If Archimedes was living now and his field was sales instead of mathematics, he might be saying, “Give me these 5 words and I’ll know how to sell to anyone.”
After all, knowledge and leverage are very closely related.
With these 5 words you can uncover anyone’s motivations. And knowing what motivates people gives you the leverage to move them.
Not by trickery or subterfuge, but simply because you’re in tune with what they actually care about.
We’ll get to those 5 words in a minute, but first let’s talk about The Wolf of Wall Street.
Besides the outrageous fun of watching Leonardo DiCaprio driving his Ferrari while stoned out of his mind on Quaaludes, there’s some real sales wisdom to be gained from the recurring bit in The Wolf of Wall Street about how to sell a pen.
The Wolf, Jordan Belfort, played by Leonardo, is recruiting his team of telemarketers, intending to train them to devour objections as they sell iffy penny stocks to the unsuspecting public. His challenge to each eager, dying-to-get-rich candidate is to hand them a pen and ask them to sell it to him.
He does this on two separate occasions, and both times the candidates awkwardly launch into talking up the features and benefits.
“It’s an amazing pen…For professionals…” the first guy stammers.
“It’s a nice pen. You can use it to write down thoughts from your life, so…” sputters the next candidate.
If you’ve seen the film, you probably remember Jordan turning to his buddy Brad in one scene.
“Go ahead,” exhorts Jordan, “That’s my boy. You show ’em.”
Brad, knowing the routine, smugly takes the pen and says to Jordan, “Do me a favor, write your name on that napkin.”
“I can’t. I don’t have a pen,” comes the reply.
Ba da bing!
Someone else at the table shouts, “Supply and demand!”
It’s an old sales trope. Sell me this pen is a classic interview challenge for sales jobs.
When I googled it just now, there were pages of citations, including videos from Belfort himself. The point, as you can see, is that it’s not about the pen. It’s about the buyer.
I wonder how many salespeople, or would-be salespeople, watched those sequences in the movie and thought of all kinds of sexy ways to entice people to want to buy that pen — when the heart of the matter was finding out what their needs were already and showing them why the pen would fill those needs. Why it could be valuable.
Value is subjective, not something that’s intrinsic to the product or service you’re selling. Value, we could say, is entirely in the eye of the beholder. It’s how people feel about a thing that gives it value.
You’re not selling a pen, what you’re really doing is satisfying a need or desire. And unless and until you know something about your prospects’ needs and wants, there’s no way to communicate value.
Now, in the movie Brad creates that need on the spot when he asks Jordan to write his name. It’s a quick jump to the punch line.
But in practice you’ve got to find out what those needs are. And you can’t just get there by asking people, “What do you need?”
The trick is to get people to tell their own story. And you do that by asking open-ended questions that require descriptive answers.
These questions boil down to who, what, where, why and how. These words are powerful. They invoke replies that tell you how people feel, what they care about, and why.
The answers you get to those key questions tell you what you need to know about the connections and relationships people feel strongly about.
How do they feel about pens?
When did they last use one?
What was that experience like?
Where are they when they use their pen most often?
Why do they use or not use a pen?
I’m going to show you how this works now using all five key questions. Of course, every situation is different, and while the process of inquiry is basically simple, it’s not always easy.
It takes lots of practice to get comfortable using these tools so you can do it in a relaxed, natural way.
That’s why it so helpful to practice formulating and using these sorts of questions as much as you can. It doesn’t have to relate to work or sales. Just get used to crafting these interrogatives in all kinds of situations — with friends, family, wherever you are:
“Uncle Dave, how did you come to pick this restaurant? What made you want to buy this car, Aunt Sally?
These five interrogatives – how, why, when, what, and where — are keys to opening the doors to sales success. They’re the keys to learning about prospects’ situations and how they feel in those situations. These words are also the keystones from which you build your case.
To demonstrate, I’m going to pretend I’m taking Jordan’s challenge to sell him the pen he’s just handed me.
Me: [First, taking a few moments to feel the weight, and appreciate the heft and smooth surface…] Where do you find yourself using a pen in your work?
Prospect: Well, I like to take notes by hand when I’m in a sales meeting. I want to get all the details right and I don’t want to sit there typing on my laptop.
J: Why is that?
P: It seems kind of aggressive, like I’m transcribing the details about the scene of an accident or something. A pen is more personal. And it’s quiet.
J: When was the last time you used a pen for that?
P: Let’s see…I remember. It was at a meeting with a restaurant owner. In fact, they owned three seafood restaurants along the shore.
J: How did that go?
P: They took us on a tour of the facilities and I had to take notes as we walked around the kitchen. At one point I needed to put my pad against the wall to draw a little sketch and the pen I was using stopped writing so I actually had to borrow a pen from one of the owners.
J: How’d you feel about that?
P: [Smiling wryly]. I really didn’t want to have to borrow that pen.
J: So you like writing with a pen because it’s unobtrusive compared to a laptop, and you want one that’s reliable and writes in all kinds of conditions.
P: [Nods head in the affirmative.] Yes, indeed.
J: What other qualities are important to you?
P: I like a thick pen that fits my hand and has a nice heavy feel.
J: Why don’t you take this one and see how that feels to you? [Prospect holds the pen]
Interestingly, this pen is designed to write upside down. It uses a pressurized ink cartridge and writes over grease or oil. So it’s not gonna cop out on you – ever. Even if you run out of ink, there’s an extra refill hidden in the barrel.
How does it feel in your hand?
P: I like it. I like the balance and the weight.
J: Well, it sounds like this pen would make you happy. Unfortunately, as it turns out, this model is being discontinued in a couple of months. The manufacturer is replacing it with a plastic barrel that just doesn’t have the nice feel this one does.
But I actually have three of these in the car. They’re packaged in nice velvet gift boxes and come with two replacement cartridges. You can always order more online and we can even engrave them for you if you want to give them as gifts.
Want me to grab them for you now?
P: I’d like that. It’s a deal.
Notice how all the questions began with key words that required open-ended responses rather than simple yes or no answers, and how the prospect’s answers seemed to lead naturally to the next question.
The questions got at the specifics he cared about – what he liked and what he didn’t like from past experiences with pens.
From that understanding, I could show him why this pen would make him happy, and how it would do away with the problems he definitely wanted to avoid.
I was even able to work in a sense of urgency because the model’s about to be discontinued.
The more you use these words, the easier it becomes to ask questions that get at people’s concerns and focus on the values they care about.
When I learned how to use these words strategically it expanded my sales power a lot! So I hope you find this helpful as well, and if you do, please share the ideas with anyone else you think will benefit.