I’ve never been a fan of that whole “Sell me this pen” during an interview thing.
Aside from it having serious undertones of “Go ahead and entertain me circus boy”;
1) I don’t sell pens. In my case I help sales reps, sales leaders and business owners sell MORE! therefore my tool chest focuses around that . . . NOT pens. That would be like me asking you to sell me on why a pentatonic major scale is a better choice over a pentatonic minor scale during a southern rock guitar fest. Unless you actually do that, you are ill equipped to tackle it. Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of a pen . . . The question isn’t realistic.
2) I Work A Process and therefore I would never attempt to “sell you a pen” without having had a chance to engage in Meticulous Pre Call Planning. I would never show up at your business and “wing it”. Again, not overly realistic to the way I sell. I might be inclined to ask the interviewer, “Do your sales reps utilize a sales process?” the interviewer will probably say “yes” then my follow up statement would be “Since, I would assume that planning, preparation and, I don’t know, actually training your reps on the many nuances of the Penarati would be part of that process, let’s just skip this question and see what other brilliant interviewing technique you’ll utilize next” Note: I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t say that but then again, I’ve owned my own business for 6 years now, so I don’t really have to worry about spending quality time with HR because I said something inappropriate.
3) I Don’t “Sell” or “Pitch” “On Demand”. There are few things that irk me more than the old “Give me your pitch” or “OK sell me”. Mostly because it’s usually accompanied by the other party kicking back, arrogantly waiting to be entertained. Again, if we’re being true to life here, the conversation would be a very short one for me. Could you imagine going to your doctor and saying “Let’s just skip the exam and hear your best pitch, and your best price for a triple bypass”.
4) I Would Find It Very Difficult To Answer! And Not just because I don’t understand pens or not having the time to work a process, because it would be hard for me to take the interviewer seriously. I would be distracted by the level of restraint I would need in order to not offer a retort of “You must be F’n joking” Again, this is why I work for myself.
5) Selling Them That Pen Would NOT Give Them A True Representation Of Paul Castain! While it would show them some elements of my style, and my willingness to engage in activities that would be similar to pledging for a fraternity, I don’t sell that way. Never have. Sure I could BS my way through it, but that’s NOT who I am.
Having said all that, here’s how I would actually respond to that request;
Me: “Unfortunately I don’t sell pens and I’m really sorry for the confusion. I actually help sales reps, sales leaders and business owners to sell more. I do, however have a really extensive network and probably know someone who can help. Hold on a second while I check something out.” said while grabbing my phone and looking the interviewer up on LinkedIn, then sending an invite.
Me: “Please check your inbox for an invite I just sent you. I’ll wait while you accept it. My homework is going to be to find you someone who can help you with that pen and then introduce you via LinkedIn. Before I let you get back to your search for a new pen, how’s your schedule looking for a quick call on (pick a day and time)? I’m going to give you a call then, because at that point, we’ll both be adequately prepared to talk about how I might be able to help you and your sales team sell more or you can tell me who in your network might be able to benefit from my services. Make sense?
At that point, stepping out of character, I would say something like this;
“Let’s take a moment to debrief. The first thing I demonstrated to you was the importance of qualifying a prospect. Since I don’t sell pens, it didn’t make sense to waste my time, or the prospect’s time. The second thing I demonstrated, was the confidence to tell you that and the tact to do it professionally. In sales we need to be able to have difficult conversations. The third thing I demonstrated was a willingness to help you anyway and I immediately connected with you on LinkedIn so we could keep that door open. There’s no downside to demonstrating a willingness to help someone, even when there isn’t a commission check involved. Sending the invite right then and there kept the momentum going. The fourth thing I demonstrated, was an opportunity to feed my referral network. I’m sure you’ll agree that we need to give to get. Not every opportunity is going to be the right opportunity for me and my company, but that doesn’t mean that good can’t come from the meeting. The fifth thing I demonstrated was my ability to regain control and guide this person towards a day and time when we would both have a more meaningful discussion. There’s an art to taking control without being “controlling” and as sales professionals we need to be able to do this at a moments notice. This is the part of your question (as I stroke their ego) that tripped me up the most because in “real life” I would never go to a meeting without doing my homework. Quite frankly, there are even things that I do by way of a pre appointment kit, that I send my prospects, so that they have a better understanding of Paul Castain. The sixth thing I demonstrated was asking YOU for a referral, something sales people don’t do enough of, and probably wouldn’t have the nerve to ask someone who ISN’T a client, and for the grand finale . . .
The seventh thing I demonstrated, was the confidence to show you, the interviewer, a willingness to differentiate by playing to my strengths, which unfortunately isn’t acting as if I would even know how to begin to sell you a pen”
Folks . . .
I was having some fun here in this post and know that my levels of arrogance might have been a tad off the charts but . . .
Why give a cliched answer to a cliched question?
Why play by a set of rules where you both might fail, when you can rewrite the rules for a “Win/win”?
And what the heck, once you get done answering this question, maybe you can say(with a big smile);
“OK, your turn. Please sell me on why I should work for you”
Over to you . . .
Please weigh in with your thoughts and let us know (without quoting that scene from Wolf of Wall Street) how you would respond to;
Sell me this pen