“Sell me this pen”—it’s a common sales trope:
A salesperson sits in the office of a high-powered executive, hoping for a chance to join an important sales team.
The executive hands the salesperson a pen, and says something like, “Okay, go ahead—sell me this pen.”
Does this scenario ever happen in real life? Possibly. Is it a little cheesy? Most definitely.
However, the idea that someone should test a salesperson’s sales skills by asking them to sell something, right on the spot, has its merits.
So, if you are looking to expand your business by hiring a salesperson, keep reading. Here’s how you can use this exercise to ensure that you are hiring the right salesperson for your team.
There are a few important benefits of seeing a potential salesperson in action before you decide to add them to your team. At the most basic level, it will give you some sense of how your potential sales hire is in action—and learning this early on is essential.
Odds are, you are hiring someone to help with sales because you need to focus your attention on other areas of your business. So, it’s doubtful that you’ll be too involved in the sales process once you have hired sales staff. That means it is extremely important to hire someone who is not only skilled and qualified, but who embodies the voice you wish your business to project and understands why your product or service is important and valuable.
Consider asking them to sell you either some object (i.e. the “sell me this pen” example) or ask them to sell your product or service to you. The two have slight differences in terms of what information they will give you, but either can be useful depending on what you are looking for.
By seeing the potential sales hire in action, you’ll be able to answer the following questions:
Is their sales personality what you are looking for?
Everyone’s interaction style is different, and when it comes to sales, it’s important to hire a team member who can mesh with the culture you are trying to create.
Here, it’s necessary to think a bit about your branding and culture. What is the “voice” of your business? Is your business authoritative and knowledgeable, with the demeanor of, say, your favorite professor or mentor? Or, is your business’s voice more like your best friend, who banters back and forth in a casual, friendly manner?
While this exercise might seem silly, it’s important that your sales hires can adopt a demeanor and tone that suits your brand personality. If their sales personality is authoritative and a bit pushy, they might be a bad fit for a business that emphasizes a tone of voice that is approachable and empathetic.
Seeing them in action will give you valuable insight into not just how effective they are at selling, but how they sell, and whether or not their style matches your brand.
Do they genuinely believe in the value of your business and your product? Have they done their research?
If you’ve asked them to sell you one of your existing products or services, you’ll be able to get insight into a few important things.
First of all, you’ll be able to see whether or not they believe in your business. This may seem obvious, but it’s much easier to feign interest during standard interview questions than it is when you’re actually demonstrating what it would be like to sell a product or service.
Do they seem engaged, passionate, and as though they see the true value in what you are selling? If they themselves don’t seem to “buy it” figuratively, they’ll have a hard time convincing anyone to buy it literally.
Second, you will be able to spot right away if they have done their research. Do they have a clear understanding of what it is you do, and the benefits of your product or service? Do they have a sense of who the audience is, and what their pain points are?
This exercise doubles as a way to find out if they’ve taken the time to learn about your product or service and your business—and it goes without saying that any hire who hasn’t done this preliminary research is likely not all that serious about working with you.
Can they think quickly on the spot, and (most importantly) act natural doing so?
If you choose to take the “sell me this pen” approach and ask them to sell an item unrelated to your business and products or services, you’ll learn some different (but still valuable) things about your potential sales hire.
First of all, you will be able to see just how fast they can formulate a pitch. This is a valuable skill in itself, as it shows quick thinking and a feeling of ease when it comes to selling. Being able to position something at random as an asset to the listener shows that they can think with a “problem-solution” oriented mindset, which is a quality every good salesperson should have.
Secondly, you’ll be able to see how they sell under pressure. Can they maintain a tone and demeanor that suits your brand and your business—or do they fumble over words, start to speak too casually (or sound too stiff), and generally present an image that doesn’t seem to mesh with your business?
This test is, in some ways, a little unfair—after all, it’s unlikely that your sales hire will ever be confronted with a situation in which they are responsible for selling something on the spot that they know nothing about. So, a little empathy is well placed here. That being said, you can reap valuable insights by testing out a potential sales hire’s “sales reflexes,” so to speak.
Is “sell me this pen” a valuable vetting exercise?
When combined with other methods of measuring a potential sales hire’s suitability for the role, asking for a sales demonstration is a great way to gain insight into the unique sales style a salesperson can bring to the table.
That being said, combining this exercise with other questions is important. For more questions that will help you determine if you are hiring the right salesperson for your business, check out these 31 sales questions to ask potential sales hires before you bring them on board.
What do you think? Do you think asking a salesperson to demonstrate their sales chops is valuable? What would you ask them to sell? Let me know in the comments below.