Sell Me This Pen – Really?
On occasion I’ve come across the “Sell Me This Pen” concept. The first time I actually heard somebody use the phrase was in the movie “The Wolf of Wall Street”, and since then I pay attention when I hear it. Just recently I read a post on LinkedIn explaining that apparently this challenge is part of some sales interviews. The article also stated that this sales interview question (and other similar questions which seem easy enough to answer) has been around for quite some. So, what do you?
Don’t Sell the Pen, Build a Relationship
When companies hire sales people who can answer such a question easily pointing out how great the pen is, they shouldn’t be surprised if they get practitioners who focus on selling the features of their offering rather than adding value to their clients. In my years consulting with Fortune 1000 companies, and small businesses alike, their sales people who live in the B2B world have always performed better when identifying client needs rather than simply selling their product or solution on its features and benefits. When sales people are trained to sell the features of their service/product, rather than being a resource to their clients, they forget about the needs and the business goals of their prospects. This can also lead to talking themselves out of a sale.
There Will Always Be a Cheaper Pen, Won’t There?
Another challenge with the concept of selling on features is that it commoditizes your offering. If you focus on your product/service without regard of your prospect’s situation, the next question will be about price and then (in most cases) the price shopping starts. Selling only on the features of a product/service means you are disregarding your audience’s true needs. And you might be forcing what could turn out to not be a good fit. But let’s assume it is a good fit. Remember, there will always be somebody who will offer the same or similar product/service cheaper.
Help Your Prospect Grow Their Business
In a consultative sales environment you’ll want to move away from a tactical approach of “selling” something, and instead become a trusted advisor. There are no long term prospects for a tactical approach. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t like being “sold to”!
If you start building a relationship instead, uncovering your prospect’s needs beyond the obvious, and providing a solution that is relevant to their business goals, you will not be as easily replaced by someone who just sells stuff – cheaper!
Once you focus on your prospect’s business needs and how you can help them grow their business, you will not only get their attention, you will also develop longer lasting relationships. Your sales will be more profitable. And as a result, your business will grow, too!
Less Talking & Selling, More Listening
Sales people who are in “selling” mode, simply don’t ask enough questions. And the questions they do ask do not motivate their prospects/clients to speak openly and freely about their true needs. With this approach, sales people are far too focused on the features and benefits of their offering rather than uncovering the needs of their prospect/client. You want to truly be a resource to your prospects, don’t you?
Slow down, listen, ask open-ended questions, and invite your prospect to open up about their business challenges. Then, determine if your offering is a good fit.
If it is, move ahead, make your case and focus on how you can add value.
If it’s not a good fit, explain why, leave a good impression, and perhaps refer a resource and move on to the next prospect. At least you were able to build an honest relationship. If the prospect’s situation changes in the future, they will certainly think of you as a good advisor.
Hire the Right People-Ask the Right Questions
Maybe “Sell Me a Pen” is a funky or challenging way to interview, but it doesn’t reflect what constitutes best practice in a solution-oriented or consultative selling environment. Look instead, when hiring, for sales people who are capable of building long-term relationships and providing value in the eyes of your customers.
It might seem easier to train sales people on using a script and selling a “pen”. But when you consider the costs of on-boarding, training, etc., you don’t want to have them leave and end up at your competition. Especially in industries where sales people are almost a commodity, only management can change the conversation.
I deeply believe selling cannot be about convincing people to buy something that they don’t need, but rather, adding value to your client by providing solutions to help them be more successful. In my opinion, smart managers looking for valuable sales people will be asking different questions, like “How can you help your client grow their business?” What do you think?