Can you sell me this pen?

Jordan Belfort was sitting behind his desk, listening to a new recruit.

“You see this pen?”

“This is the most amazing pen money can buy. It can write upside down, it’ll never run out of ink, it feels great in your hand.”

Here, check it out for yourself; tell me how great it feels.” The recruit leaned forward in his seat and offered Jordan the disposable pen.

Playing along, Jordan grabbed the pen and rolled it around in his fingers for a few seconds until it slid into his usual writing position.

“Pretty damn amazing, right?” said the recruit.

Jordan replied flatly “It feels like a pen.”

The recruit erupts “That’s exactly my point!” ignoring Jordan’s lukewarm response. “That’s how a great pen is supposed to feel – like it’s been a part of you for years.”

“Anyway, it’s obvious that you and this pen were made for each other, so I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do: I’m gonna take 30 percent off the regular purchase, but” – raising his right index finger in the air for a moment – “only if you buy it right now. Otherwise it has to go back up to the normal price.”

“Either way, it’s a really great deal, but at 30 percent off it’s the deal of the century. Whaddaya say?”

Jordan shot back “What do I say? You mean besides the fact that you’re obviously completely full of shit?” 

No response. 

“That wasn’t a rhetorical question. You want me to ignore how completely full of shit you are, yes or no? 

The recruit just sat there with his mouth hanging open. 

“I’ll take that as a yes,” “So, putting that small detail aside for the time being, I will say that I’m not in the market for a pen right now.” 

“But how could you possibly know that?” “In fact, how could you know anything about me? From the second you opened up your mouth, all you did was spew out a bunch of cheap sales talk.”

“Did it ever occur to you to ask me a few questions before you attempted to ram a pen down my throat? Like, am I even in the market for a pen? Do I prefer one type to another?  

Just then, Danny walked into the office- Jordan’s second in command- wearing a $2000 suit and a cynical expression. 

Jordan grabbed another pen and thrusted it towards Danny “I want you to sell me this pen!” 

Danny shot Jordan a look “You want me to sell you a pen. Seriously?”

“Yeah,” Jordan fired back. “Show the kid how it’s done. Sell me this pen.” 

“Fine, I’ll sell it to you,” Danny muttered, grabbing the pen and taking a moment to examine it. Then, all at once, he completely changed his demeanor and flashed Jordan a warm smile and said, in a respectful tone: 

“So, tell me, Jordan, how long have you been in the market for a pen?” 

“I’m not in,” Jordan replied. “I don’t use pens.” 

“Really? Well then you can have your lousy pen back,” Danny snapped, tossing the pen back onto Jordan’s desktop. 

Then he looked at the recruit and said, “I don’t sell things to people who don’t need them. I leave that to novices, like you.”

Ask Questions, Sell Later

Imagine you have just created a new product and you want to sell it. One of the first questions you may ask yourself is “Who are my customers?” 

You can do this by asking potential customers the right questions. 

In the story above, just by asking one question, Danny was able to save himself time and not embarrass himself. Questions, if asked correctly, can reveal where your customer’s pain points are so you can tackle them head on.

To give you an example, before moving on to a full-on sales pitch, asking your customer “Have I asked about everything that is important to you?” gives the customer a chance to voice any last minute concerns or in fact let you know about the real reason they don’t feel confident in buying.

The majority of a conversation should involve listening and gathering information about the customer. When you have a clear picture of what’s important to your customers, then you can explain how your product will alleviate their pain and ultimately solve their problems. 

It’s absolutely fine to say to a customer or John in this case “John, let me ask you just a couple of quick questions, so I can see exactly what your needs are.” 

In fact, your customers are more likely to respect you for the fact that you are interested in them and helping them to solve their problems rather than blindly selling your product or service.

Asking questions, also helps you to avoid situations where customers feel pressured to buy things that they do not want. Just like in the pen example, you do not want to try to sell things to people who are clearly not interested in what you are selling. It will damage your reputation as well as the company’s.

Two Types of Certainty

Logical certainty is based on the words you say. Does your product or service truly fit their needs? Is it priced fairly when compared to the competition? Whatever it is that you are trying to sell, it needs to make logical sense to the customer.

If your customer is looking for a 4 bedroom house in the countryside, you are not going to try to sell them a 2 bedroom flat in Central London, no matter how much commission you get from selling the flat. To increase logical certainty in your customer, it helps to talk about the facts and figures, the features and benefits and the long term value and how it relates specifically to that customer.

The second type of certainty is emotional. Painting your prospect a picture of the future where they have bought your product and can see themselves using the product and feeling good as a result of it. This is called future pacing. 

An example of effective future pacing is when the car dealership lets you go out for a test drive.  The test drive for me was the reason why I could not stop thinking about my car until I went to pick it up three days later. The test drive increases your emotional certainty and leaves you with vivid memories of the experience and that’s what many great companies do, they don’t just give you a product or service, they give you an experience.

The Life-Line Technique

I renamed this technique because I felt it needed a more accurate title. Let’s say that you are on the phone to a potential customer and you try to close the sale. If your customer responds with something along the lines of “It sounds interesting. Let me think about it.” or “I need to speak to my partner” then you answer with the same response every time:

I hear what you’re saying, (insert name), but let me ask you a question: Does the idea make sense to you? Do you like the idea?

I call this the life-line technique because it gives you one more chance to find out what is stopping your customer from buying from you and giving you another opportunity at closing the sale.

“Every sale is the same!”

Jordan Belfort


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  1. b

    It’s a freeing feeling when you realise that you are not fully responsible for each outcome; all you can control is the process. As you wrote, you can try your hardest to sell a pen to someone who doesn’t want one and you would still be unsuccessful. Instead of aiming for outcomes like that, just tailor the process so your effort is concentrated on finding out relevant information about your customers.

    Liked by 1 person

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