have become a great throw away society. Why buy a refill when you can just buy another from China?

      The biggest relatively new version of this would be the Kindle Fire. Sold for break even prices in the hopes that Amazon becomes your content provider.

      Can anyone thing of any other companies really using it today with newer products?
      Bagless vacuum cleaners are sold for almost cost, so you'll buy the HEPA filters once or twice a year. This is very much the "Get them in and charge them for refills" idea. I just didn't consider the idea to apply it to pens.


      For a few years, I sold a bunch of DVDs for $5,99, and you got put in continuity for $39.95 a month until you said Stop. ProActiv uses that model. Sell a front end product cheap, and make it on the monthly continuity. The same idea as the razors, but they bill you automatically, just like I did.
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    • Profile picture of the author tryinhere
      Originally Posted by Aaron Doud View Post

      Can anyone thing of any other companies really using it today with newer products?
      Home printers are virtually given away here and the catch is to keep buying printer refills, nearly cheaper to what ever printer with ink is being promoted that a refill alone.
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    • Profile picture of the author misterme
      Originally Posted by Aaron Doud View Post

      The "free" (or cheap) pen and charging for refills...

      Can anyone thing of any other companies really using it today with newer products?
      Something that looks cheap and easy at first but turns out to be an ongoing expense? Three come to mind:

      The Oral B Cordless Toothbrush. the Brita Water Filter, and my ex-girlfriend.
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      • Profile picture of the author dave stahly
        Keurig coffee machine. Individual cups of coffee!!
        Plus, if the darn thing quits/ breaks, they will give you
        another one for free, all you have to do is mail in a certain
        part off the machine that is broke!

        dave
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      • Profile picture of the author Adwizard
        Originally Posted by misterme View Post

        Something that looks cheap and easy at first but turns out to be an ongoing expense? Three come to mind:

        The Oral B Cordless Toothbrush. the Brita Water Filter, and my ex-girlfriend.

        LMAO.... Badda Boom, Badda Bing!
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  • Profile picture of the author Maxwell Stinson
    I've had my fair share of having to interview new hires. I've always loved it when I asked them to sell me something so common as a pen.

    Some of them came up with the most random stuff, like the pen could transform in a lightsaber and stuff like that. Made me laugh real hard in the interview room.

    A good salesperson, however, will know how to sell something as an ordinary pen. Why? Because he/she understands that people still need pens. Even if we're living in an age where we usually just face a tablet, smartphone or computer, when all else fails, we have to go back to the basics.

    So how do you sell a pen? Well... find someone who needs a pen!
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  • Profile picture of the author misterme
    But why should I expand energy trying to convince someone to buy a pen when I could instead look to sell a pen where circumstances are ripe for pen sales? A road sign that says:

    Last Pen Shop Before The Border.

    People crossing the border without a pen will be shot.

    OK, so that's an extreme example. But you get the gist of what I mean.
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