February 20, 2021

Sell me this pen

Anything that needs a salesman to be sold, isn't worth buying.

The line “sell me this pen” is a quote that will forever be a staple of movies that include sales personnel and plots related to boisterous sales techniques. 

At the very end of the movie, The Wolf of Wall Street, the protagonist (Leonardo di Caprio as Jordan Belfort) directs several seminar attendees to sell him a pen, and all of them hopelessly fail by being too nervous and, as a last resort, focusing on the pen's features and stammering puny replies. The line is also a common interview question posed to young salespeople to test their quick-thinking ability and wit when under pressure.

Many professional salespeople have proposed quirky rebuttals to the prompt of selling a stranger a pen. However, they all focus on actually listening and communicating with the pen-wielding stranger; usually a CEO or a similarly-lofted bigwig that's keen to test someone else's ability to sell their own pen back to them. All their suggested rebuttals focus on making up an elaborate story ridden with fantasies, which the bigwig CEO is expected to placidly accept to continue the charade.

Here's an alternative method of selling a pen to a bigwig CEO that requires far less fantasy-powered invention and far more big-picture thinking, not to mention, a dollop of facetiousness.

How to sell a pen to a CEO

CEO: Sell me this pen.

<Pen salesman quickly snatches the pen from the CEO's hands and looks at it briefly before transfixing his eyes on the CEO>

Pen salesman: I won't waste your time, sir. I have a pen and you seem to be in the market for one. However, if that's true then you would be the first CEO in history without a pen.

So, you're either an incompetent CEO who is in the market for a pen, or, you're a competent CEO who will see through any spiel I concoct in my attempt to sell you a pen. Which one are you?

CEO: Um... Err... Arr... I'm a competent CEO. I have a pen but I want to see if you can concoct persuasive jive on the fly and this pen was the first thing I saw on my desk.

Pen salesman: We're both busy so let's cut to the chase. Only fly-by-night Alibaba merchants sell cheap pens like this one. There's no margin in it and even a blind man wouldn't buy a cheap pen from a salesman they've just met. Instead of playing games let's talk about something important. 

Let's talk about how the two of us can create something truly valuable that generates not only margin but also changes people's lives forever. Let's talk about ideas, and more specifically, which ideas can change the world as we know it.

CEO: Wow, you're right about not wasting time with silly pens. Now we're talking!

Pen salesman: Great. You'll want to take notes. Grab a pen -- you can use this one but it will cost you...