Leonardo DiCaprio playing Jordan Belfort in the last scene of Wolf of Wall Street holds up a pen to a member of his audience, saying in a calm manner “Sell me this pen.”
The man fumbles for words. “It’s a… an amazing pen… f-for professionals—”
He gives the pen to the man beside the audience member, asking the same question. “Sell me this pen.” The man answers with more confidence “It’s a nice pen. You can use the pen to write down—” Jordan cuts him off and takes his pen.
“Sell me this pen,” he tells another audience member. The camera pans up and fades out.
Why should I sell this pen?
The film definitely popularized the pen sales command but it is actually quite an old sales recruitment interview question. It’s perhaps the interview question for sales role-playing. HR recruiters can learn a lot from how you respond to this particular command.
The question obviously isn’t about the pen. It’s about how you approach the question, how you respond to pressure, and how you use the resources given to you.
Most of the time, rookies would answer similar to the audience members in the film. They would focus on the pen, its features, why it is worth buying. It is a sensible approach. Putting your unique selling proposition in the forefront would indeed let your consumer know what your product/service could offer them.
But would they buy it?
In an earlier scene, the film showed a younger Jordan Belfort asking the same question, but this time to his business partners. One asked him to sign a piece of paper. “I don’t have one,” said Jordan.
“Exactly,” he said. “Supply and demand.”
If there isn’t any demand—if there isn’t a need—your product would just gather dust in the corner. You won’t sell it. But is knowing there is a demand enough to actually sell your product/service?
A Trick Question
In an interview, the real Jordan Belfort dismissed the question as a tricky one.
“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.”
The Pen vs The Customer
As I mentioned, newbie salespeople would focus on the pen, but Jordan Belfort emphasized on making the selling process a “qualifying session”. Qualifying refers to determining if the customer has certain characteristics or particular needs that could convert him or her into a prospect.
For example, you’re likely won’t be able to sell a studio-type condo unit to a person with five kids. In the same way, you’re likely won’t be able to sell at three-bedroom unit to a fresh graduate. Furthermore, you won’t even know if these two are in the market looking for condo units if you jump in and talk to them about your product.
It would be just a waste of time
Bonus: Here’s an interesting take on how Steve Jobs would’ve sold the pen.
Photo Credit: Movie stills from The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
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How would you sell the pen? Comment below!