One of the most common sales role-play exercises that you will see in training programs or interviews is where the request is made to sell a pen. If you ever have seen someone try to do this, most of the time they will not really handle the test the best way.

In this post, we will break down exactly how one could handle this exercise. The reason to take this close look at this sales role-play is that what you learn here can be applied to how you look at selling in the real world.

The Most Common Approach
If we sat back and watched our test subjects try to sell a pen, here are the type of things we would hear them say:

I have this pen that I would like to show you.
It is a ball point pen.
It is black ink.
It has a stainless steel enclosure.
It writes extremely well.
It is made by[insert manufacture].
It costs [insert price].
Would you like to buy this pen?
What can I do to get you to purchase this pen?

Sure there might be some other things said here but this is typically the type of direction that someone will go when they try to sell a pen. Here are the three reasons why this is not the best approach.

1. This is a product pitch.
Look at all of the statements outlined. Almost all of them talk about the product. This is a perfect example of a salesperson trying to sell by talking about the product.

There is a time and place to talk about the product, but most salespeople either talk too much about the product that they are selling or only talk about that. There are more powerful things to focus on either in place of talking products and features or in addition to like focusing on benefits, problems resolved, asking probing questions, sharing customer examples, focusing on differentiation, etc.

2. The pitch is “all about me”.
This example pitch is “all about me” in terms of being all about the salesperson. It is all about his (or her) product and him trying to close his sale. This comes at an angle that is similar to if you had a conversation with someone in a personal situation and all they talked about was their stuff – their life, interests, hobbies, achievements, belongings, etc.

That is not the most engaging way to communicate and it does not foster strong relationships and rapport. In this sales role-play and in everyday sales situations, we can improve results by being more focused on the prospect than ourselves.

3. We do not know if the prospect is qualified.
In this sales role-play, the salesperson is trying to sell the pen to someone but they do not know if the prospect is qualified. In other words, they are trying to sell a pen to someone that they do not know if they have the slightest fit or need for a pen.

This happens all too often in the real world where salespeople spend valuable time trying to sell to prospects that do not fit well with what they have to offer. This is what leads to deals stalling out, having a tough time closing, and wasting valuable time.

You could improve this sales role-play and selling in the real world by asking qualifying questions when trying to sell something to assess whether or not the prospect has even the slightest need or fit with what you have to offer.

4. People don’t like being sold to.
The last reason why this is not an optimum way to handle this sales role-play is that when you hear someone go down this path, it is clearly a salesperson trying to sell something. And while that might feel OK to the salesperson and that they are doing what they were hired to do, it does not feel great for the prospect.

It does not feel great when someone is trying to sell something to you. Sure you have things you need to buy and it can sometimes be fun buying stuff. But being sold to is a very different feeling from buying something.

And when it is done too aggressively, you can begin to wonder if you are being taken advantage of, if you are making the best choice, or if your decision to move forward is benefiting the salesperson more than it is benefiting you.

If you agree with that, then you might see how there can be a positive impact on your sales role-play and real-world sales results if you make small changes so that you do not sound like a salesperson trying to sell something.

A Different Way to Handle the Sales Role-Play
Here are some different talk tracks to use that minimize the negative factors that we just outlined:

Pre-Qualifying Questions
What kind of pens do you typically use?
Do you use disposable pens or do you ever use a nice refillable pen?
Have you ever written with or had a nice high-quality pen?
How important is it for you to give off a good impression when meeting with others?
How often are you taking notes in meetings or classes?

Common Pain Points
When using disposable pens, you might not give off the most powerful first impression.
It can be more difficult to take good notes and write quickly with lower-quality pens.
It is tough to have a lot of personal pride when using lower-quality pens every day in meetings.

This pen is top quality and design which helps to make the best impression.
The quality of the tip allows you to write better notes and that can help you to be more organized.
When you have a nice item like this that you use every day, you can have a deeper feeling of pride about your work and personal belongings.

Can I get you to test this pen out and see how it writes?
Would you enjoy using a pen of this quality every day?
Would this pen improve the impression that you make?
Would you like to move forward with a purchase of this pen?

It is important to point out that those example points in this sales role-play assume that we are selling a nice pen to a business person. If we were to change the product (type of pen) or the audience (business person), those questions and points would all change.

But as you can see, we made it more about the prospect by asking them questions and getting a better feeling for how they fit. We focused more on problems resolved and benefits offered than product details and features.


Applying to Everyday Selling
If you can see how this change to that common sales role-play can make a more positive exchange and increase the probability for success, you can apply all of that same logic and structure to selling anything product or service.