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 ;)

37 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

  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.

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