The best answer to, “sell me this pencil”

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In late 2013, "The Wolf of Wall Street," a sensational movie biopic, hit theaters. The work received good reviews and was nominated for no less than five Oscars. One scene from the movie in particular inspired and excited many people: "Sell me this pencil!" thus became the figurehead of a successful sales strategy.

But not only in sales calls you find this question again – even in the job interview some recruiters resort to it and expect the Applicants a professional response.

What is the best way to answer this question now? We’ll show you the tactics behind Jordan Belfort’s famous sales pitch and how you can implement them with the right questions.

The Wolf of Wall Street: The movie

The plot begins in the mid-1980s, with young stockbroker Jordan Belfort starting his first day on the job at a prestigious Wall Street brokerage firm. He gains his first experience as a broker in this profiteering and vulgar environment and quickly develops into a promising salesman. However, after a few years he loses his job due to the Black Monday crash of 1987.

He then set out on his own selling high-risk "penny stocks" – shares that cost just a few dollars per share. Due to his self-confident and charismatic manner, he quickly convinces many customers and becomes a wealthy man in a very short time.

Together with some fugitive acquaintances, he starts a company that quickly grows in size, mainly due to fraudulent business practices. Within the company, there is a behind-the-scenes culture of escapism. After a few wildly successful years, however, Belfort falls victim to his lifestyle – he loses his trader’s license and spends a few years in prison for investor fraud.

Incidentally, the story of The Wolf of Wall Street is based on the life of the real Jordan Belfort, who became a motivational trainer and management consultant after his prison sentence, and still is.

"Sell me this pencil!"

A famous scene from the film shows Belfort teaching his co-founders how to sell. At this, he pulls out a pencil, hands it to his listeners and asks them to sell him the pencil. As a result, one of the co-founders says that he would like Belfort’s autograph.

Not a bad answer, since this one now has no pen to sign. This situation illustrates an important aspect of selling – creating a need for your product in the customer’s mind.

However, the real Jordan Belfort commented on this question that it was more of a trick or a trick question to distinguish real professionals from amateurs. It is precisely for this reason that job applicants are often faced with the unexpected task of coming up with the right answer to "Sell me this pencil!" to convince.

How to sell the pencil in the job interview

A good Preparing for the interview Is essential – it’s how you show interest and always have an answer ready for questions like these. The following steps will ensure the best flow of information between you and the HR professional who is your potential customer in the interview:

1. Determine the customer’s need

In the first step, the salesperson usually gathers information about the customer so that he can better assess the need and his problems. Consequently, when talking to your hopefully new employer, you can ask these questions, for example, "Do you often write notes by hand?" or "What bothers you the most when you use a pen at your work?"

2. Respond to the customer

Next, respond to the information from step one and elaborate on it. For example, if your counterpart has said that the lead of his pencil is too soft or breaks off too quickly, you could answer in this step: "In your profession, something like this is certainly annoying and hinders you at work. This pencil has a resistant core and draws clear lines."

You should put the advantage of the product in the foreground. Furthermore, a psychological mechanism known as "Consistency Bias" comes into play. Simply put, this one leads the customer, in this case the recruiter, to be more likely to decide to buy if he has previously complained about his old pencil.

3. Present the benefits of the product

In the third step you deliver additional information, which are to stimulate your counterpart to the purchase. Inexperienced salespeople often enter the conversation with this step, but this is not particularly effective.

In addition, here you can try to make an emotional connection between the interlocutor and the product by example: "Since I’ve been using this pencil, I can concentrate fully on drawing and lose myself completely in my creation." or "I use this pen to write personal messages to those closest to me and my family." could be appropriate messages.

4. Make the sale

Finally, the final step aims to close the sale. Pick up on the aspect that resonated most with the HR person in the previous conversation and try to complete the transaction again.

Sometimes it is advisable to subtly build pressure: "Surely this pen would be perfect for that important project you told me about. Might as well leave it here. What do you say?"

The Wolf of Wall Street as a sales guide?

The film "The Wolf of Wall Street" is certainly no substitute for professional sales training, but it does show some good examples of sales techniques. However, in favor of staging, the film exaggerates and simplifies in too many aspects to make a professional guide out of it.

However, the above sales tactic includes the most important steps to ask the question "Sell me this pencil!" To answer. With the appropriate questions, you are guaranteed to score points in the job interview and convince with your sales talent.

Header image: Ivantsov / Getty Images Plus

Originally published on 6. March 2020, updated November 25 2020

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