Hiring managers often like to ask creative, out-of-the-box questions while interviewing candidates to assess whether they are ideal for a particular position. In the sales and marketing departments, specifically, hiring managers are interested in viewing how applicants respond to real-world problems, adapt to unexpected questions, and interact with others. One way they do this is by asking for a short sales pitch to check applicants’ abilities and see their sales prowess in action – and they do this by asking them to “sell me this pen.”
“Sell me this pen” was infamously popularized by a scene in Martin Scorsese’s film, The Wolf of Wall Street, where the character Jordan Belfort – based on the real-life businessman – asked his friends to sell him a pen in order to demonstrate their sales skills.
An interesting and accessible way to test the fundamentals of their sales staff, the question is a real challenge that can help managers differentiate between promising candidates and those who will never hit the target. If you’re applying for sales roles, don’t be surprised if you get thrown this question. It doesn’t have to be a curve ball – in fact, it would behoove all sales executives, no matter your industry, to expect this question and prepare your response well in advance.
If you’re seeking tips on how to effectively “sell me this pen,” this article has what you need. It will cover:
- Why do interviewers really ask this question?
- What are interviewers looking for in your answer?
- Some example responses to “Sell me this pen.”
- Mistakes to avoid when answering “Sell me this pen.”
- Pro tips for how to ace your interview for a sales position.
Read on to adopt some good approaches to answering this creative question that can land you in the final round!
Why Do Interviewers Really Ask You to “Sell Me This Pen”?
As we covered a bit earlier, hiring managers in sales and marketing departments primarily ask “sell me this pen” to check candidates’ skills and determine their ability to convincingly sell a product. Aside from the level of persuasiveness in the pitch, a candidate’s answer to this question also indicates other aspects of their professional character, including whether a candidate:
- Has good growth potential
- Can perform under high-pressure or unexpected circumstances
- Exhibits good soft skills and relatability
- Demonstrates enthusiasm and excitement
- Can think creatively
- Can build a strong rapport with prospects and clients
- Has the ability to close the deal with their pitch
What Are Interviewers Looking For in Your Answer?
Below are some more details about what interviewers are actually looking to accomplish in evaluating your answer to “sell me this pen” – whether you answer it well or not:
Identify Your Growth Potential
Depending on how successful your pitch is, you will demonstrate whether you are ready to take on challenges and grow with your company. Although many candidates won’t always have a perfect and engaging answer to “sell me this pen,” even imperfect answers – but a willingness to learn – can help interviewers to judge your confidence, interest in learning, and growth potential with their company.
Evaluate How You Perform Under Pressure
Sales and marketing departments already have a high-pressure environment, and questions like “sell me this pen” can add additional urgency. It allows interviewers to determine how candidates perform when working with potential buyers or cold-calling sales leads. In this way, hiring managers access the ability of candidates to stay calm and improvise even during complicated and unexpected challenges.
Identify Your Personal Style
Giving the same scenario of “sell me this pen” to each candidate allows interviewers to compare the tone and style of each candidate. Everyone communicates differently, and not every style works for their company brand. It can help managers determine which candidates’ styles align best with what they’re looking for.
Assess Soft Skills of Candidates
A strong salesperson must have impressive soft skills such as creative thinking, interpersonal communication, persuasion, negotiation, and marketing. Using creative questions and giving a mock sales pitch to sales representatives can help interviewers check the candidates’ basic qualifications and their sales potential in action. When a candidate tries to sell a pen, they will check your body language, your word choice, your attitude, and your overall impression as you work to make potential buyers feel interested and comfortable purchasing the product.
How to Answer the Interview Question “Sell Me This Pen”
To get some inspiration on how to “sell me this pen,” you can watch the movie, The Wolf of Wall Street, in which Leonardo DiCaprio (who played the role of Jordan Belfort) asks his companions to sell him a pen (you can view the scene here).
The scene is a funny one, but illustrates something crucial – the power of supply and demand.
The simple trick performed in this pitch is that he sells the pen by not selling the pen. He sells the need for the pen. Let’s dig a little deeper.
The Secret to Selling Any Product
The most important things you need to understand when selling are the aspirations and desires of your potential buyers. What are they missing, and what do they need? Make sure you research and know your target market’s needs and behaviors. In the case of selling a pen, this would mean how often they use pens, what types of pens they typically use, why they use pens, and whether or not they need pens on a regular basis.
In a sales call, it is imperative that you listen to the needs and aspirations of your buyers, rather than speaking. For some people, it can be hard to be a master at sales and marketing because they like to speak. They think the power of the pitch is entirely in their own hands, regardless of who is listening. In reality, a sales pitch is an exchange between two parties.
So, when interviewers ask you to sell a pen, it is key to remember that it is not actually the pen you’re selling, but you’re selling your own ability to understand and anticipate your target buyer’s needs. We can sum this principle up into 4 key steps:
- Research your potential buyers, their needs, likes and dislikes
- Understand how long your buyers have been in the market for a pen and what type of pen they use – ask!
- Listen to the needs of your buyers rather than speaking
- Try to be interested rather than interesting
Of course, there are other approaches to answering “sell me this pen” that can work as well. We’ll discuss several of them below.
Example Approaches to Answering “Sell Me This Pen”
Here are some sales approaches to illustrate different ways you can give a powerful answer to “sell me this pen.”
Value-Added Approach to “Sell Me This Pen”
The value-added selling approach is a product-centric way to make a sale that does not necessarily consider the customer’s needs. It mainly focuses on the product’s qualities that can give it more value.
Sample Answer with Value-Added Approach
This pen has many impressive features; it stands out with its looks and builds. The rose gold tint and high-quality fiber add panache to this pen. You can make a one-time investment by choosing this efficient and easy-to-maintain pen. I’m sure this smart pen will tempt you once you use it.
Problem-Creation Approach to “Sell Me This Pen”
The problem-creation approach to “Sell Me This Pen” provides efficient control to sales reps. You would find a problem with your buyers’ products and introduce your product as a solution to that particular problem.
It is important to develop the problem for the problem-creation approach, but it does have a direct impact. The problem you find in customers’ products must actually be solved with your product, or this approach doesn’t work.
Sample Answer with Problem-Creation Approach
A lot of pens can mess up the back of the page by leaving deep impressions. Oh, you haven’t noticed these issues?
Our pen is smart and easy to maintain that can write like a feather without leaving any deep impressions on the page. Moreover, you don’t need to worry about losing the other side of your page after writing with a pen.
Solution-Based Approach to “Sell Me This Pen”
A solution-based approach is a customer-centric way that hones in personally to customers’ needs and aspirations. This selling approach allows the salesperson to identify the customers’ specific pain points and introduce their product as an immediate solution.
Sample Answer with Solution-Based Approach
If I’m not wrong, you must have to write a lot in your daily routine. I understand the importance of having a smooth and comfortable pen that can give you the best writing experience.
I recommend using our pen, which is not only easy to use. But its smooth tip can give a smooth and enjoyable writing experience. Our pen comes with cartridges that can save you from refiling the pen. Moreover, you can choose your pen color from our wide range to ensure your pen matches your personality.
Mistakes To Avoid When Answering “Sell Me This Pen.”
We’ve shared some good example responses and tips for crafting your own powerful response to “Sell me this pen.” Here are also some common mistakes you should avoid to make sure you truly nail this interview question:
Don’t Decline to Answer
Answering “Sell me this pen” is not an optional activity, so you can’t decline it. Saying that you don’t know the answer or are uncomfortable with the question can leave you in a difficult situation. This challenge is an important activity for both a candidate and interviewer that ultimately determines whether this role is a good fit for you both. It is important to be optimistic during the interview and give a response to this question.
Don’t Focus Solely on Pen’s Features
Undoubtedly, a product’s features greatly impact the selling process. But it is not an ideal approach to only focus on the product’s features. You can define the specification of your pen, like its color, ink type, etc., in a quick way. Instead, it would be great if you focused on how your pen can benefit your target customers and how it can fulfill their specific needs.
Define Your Target Audience
A common mistake that salespeople make is they try selling their product to everyone. The best approach is to specify your target audience interested in buying your pen, and then start selling directly and only to them.
A Creative Approach to Answering “Sell Me This Pen”
Don’t forget – you can also choose a creative “jaw-dropping” approach to answering this question, much like the scene from the movie. The more creative, the more memorable and impactful. For example, when the interviewer asks this question, you could take out a checkbook from your pocket and write an amount of $300. Keep the name blank and give the check to the interviewer, remarking how great it would be if they had a pen to write their name right now.
Pro Tips for How to Ace The Question “Sell Me This Pen”
Here are some additional pro tips for giving an excellent answer that lands you the job:
Ask Questions to Understand the Client’s Needs and Desires
Understanding what your customer needs and desires is important to making a successful sale. The best way to specify these needs is to ask directly relevant and interesting questions, such as why you’re looking for a new pen, what kind of pen you like to use, and what is an ideal pen for you.
Handle Objections Before They’re Asked
Handling objections in sales and marketing may seem daunting to a new salesperson. The customers may object to your pen on the grounds that it is so expensive, or that they don’t need it at all, or that they heard bad reviews about your pen.
Before your customer makes any objection, it is important to anticipate what these might be and prepare answers in case one or more of these are raised.
Use Freebies to Sweeten the Deal
You can use freebies, discount codes, buy-one-get-one-free offers, and coupons to sweeten your deal. Cash incentives always catch the attention of your target audience and give them an added reason to purchase your pen over others. Bonus points if you add a time limit – expirations on offers always add urgency and can seal the deal for you right away.
No one likes dealing with people they don’t like. It is important to remember that you should, above all, be likable. Your chances of closing the deal increase in direct proportion to how relatable you are to your target audience. Make them feel heard, and make them feel like they have a connection with you.
“Sell Me This Pen” is the most commonly asked interview question by sales and marketing hiring managers that can leave many candidates with a feeling of dread. It sounds deceptively simple, but there are many tricks and tips you can use to give an exceptional, persuasive answer to this interview question.
All of our approaches mentioned — the value-add approach, the problem-creation approach, the solution-based approach, and even the “shocking” creative approach — are tried-and-true methods for nailing this question. Ultimately, it’s up to you and the amount of preparation you do to put your best foot forward in your interview.
Got any questions, or want to share your own personal anecdote in answering “Sell me this pen” in an interview for a sales position? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org!