Sell me this pen: How to answer one of the toughest interview questions

The interviewer wanted to test Adam’s approach to the question. The interviewer could have replaced the pen with something else like a pencil or an apple. Regardless of the type of object, the approach determines if you answer it correctly.

Hand pointing with pen on table

Sell me this pen: How to answer one of the toughest interview questions

Sell me this pen: How to answer one of the toughest interview questions

“Sell me this pen” has become a common interview question that can fill a candidate with dread. This blog will fill you in on what an employer is looking for and how you can ace the answer to this question.

If you’re looking for a job in sales, it’s a good idea to be prepared for this question. There are good approaches and bad approaches to this question and if your interviewer asks it, your response could be a game winner or a deal-breaker.

How to respond to “sell me this pen”

If an interviewer can get a good sense of your personality and motivation from a single question, why wouldn’t they ask it? Believe it or not, “sell me this pen” is not as much of a brain-bender as it seems. By following the tips below, you’ll be prepared to sell your heart out and show the employer what you’re made of.

1. Do not decline to answer.

You may find the question objectionable, as you are probably not a pen salesman. You might be tempted to say, “I don’t sell pens, I sell real estate.” You might be tempted to pass on the question, saying, “I don’t really feel comfortable trying to stage a demonstration of my sales skills right now.”

Neither of these is a good reply. Interviewers ask this question for a reason, and they expect an answer. They want to see if you’re comfortable in your salesman skin pitching a product. They want to see what approach you take, and how much you focus on the pen vs. how much you focus on the potential buyer.

2. Act like you love this question.

You may actually dread a question like this, but you will win points if you embrace it enthusiastically. If you’re in sales, you have to love selling, so your eyes should light up at the prospect of doing what you’re good at.

If you look blindsided and stressed, saying, “Oh, boy,” taking a deep breath and running your hands through your hair, you’ll be sending signals that the prospect of selling something makes you uncomfortable. This is not encouraging to a company looking for a salesperson.

3. Ask questions about the client’s needs.

Let’s ask Jordan Belfort, the inspiration for The Wolf of Wall Street, how he would answer this difficult question . Belfort served 22 months in prison for fraud, and he’s probably never sold a pen, but there’s no question he’s an ace salesman. Here’s a video in which Piers Morgan asks Belfort to sell him a pen:

Belfort says: “ ‘How long have you been in the market for a pen? … And what type of pen do you typically use when you use a pen?’ … The idea here is that when you’re selling something, you need to be asking questions first, to find out what their needs are.

4. Remember to pivot from questions to statements.

When selling a pen, at some point you have to sell the pen. So once you’ve done your due diligence by feeling out the client on his or her needs, you need to transition to making statements about the product you have for sale.

Belfort rightly emphasizes that you shouldn’t launch straight into a description of the pen. But once you’ve learned more about the client’s needs and wants, you should be well-versed in the features of the pens you sell.

You may want to mention its sleek, sophisticated look, its refillable cartridges, the lightweight size, how easily the ink flows, etc. Again, don’t lead with this, but you need to be prepared to describe the excellent features of the product you’re selling.

How to respond to “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”

Most job seekers are unsure of what exactly they want out of their next role, let alone what lies in wait five years from now. This question is an interview staple for good reason. It will shine a light on your suitability and motivation.

5. Offer the client something for free.

It might seem counterintuitive to give away something you’re trying to sell, but it can also be an excellent sales technique. There’s a reason Baskin Robbins gives away free samples – there’s no obligation, but it makes people want more.

Toward the end of your sales pitch, offer the interviewer the pen and say that he or she is welcome to use it for a week for free. After that, you’ll come back and see if the pen has met the client’s needs. If it hasn’t, you’ll be prepared to offer a range of other pens. Or if it has, you’ll be happy to close the sale.

6. Be prepared for refusals.

Dealing with objections effectively are part and parcel of good sales tactics. Sometimes people will want something without needing it. Sometimes they don’t want it because they don’t know how much they need it. And maybe with a little more information about your price structure, they’ll find they can afford it after all.

But when all is said and done, if a client doesn’t want to buy the product you’re selling, you also need to be prepared to take no for an answer. But maybe the person who doesn’t want the pen could still be useful for generating leads to colleagues who might.

7. If possible, close the sale.

If your sales pitch hasn’t gone badly, you may have a person sitting in front of you who’s actually prepared to buy the pen. If so, don’t forget the crucial step of closing the sale. Don’t say, “OK, let me get back to you in a week.” Say, “Can I go ahead and write up a bill of sale?”

What the Interviewer Wants to Know

It’s not always a pen in this interview question. Apples or pens are traditional picks for this question, but interviewers may ask you to sell any product on the spot, including one that the company makes. The interviewer’s goal is to find how well you can sell and what sales techniques you use.

You might be asked to sell the interviewer a pen, a pencil, a stapler, an apple, or some other everyday object. As with other hypothetical questions, there will be no right answer, but the employer will be interested in the sales process that you follow, your verbal communication skills, and your enthusiasm and creativity.

Be Positive and Enthusiastic. Make sure that you are positive and excited about the product as you introduce it. You might say something like, “I am excited to tell you how this pen can help you to write in a legible, attractive, and efficient manner.” The nonverbal elements of your presentation will be as critical as your words, so make sure you pitch the product with an enthusiastic voice and facial expressions. Animation can help you to convey excitement and underscore your confidence in the value of the product.

Emphasize the Features the Interviewer Will Value. An essential phase of the selling process is getting to know your customer, so you might try asking the interviewer for some clarification about their potential uses of the product.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask a Few Questions. The more you know about your interviewer’s needs, the better your pitch will be. Play off the interviewer’s responses to emphasize some features of your pen that might help them with their activities. For example, if your interviewer mentions taking notes at meetings as a priority, then you might say that your pen has a fine point and non-smearing ink, which would enable them to take legible notes. If your interviewer was frustrated by pens that didn’t write on certain surfaces or quickly ran out of ink, you could emphasize how freely the ink flows from your pen and the large capacity of ink available.

Be Ready to Sell. Some interviewers may not play along with your effort to assess their preferences. So be ready to sell the product without their input. Emphasize the features of the product and the benefits that the customer will derive from owning and using it. Think about your own experience with the product and the possible experiences of other users as you craft a response.

Probe for Reservations About the Product or Service. Eliciting and overcoming objections to a product is a critical element of the sales process. After making some statements about the benefit of the product, check back with the interviewer to determine if they have any concerns that would stand in the way of a purchase.

Make an Attempt to Close. Salespeople who are willing and effective closers are in the highest demand. Don’t hesitate to ask the interviewer for their business at the end of your presentation. Make an enthusiastic final statement that includes a request to serve the customer. Your ability to close this sale will help you get hired for the job.

Don’t Be Afraid to Employ Some Creativity. Interviewers won’t expect you to be 100% factually correct when coming up with an answer on the spot, so feel free to be creative with your response as long as your assertions are plausible and delivered convincingly. Remember that confidence in the quality of your product is fundamental to effective sales.

Examples of the Best Answers

To help me to understand better how my product might help you, I would love to learn more about how you use a pen during your daily routine. When do you rely most on a pen during the day? When was the last time you used a pen? What was satisfying about the experience? What was lacking or frustrating?

Why it Works: You’ll need to follow-up with a “sell” once you hear the interviewer’s response, but starting your answer with questions indicates that you realize an essential part of being a good salesperson is understanding the customer’s needs, and using listening skills.

My customers are finding that our apples make an excellent healthy snack for families on the run or to pack with your children’s school lunch. Our apples are fresh and crisp since we source them weekly from local orchards. We only sell apples that are grown organically without pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Our apples are loaded with beneficial fiber, vitamins, and nutrients. So, in addition to being sweet and tasty, they are great for your health.

Why It Works: This candidate is prepared to make an off-the-cuff persuasive argument in favor of the apples that mentions different positive qualities (customer appreciation, health, tastiness, and so on). This answer is confident and reveals the candidate’s ability to make a strong sale.

I would love to be your preferred provider for the highest quality pens. I will work hard to justify the confidence that you would place in me and our product and make sure you are thoroughly satisfied with the product. Can we move forward with your first order?

Why It Works: Ultimately, an interviewer wants to hire a salesperson who can land the deal. This candidate makes a strong close! No need to shy away from a confident conclusion to your attempt to sell the widget—that’s a quality interviewers seek in candidates for sales roles.


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