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Interview Ennui: The Dreaded Pen Question

Alexander HowardAlexander Howard

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We’ve all heard it asked before. It’s so bland and uninspiring it elicits eye rolls from any independent sales person in the business. “Sell me this pen” might be the single most unoriginal question in an interviewer’s arsenal. And really, that’s the point.

Interview questions are meant to be uninspiring. They challenge us to find the real meaning behind banal material. The pen question isn’t about selling a mundane product. It asks how you connect to your buyer.

What we talk about when we talk about pens:

One of the worst approaches an interviewee can make is to simply list the pen's features. A slightly more advanced but ultimately just as unsuccessful approach is to name the advantages a buyer can look forward to after making the purchase. Both these methods are product oriented rather than customer oriented. They fail to create a meaningful connection with the person you’re making a sale with. And as we’ve already gone over to some length, business-to-business is really human-to-human.

The pen question asks how an agent starts a dialogue with her client. Looking to better understand what makes her opportunity valuable, she listens to her prospective buyer’s problems and begins to form solutions. By gathering a client’s pain points, she is able to understand the true value of her product, tailor how it is marketed, and broaden her scope of business. Merely knowing your product is not enough. You need to effectively target top individuals and understand their markets and demographics if you want to get your message across effectively.

More than anything, the question challenges an interviewee to think on his feet. A solid script is invaluable when approaching a new sale. But knowing when to drop your sales pitch, ask the right questions, and have a real, organic conversation is just as important. Not to mention harder to learn.

Sales agents who make it big in the freelance market don’t just settle as passive observers. They actively engage with clients, identify pain points, and offer entrepreneurial solutions. They bring with them a wealth of industry contacts and knowledge not attainable by in-house talent. And that ability to forge connections and understand the buyer is invaluable when it comes to selling a product. Even when that product is a pen.

Want more great advice about making it in the freelance sales world? Check out our Ultimate Guide To Becoming A Successful Independent Sales Rep!