sell me this pen zen senator club

I personally never thought anyone would actually say, “sell me this pen” in a sales interview. I was wrong. It will happen to you too. And to avoid panic, you should know exactly what to say back.

I am going to give you the right sales framework to respond perfectly every time.

On a quick side note, did you know this sales interview question has been around for millions of years? Its origins date back to the earliest of cavemen. Selling slingshots cave-to-cave. Except back then, they asked, “sell me this bowl of crushed berries.”

Anyways. The point is, one day it will happen to you and I want you to be prepared.

Because if you start to describe how smooth the pen feels and how shiny the pen looks, just like you saw in the Wolf of Wallstreet

You probably won’t get the job.

Why it matters to sell me this pen

At first, I didn’t realize why it mattered. It just seemed like a silly question. But, you’ll see.

When you become good at answering this question, you actually become one hell of a salesperson.

And that’s why people still ask it in interviews. It shows your creative approach and how good you are at actually selling product (not just reading your resume).

There are exactly four sales skills the interviewer is looking to see when you answer:

  1. how you gather information
  2. how you respond to information
  3. how you deliver information
  4. and how you ask for something (closing)

Now, since I had a lot of sales interviews lined up at the beginning of last year. I thought, I better practice my response just in case.

The “just wing it” strategy is best for making pancake mix, not for sales interviews.

So let’s go through exactly what you can say to address each sales skill. Because when you do it right, you will blow their mind!

Here’s exactly what you can say

Just to back up for a second, I had 26 sales interviews in a period of three months. Someone was bound to ask me.

Ok. The Director of Sales stood up and said, “it was great meeting you Ian. Let me go grab the CEO to come in next.” Moments later, the CEO of the 30 person startup walked in the small conference room.

Shortly after initial greetings, the CEO wasted no time to start the interview.

I practiced my answer beforehand. I made sure my answer displayed the four sales skills the CEO needed to hear.

Now you can read it for yourself. And then use it for yourself.

At the bottom, you can see a simple sales framework to memorize that will make this work for you in any situation.

You can memorize the script, but more importantly, memorize the sales framework at the end.

Here you go…


CEO: Do me a favor, sell me this pen. (reaches across to hand me the pen)

Me: (I slowly roll the pen between my index and thumb fingers.) When was the last time you used a pen?

CEO: This morning.

Me: Do you remember what kind of pen that was?

CEO: No.

Me: Do you remember why you were using it to write?

CEO: Yes. Signing a few new customer contracts.

Me: Well I’d say that’s the best use for a pen (we have a subtle laugh).

Wouldn’t you say signing those new customer contracts is an important event for the business? (nods head) Than shouldn’t it be treated like one. What I mean by that is, here you are signing new customer contracts, an important and memorable event. All while using a very unmemorable pen.

We grew up, our entire lives, using cheap BIC pens because they get the job done for grocery lists and directions. But we never gave it much thought to learn what’s best for more important events.

This is the pen for more important events. This is the tool you use to get deals done. Think of it as a symbol for taking your company to the next level. Because when you begin using the right tool, you are in a more productive state of mind, and you begin to sign more new customer contracts.

Actually. You know what? Just this week I shipped ten new boxes of these pens to Elon Musk’s office.

Unfortunately, this is my last pen today (reach across to hand pen back to CEO). So, I suggest you get this one. Try it out. If you’re not happy with it, I will personally come back next week to pick it up. And it won’t cost you a dime.

What do you say?

CEO: (picks jaw up off floor)  Yes.


See how simple that was. The CEO loved it. Why?

Because all four sales skills were displayed.

Here’s the simple sales framework I used to answer “sell me this pen”. Memorize it for yourself.

  1. Find out how they last used a pen (gather info)
  2. Emphasize the importance of the activity they last used a pen (respond to info)
  3. Sell something bigger than a pen, like a state of mind (deliver info)
  4. Ask for the buy (closing)

Does that make sense? Yes. Ok, good.

 Conclusion

Remember, it’s not about actually selling a pen. It’s about showing how well you can sell a product.

And even though there are an infinite number of answers to this interview question, it’s easy to memorize a simple formula.

Now that you have a formula, next time you need a quick, go-to answer, remember the Senator Club formula.

Take 15 minutes today to practice the script above. I promise you will benefit.

Plus, would you mind doing me a favor. Share this with ONE person in sales. It could save their career ;)

84 Comments Best Answer to “Sell Me This Pen” I Have Ever Seen

  1. Harrison says:

    Mind blown! Nice post Ian.

    - H

  2. Mark says:

    Wow, that is powerful stuff there.

  3. Vanessa Shelbourne says:

    Hi Ian,

    I absolutely love it. Especially the rolling the pen between your thumbs. It sounds very persuasive to me.

    - V

  4. Elijah says:

    But what if he wasn’t using a pen for something as memorable as signing contracts? Something insignificant perhaps. Also, what if the pen he hands you is a standard BIC pen?

    • Ian Adams says:

      Fair questions Elijah. That’s what makes sales unlike any other business function. There are an infinite number of potential scenarios here. For the sake of an interview, follow the framework above to illustrate your ability to sell. Then once you get the job, think through and rehearse the most likely scenarios for the product you’re actually selling.

  5. Daisy Foster says:

    This is so helpful, I have a second interview for a sales job tomorrow and I found out that they ask you to sell them an item. This post has given me so many ideas that I can use. Now I feel like I can really get the job.

  6. Jacki says:

    What if the interviewer does remember the kind of pen they last used, but is the same situation otherwise?

    “Oh, it was a BIC pen.” Go off of the quality of the pen? BICs tend to be throw aways, after all.

    • Ian Adams says:

      Yes, exactly Jacki. You could even ask them to describe it for you. As long as you deliver the pitch with confidence, they’ll likely cut you slack in their responses.

  7. Daisy Foster says:

    Ian, I just wanted to say thanks again for this post. My second interview went great I sold the pen to the manager and he was so impressed he gave me a job offer. I start on Monday!!

  8. Hiroshi007 says:

    I say “this is a pen that JF Kennedy had used for the very famous peace contract.” to Japanese/Chinese. Not “the pen”.

  9. Raja says:

    Hi Ian,

    Amazingly described. It’s an eye opener. Loved the concept :-)

    Thank you very much.
    Raja

  10. Mike says:

    Thanks Ian, really useful, loved the analogy and the framework – it fits pretty much any situation.

  11. Robert says:

    I’ve had this happen in an interview, but it was a clear plastic cup with 2 green lines and a recycle #…not a pen. Using your paradigm here are the projected answers:
    1) I used it to get a cup of water from the breakroom
    2) I guess it IS important for me to stay hydrated
    3) Yes when I am hydrated I am able to concentrate and be more productive
    4) I understand why I should stay hydrated, but why should I buy your cup when I already purchase ours from Staples who delivers the rest of our office supplies

    I guess what I’m getting at here is a plastic cup is a plastic cup. The only incentives I can think of are cost and ordering convenience. Is it OK to drive him to a cost conversation given the commodity nature of the item. Any ideas?

    • Ian Adams says:

      Hey Robert – You could go into detail about the cost, convenience, ergonomics of the cup design, ability to keep beverages hot or cold, durability, re-useability, etc. But ultimately, it doesn’t really matter which key benefit you choose. You’re being tested on your fundamental sales skills, not your actual ability to sell a plastic cup. Focus on illustrating those four key sales skills I mention above (even if you choose the cost conversation route).

      Anyways, I think it’s essential you stay hydrated. I’ve got this really great ion emitting plastic cup for sale ;)

  12. Greg Gum says:

    “Sell me this pen” Sales Mgr says to Sales guy.
    Sales guy takes pen, says “Are you going to a meeting today?”
    “Yes, I am.”
    “Your going to need this pen” hold up pen.
    Sales mgr takes pen.
    “That will be $10.00″

  13. Shiraz Ahmed says:

    Thanks for sharing such useful framework lan. But can you guide me how to sell recruitment services to a company? and what if a interviewer say I don’t have time I am busy then how to get him in the conversation? Please suggest.
    Regards,

    • Ian Adams says:

      First, take a look at the top 3 recruitment firms in your space. Analyze what works for them, messaging, marketing copy, call to actions etc, then make it better. Your first call with them (less than 2 mins) should be to schedule a second call with them (15-30mins). “I don’t have time now.”….”Oh of course, let’s find 15 mins early next week to talk. How’s Monday or Tuesday afternoon look for you?”

  14. Barry says:

    Hi there!

    I actually have an interview tomorrow morning. The job position is sales and it’s at a shoe store. I already had one interview last week, but they told me to come back for another one with a different manager.

    Well, my first interview went pretty good! It was very short… Took less then 10 minutes.

    Anyway, do you have any background knowledge or tips for my second interview?

    I would really appreciate any responses.
    Thank you!

    • Ian Adams says:

      Congrats on getting past the first one. My two cents: really sell yourself. Speak about all your past sales experience and accomplishments as being a big deal. Now is not the time to be modest.

  15. Kaleb says:

    Hi Ian, great techniques here. I just have a question about how you’d handle a certain situation.

    I used this technique here in an interview I had, and funnily enough I was asked to sell a pen. However when I asked him if he remembered what type of pen it was he replied ” it was a gift for my 21st birthday from my grandfather. it’s gold plated, made in switzerland and has my initials and birthday carved on” I replied with “….But we never gave it much thought to learn what’s best for for more important events. Now you have your grand fathers pen that was gifted to you, but I dare say that this pen in my hand is the pen for such events.” Was this a good response? What would you have done?

    Thanks!

    • Ian Adams says:

      Haha sounds like an unqualified lead to me. I’m not going to pretend that this wouldn’t have thrown me off. Tough objection to handle. In situations like this, where I may not have a good answer for their objection, I often default to the “that’s exactly why you should buy this” approach. For example, “it was a gift from my grandfather, gold plated, swiss etc.”….”wow, that’s incredible. I bet it writes really well too?”…”Yes”…”Well, that’s exactly why you should buy this pen. With such a well crafted, personalized, sentimental pen from your grandfather you wouldn’t want to lose it. All I’m suggesting is you get that same quality writing experience whether you’re at your desk, in a meeting, or on the road without risking losing that valuable pen. I normally sell these by the case of 64 pens, but let’s get you set up with a pack of 6 to start. Then evaluate whether the rest of the office could benefit too.”

  16. Quennie Rubia says:

    Hi, I have no experience in sales yet but I really wanna venture in sales, can you give me tips on how can I get a job specifically in a Real Estate Industry?

  17. Ryan says:

    What if when you say “when was the last time you used this pen?” and the CEO responds “I’ve never used or even seen this pen, I thought you were selling it to me?.” The Ceo obviously has used the pen, but he’s saying it like it’s new to him. How would you go about it if he were to say something like that?

    • halobeast says:

      I’m nto an expert by any means, in fact, I’m here to learn, but I think instead of “the last time you used THIS pen”, you should say “A pen”.
      Or if it’s already too late, I suggest maybe following up by portraying that you have the good fortune of being the first to offer them this special pen” Though, from there, I’d be stuck haha

    • Alexandru Iftimie says:

      It is not about selling a pen. Every sale is about selling a story. About selling a “hope”. I was selling advertising and I found that managers didnt bought advertising space on newspapers or tv station but hopes… hopes that they can improve the company position on the market or hopes that they will stay on top…
      This is all about…
      I dont remeber the pen that I used at the final exam at university. I remeber I used a succesfull pen ☺

  18. Gwain says:

    How does this approach change if you are asked to sell services versus products? For example, instead of the pen perhaps the design services for a new line of pens.

  19. Picaline says:

    Hi there. This was an interesting and useful read for me. However, you did not actually ask for the business? You simply offered to leave the pen with him and return the following week to collect or sell.
    The danger here is that you become as unmemorable as his original pen. There needs to be some clear follow up action, it’s a bit too casual.
    As a National Sales Manager, I would not have offered you the job. And this is exactly why I am doing this exercise with my team – because they are not securing the business or asking for it.

    • Ian Adams says:

      Once you get the “Yes”, you sign the paperwork and exchange money. My sales style is less formal than others. So in this case, when I ask, “what do you say?” – that’s the close. That style works for me. I hope you find reps with a style that works best for you.

  20. Isaac Rivera says:

    Hello Ian,
    Wow! I love everything you advise! Thanks a million! My issue is, I’ve been out of work for almost a year due to being terminated for my first time in my life and depression took the best of me. I don’t know how to close that gap now, what can I do to build confidence again?

    • Ian Adams says:

      Apologies for delayed response Isaac. Great to meet you. Here my suggestion, since I went through a little bit of that myself two years ago. Activity will get your confidence back. Rather than focus on “getting a job”, start small. Like in sales, start with a metric of activity. In your case maybe it could be get 4 interviews in the next month.

      Quick tangent: since you have been out of the workforce for almost a year, you probably need some practice selling your story to interviewers. So here’s what I suggest. Go apply for as many jobs as you can. Take interviews even for jobs you know you wouldn’t take (at least phone interviews). That way you get lots of practice to sell your story to different people. Overtime, you’ll start to get a sense of what does an doesn’t work. Plus, you’ll get a sense of what jobs you do and don’t like. The best part about applying and interviewing for some jobs that you wouldn’t take – there’s no fear of failure. If they don’t offer you a position, it doesn’t matter. You weren’t going to accept it anyway. If they do offer you a position, well great, you get to decide if you want to take it.

      Set activity goals. I interviewed at 28 companies in 3 months, until I finally accepted an offer. But I was submitting 3-5 resumes a day (avg 20/wk). The best way to do this: sign up for LinkedIn’s premium service. Beef up your profile and resume. Then search for jobs in your category. Do the one click resume submit. Forget about cover letters (they are a waste of time and nobody reads them).

      Set activity goals for the next 3 months. Month 1: 4 interviews at least. Month 2: 6 interviews at least. Month 3: 10 interviews at least. You got this Isaac!

      Does that help?

  21. Natasha says:

    I have an interview tomorrow for a sales position and this is a guaranteed question. I can now walk into that interview feeling confident that I would be able to sell them a pen! Get piece really appreciated!!

    Thank you,
    Natasha

  22. Ovaes says:

    Thank you for the solution i am sure it will definitely help.
    Jazak Allah Khair

  23. Sam says:

    I have a sales assessment day to attend next week and this was a fantastic read to calm my nerves for some of the activities that they are going to be throwing at us.

    Such a simple solution to a question that may of us (including me) can find daunting.

    Thanks Ian!

  24. Mike says:

    I was asked this question several years ago. The interviewer was immediately soured on my resume, because I did not have the technical background to know about his product offering. Then I was asked to sell a pen.
    I began by ASKING QUESTIONS.
    “You agreed to meet with me today to discuss my pen offering, do you mind me asking why you would consider changing vendors?”
    He told me he keeps breaking the pens, and then led to more questions.
    “How often do you break your pens?” -Several times a day
    “How many do you purchase a month?” -Hundreds a month
    “If you could change one thing about the design of the pens you use, what would it be?” -It would be more durable.
    Then I finally got to the one question that sealed the deal……

    “Typically I don’t run into customers that have your failure rate. Would you mind explaining to me how you use the pen that leads to it breaking?

    The interviewer sat up in his chair, and his eyes got real big. It was obvious I had him. HIs answer, “Well we have a punch press machine, and he found that the diameter of the pen makes the perfect sized hole. The only problem is that they are not that durable.”

    My reply: “So you are most concerned with the dimensions of the currenly pen. Would it be possible for me to leave with one or two of your current pens. I will have my fabricaton team work up a model of your pen, and then make up five samples for you in 316 Stainless Steel. This will give you the dimensions you require, and they should hold up extremely well. Obviously the material cost is more, but with the scrap rate you are incurring now the payback on your investment should be less than three months.”

    His reply: He stood up and said, how would like a tour of our offices. Then he proceeded to try to hire me in the parking lot before I left.

    The key to selling is questions. If you don’t fully understand WHY someone needs to purchase, then you are only left with selling yourself. Many sales people fall into the trap of assuming why the customer would want to buy from you. With good questions you can truly help the customer understand why switching to your product can solve a problem.

  25. Jessie says:

    Hi Ian, I just applied for a sales position without any previous sales experience. I was recently asked this question in my 3rd interview which caught me off guard so I responded with the only answer I knew from the wolf of wallstreet. I was told by my interviewer that I was bargaining and not selling but was still asked to come back for a fourth interview to meet with the VP of the company. I’m guessing they are on the fence about hiring me since I don’t have previous sales experience, but I keep reassuring them that I can be trained and the company offers an extensive training program. I have to prove that I am willing to do what it takes and that I can learn to be good in sales, so here I am, researching sales techniques so that I can perform at a high level. I made sure to let my interviewer know that I never give up and this will flow over into the objections that I will receive in sales. After I meet with the VP, I was thinking about speaking with the interviewer who told me to sell him the pen, and use this technique in order to show that I am willing to put the time and effort into enhancing my sales skills. I was going to have a nice pen ready for him and walk up to his desk and ask him when was the last time he used a pen and then follow up with the rest of the technique. I think once he sees that I listened to what he told me about not bargaining, but selling, he will know that I will not give up. I’m expecting him to laugh when it’s over because I’m pretty sure he’s not expecting for me to do this. Do you think this is a good idea?

    • Ian Adams says:

      Personally Jessie, I think that would be a boss move. If I saw you do that, I’d be blown away. That shows me how bad you really want the job. Plus, it’s a sign you invest in yourself and personal education to get good at sales.

      That being said, a lot of corporate managers are complete jackasses. Completely blind to future potential. All they see are paper credentials (resume). Sounds like you have nothing to lose here. Why not have some fun with it. At a minimum, they’ll remember you.

  26. Jordan says:

    so did you get the job from this interview?

  27. Nischay says:

    What if the person says that I have used the pen which is in my hand and about 10 mins before??

  28. oopsii says:

    What if they say I don’t remember when I used the pen? (lets face it….no one uses a pen anymore…..hell, I havent used pen and paper for the past 6 months maybe :/ )

  29. sarah says:

    Love it!

  30. Hiba Sultan says:

    absolutely impressive!

  31. Colt Kollock says:

    As a young 18 year old striving to gain a major in business and minor in marketing I’m sure that this will take me, I have no doubt in my mind! Thanks Ian!

  32. mits says:

    Hi Ian, that was really worth reading..I want some help man. I recently joined an IT company as Sales consultant. I am a fresher in this field of sales and dont have any prior experience. Our company is primarily focusing on softwares sales. Well, have to admit that i am struggling a bit now. Since its been just a month, what is basically do is kinda cold calling in search of prospects . I got trained for just a day and everything else i learned by myself. Can you please suggest me with some selling technique,the way i should pitch on for software sales, how i can i convince and so .I would really appreciate your kind reply

  33. Ravi Jangid says:

    Recently i have joined one of the company. I had worked with few companies before but this time Manager asked me this question. Sell me this pen? but i am quiet say blah blah because i was not expecting this question from his side because i am IT technical guy. but after the interview i thought why he asked me this question. later i asked him what he want from that question. ” how I sell myself to company” or product of technical knowledge that’s all.

  34. faithabegail says:

    that was great i hope i can use that on my next interview….ttttnnnnxxx

  35. IZZY SERUWO says:

    hello Ian…..this is not about the pen it about gps tracking…acutaully i have failed to assure people that they need this technology in their cars to protect them from theft…….i have used your four approaches to sales but all in vain. its now a week and i have 0 buyers……..help me pliz?

  36. Juan Veleizan says:

    Hi Ian my name is Juan and I loved your answer and your bio . I am a 16 year old trying to figure out the equity market and how to invest , ect . Ive been doing a lot of personal research and recently I’ve seen great movies lie Wolf Of Wall Street ,Boiler Room,Inside Job , and Trader that made me strive to gain even more knowledge . My step dad has taken to webinars and such events since I was 14 to show me these things so I don’t end up making less than 50 grand a year or flipping burgers. Basically I was wondering if you could maybe forfeit some of your time to do a quick chat on how you started in this line of work and some tips for a “whippersnapper ” as my grandpa calls me like myself. I perfectly understand if you can’t because of your schedule but any piece of advice would be great . – Juan

    • Ian Adams says:

      Juan – great to meet you my friend. I can tell you’re already on your way. Send me an email: ian [at] senatorclub.co so we can find a time to chat.

  37. David says:

    I’m sure I will put my own spin on this, but I gotta say, I really like the framework. Impressive…

  38. Tammy says:

    Brilliant! That question had plagued me for a long time after bombing my very first sales interview for a position that seemed already out of my league AT THE TIME. I recently saw the movie “Wolf”, and of course it brought back that returned anxiety..although now I thought I had finally realized the right answer, but your’s was far more brilliant! Thanks for posting!

  39. Noah says:

    Hi David.
    I’m applying for a sales job, and one of my friends, who applied for the work told me, that one of the questions in the interview is “Sell me this cup”. The problem is, is that she has eight other identical cups, on the desk. He told me that it’s impossible. But I’m sure that I could sell to her, if there weren’t any other cups in the room. But how can I sell the interviewer an item, she already has eight of, right in front of me.

    Thanks in advance.
    Noah

  40. Jaton Lyles says:

    Hi Ian!
    Reading this article and the many comments thereafter has taught me that I have a great opportunity in the growth of my business if I can perfect the art of selling! Thanks for shining the light on this for me! You are very creative in your approach about such a frustrating topic. Thank you for taking the time to teach us! J.Lyles

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Read previous post:
How to Find Giant Pools of Lead Generation Sources (2 of 2)

There is a way to get really good at lead generation. In fact, as I sit here at my desk,...

Close