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Sell Me This Pen

In discussions among aspiring salespeople about "professional selling" it is not uncommon for questions to surface regarding the skills associated with success in prospecting and/or selling.

It makes sense that salespeople would question how to better achieve their desired outcomes. However, what does not make sense is how in many cases the questions being asked in these discussions are being asked without providing context and/or the questions are being answered without knowing context. (e.g., "What is the best way to sell X?")

As an example... the following question was submitted for review to several professional sales groups whose participants included sales experts, sales trainers, sales coaches, and sales managers:
"If you were interviewing for a sales job and the sales manager said, 'Sell me this pen' how would you respond?"
More than ninety percent of the individuals who responded to this question in the discussion forums failed to establish context for the question and instead chose to couch the question in the context of their own choosing which as you might imagine produced a very wide assortment of responses. More than a few of the respondents asserted that they would walk out of the job interview if they encountered "sell me this pen". In some reality (i.e. perception/context) I am sure that seems to make perfect sense but the question is in which reality?

Let me pose the question again and this time provide more context so that you can decide if the idea of walking out of the job interview continues to make sense:
"If you were interviewing for a sales job... at 'ACME Pens' and after a series of assessments had been invited back for a third and final interview to meet the area sales manager which included a brief discussion about the various ways other field representatives had sold the pens and after hearing how others were successfully selling you assured him/her that your approach would work which piqued his/her curiosity... and the sales manager said, 'Sell me this pen' how would you respond?"
After hearing the rest of the story (i.e., context) some of the individuals who responded initially may now cry foul claiming that "you never said it was a pen company... it was a third interview... the manager was curious..." to which I would suggest, "You Never Asked!".

In my opinion, all too often we (people, sales people, etc.) answer questions without first understanding the context of the question and instead couch the question in the context of our own choosing resulting in erroneous conclusions and often unrealistic responses.

How can you apply the concept of "context" to your own sales practice? As Steven Covey suggest in his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective people - "Seek first to understand then to be understood". - by Jeff Blackwell
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