How to Use the “Sell Me This Pen” Scenario to Interview Sales Reps

When hiring sales staff to expand your team, the interview is your first opportunity to use creative questions to learn how the candidate interacts with others and responds to real-world situations. One of the classic strategies for interviewing sales representatives is asking them to give a mock sales pitch. Having candidates sell you a pen is a simple way to learn about their sales skills and aptitude to succeed at your company. Before planning your next interview, make sure you understand what you should be looking for in a response and how you can guide candidates through the question.

 

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The purpose of posing to candidates: “Sell me this pen”

Some of the primary reasons why employers ask candidates “Sell me this pen” include the question’s ability to:

 

Assess soft skills

Soft skills like negotiation, persuasion, interpersonal communication and creative thinking are some of the most important aspects of a strong salesperson. While asking potential sales representatives questions about their skills and experience can help you learn about their basic qualifications, using creative questions and asking for a quick sales pitch allows you to see their sales potential in action. As the candidate attempts to sell you the pen, you can make note of their word choice, communication techniques, body language and other soft skills that could make a customer feel comfortable and interested in making a purchase.

 

Learn each candidate’s sales style

Posing the same scenario to all candidates (to sell you a pen) gives you an opportunity to directly compare their sales styles and select candidates that have the ideal strategies for your company. See which candidates focus on the features of the product and which ones try to use a personal connection with you to make the sale. This question forces the candidates to walk you through their entire sales strategy, from initial outreach to closing the sale and even following up with customers afterward.

 

Identify candidates with growth potential

Not all candidates will have a perfect answer prepared when you pose to them this scenario with the pen, but even imperfect answers can help you identify the candidates who are excited to take on a challenge and grow with your company. The way that candidates develop a rapport with you, respond to your questions and react to challenges can demonstrate their interest in learning from you and growing with your company.

Related: How to Hire a Director of Sales

 

Provide an opportunity to perform under pressure

Sales is a high-pressure environment, and while an interview itself can be stressful, the “sell me a pen” interview question adds additional urgency much like they would experience when working with a potential customer or cold calling sales leads. You want to make sure that the candidates you’re interviewing understand the theory behind making sales and can put it into action on command. When you ask candidates to come up with a sales pitch partway through an interview, you can assess their ability to improvise and stay calm and friendly even when they’re faced with an unexpected challenge.

 

What to look for in a response

Every sales rep has their own unique sales style that they develop over time, so there are endless possibilities as to what an excellent answer would look like. Instead of looking for one particular script or response, pay attention to certain signs of success. There are several key characteristics of a good answer that you should pay attention to when interviewing candidates:

 

Presentation skills

Regardless of the candidate’s style and content, all successful responses to this question will feature strong presentation skills. Confidence when speaking, appropriate eye contact and a clear but conversational tone are all hallmarks of strong presentation skills in sales. Look for candidates who face you directly and use expressive but controlled arm and hand movements to engage you with their presentation. The way they physically handle the pen you ask them to sell can show you how they would present your products to potential customers during the process of making a sale.

 

A solution-oriented mindset

Inexperienced salespeople might start selling you the pen by describing its features, but the best candidates will immediately start thinking about what problems you have that the pen might be able to solve. One of the best responses to this question is to take the pen and then ask the other person to write something down, giving them a direct need for a writing implement. A good response will involve the salesperson talking to you about what current challenges you face and how the pen can fill those various needs.

 

Research and preparation

Although candidates will likely not come into the interview knowing that they’ll have to come up with a sales pitch for a pen, they can demonstrate their ability to research both the product and the potential customer in the interview. At the start of their pitch, strong candidates will ask the interviewer questions about their life, getting details about their career and interests as background for their pitch. When making real sales and cold calling customers, sales representatives will have to qualify their sales leads by asking similar questions.

 

Individualization

Some candidates will give a generic pitch about how the pen would be a great purchase for anyone that needs a writing implement. Look for responses that personalize their sales pitch by talking about specific features that would be beneficial to you. Pay attention to how the candidates connect with you on a personal level during their sales pitch, because this is one of the best ways to convert potential customers into dedicated fans of your brand and products.

 

Attitude

Look for candidates who are excited about the opportunity to show you their sales skills and fully commit to the question. Some candidates may be uncomfortable to do a role play, but top applicants will be able to get excited about the assignment and treat the interview question like a real sale. Pay attention to how candidates deal with silence and pauses during their sale to determine if they are comfortable guiding the conversation without over-selling the product to fill awkward pauses.

 

Additional sales-specific interview questions

Here are some other creative interview questions for sales representatives organized by category that you can use to hire the best candidate for each role:

 

Relationship-building

Determine whether a candidate can make personal connections with customers and clients using these questions:

  • What are the questions you would ask to qualify a sales prospect?
  • How do you introduce yourself to potential customers?
  • How do you turn a one-time buyer into a regular customer?

 

Adaptability

Try asking these questions to determine if an applicant is flexible and adaptable enough to win over new customers:

  • When is the last time you taught yourself a new sales skill?
  • How do you decide to stop pursuing a sale?
  • What do you do when you get a customer’s voicemail after calling to make a sale?

 

Commitment and determination

Find candidates that are motivated self-starters by asking these sales questions:

  • How does being rejected by a sales prospect impact you?
  • What would you do if you were halfway through a sales cycle and consistently missing your sales goals?
  • How do you shift sales styles when a customer is not responding to your current strategy?
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