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When you’re responding to this question, keep in mind why the interviewer is asking it. The interviewer wants to know that you can respond to a customer’s needs and be an effective communicator. That means starting out with the question, “How long have you needed a pen?” After all, you can’t sell someone a pen if they don’t need one in the first place.
From there, you can narrow to specific needs and problems. Maybe the company needs blue ink pens because their current supplier is no longer selling them. Maybe the company is thinking about switching over to Amazon to buy pens because they’re cheaper there. Maybe the account executive has very specific ballpoint pen needs that he wants to fill. It’s up to you to uncover these things from the interviewer.
Finally, deliver your sales pitch and explain why your pen is the pen the interviewer wants. You may want to end the sales pitch with a call to action like “Can I put you down for 50 boxes?” or a similar question. You’re not just showcasing that you can sell a pen; you’re showcasing that you can sell anything.
One huge mistake that many people make is replicating The Wolf of Wall Street answer. In the scene that popularised the question, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Jordan Belfort, pulls a pen from his coat and says, “Sell me this pen.” His friend says, “Why don’t you write me something down on this napkin over there?” DiCaprio says, “I don’t have a pen.” His friend responds with, “Exactly.” When you hear this question, especially if you’ve seen The Wolf of Wall Street, you might automatically default to that answer.
However, this actually isn’t a good way to respond to the question, because it doesn’t actually treat the customer as a long-term customer you want to keep for years to come. Don’t forget, the real-life Jordan Belfort pled guilty to fraud in running a penny-stock scam, and the character in The Wolf of Wall Street isn’t supposed to be a hero either. You don’t want to be Jordan Belfort. You want to be a great salesperson.
However, possibly the biggest mistake you could make is lying about the features of the pen. Think about it: in a real sales pitch, you can’t just lie about the product you’re selling. The right answer is not to pretend that the pen will solve all your problems and help you get rich, but instead to make sure the pen is something the interviewer actually needs.
This type of question may pop up in many different iterations, so it’s best not to specifically memorise an answer to the question “Sell me this pen,” but instead to know how you can sell any product to an interviewer. The right answer is always to show how the interviewer needs the thing you’re selling; you don’t need to know everything about pens to ace this question.
Some interviewers may use this question as a curveball, or just to glean information about how you respond in a high-pressure sales situation. Just remember that there’s not a specific “right” answer to the question; the quality of your answer will depend on how well you can show your interpersonal abilities and how fast you can think on your feet.
Treat your ability to sell a pen in an interview as the “cherry on top” of the rest of your interview. It’s a simple way for you to put your sales skills to the test and show your interviewer how you can do the job, but it’s not the only way you’re going to get the job. A good salesperson knows how to do many things, and the rest of your interview, which will cover more than just your selling abilities, will be just as important.
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