“Sell me this pen…”
Most of you might have heard this question from the famous scene from Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. The funny thing is I was asked the same question four years ago at a sales job interview where I was stunned just as much, as those extra’s in the movie were. Acting naturally, just as people from the scene, I went on rambling about the merits of the pen…”This is an amazing pen!”, “This pen lasts longer than the rest”, “It’s the cheapest pen you’ll ever find”. And just like the scene where Leonardo DiCaprio walks away disappointed, I was overlooked for the sales job.
Watching the scene for the first time since being asked the same question, I was eager to find out the answer. As I saw Mr. DiCaprio extend the challenge to his friends he just hired to work at his startup firm, one man takes the pen and tells Mr. DiCaprio, as Mr. Belfort, to write his name down. Having just handed over his pen, Mr. DiCaprio, replies that he doesn’t have a pen. Exactly, the man replies, “Supply and demand.”
Feeling foolish and sort of satisfied to finally learn the answer, I few days later I find out, through one of Mr. Belfort’s interviews that it’s not the correct answer. Frustrated and determined, I have spent quite some time seeking the answer to this mystery and thanks to an exclusive interview of Mr. Belfort by Grant Robertson of The Globe and Mail, I am pleased to (finally!) share it with you:
“It’s sort of a trick question. Because when you say to a salesman, ‘Sell me this pen,’ you might find some will say to you, ‘This is a great pen, this pen writes upside down. It defies gravity, this pen is the cheapest pen on earth, this pen will never run out.’ They’ll say all the reasons the pen is good, they’ll start telling you the features and the better ones will give you the benefits too. But that’s not what the real answer is.
“The real answer is, before I’m even going to sell a pen to anybody, I need to know about the person, I want to know what their needs are, what kind of pens do they use, do they use a pen? How often do they use a pen? Do they like to use a pen formally, to sign things, or use it in their everyday life? The first idea is that when you say ‘Sell me this pen,’ I want to hear [the salesman] ask me a question. ‘So tell me, how long have you been in the market for a pen?’ I want them to turn it around on me and start asking me questions to identify my needs, what I’m looking for. And if you do that, people don’t know what to do. Next thing, he is answering, and now I’m controlling the conversation, finding out exactly what he needs.
“Once I have that, I say, ‘You know, Bill, based on what you’ve just said to me, the pen I have here is the perfect fit. Let me tell you what it’s about…’ Then you can tell them about what you have because you’re filling a need. Most average or newbie salespeople think that they’re supposed to sell you the pen, when a really seasoned salesperson will actually turn it into a qualifying session to find out what you need. That’s the truth of it. It’s like trying to sell someone a house, and you don’t know if they’re in the market for a house, what kind of house they want, how many kids – so how can you sell someone a house? That’s the point.”