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Bonus Focus - Sell Me This Pen



"The Wolf of Wall Street," Paramount Pictures
By Charles D. Brennan, Jr.


A recent blockbuster movie ended with this memorable request: “Sell me this pen.”

This seems to be an easy enough question to respond to. However, the answers can be far ranging and ineffective. Maybe the most appropriate response is, “I have something for you to sign.”

That was the answer given in the movie Wolf of Wall Street, but in real life pharmaceutical and medical device sales, the response can be somewhat haunting. What would your representatives, territory managers say to that request if asked about your drug or device? Would they explain what the product or device does, consists of, its uniqueness? Do they understand how that response needs to separate them from the incumbent and what it takes to dislodge and break an existing prescribing habit? 

Chances are the answer is no, or not as often as you would like. After 18 months of research including nearly one thousand sales representatives, what became apparent about the performance of most representatives are the following: Their responses are too random, success is left up to chance and all too often they are surprised at the answers or situations they encounter on a day to day basis. 

Top professionals should not be caught off guard nor be unaware of the most common responses they receive, but for some reason they are. When it comes to the healthcare provider, existing or prospective, most are not unique and don’t provide original comments. They give the same responses and objections to most representatives that walk through their door and most representatives respond in the same way. Some hesitate with their answers, some try to apply an assertive or challenging approach, some even just move on to the next topic. Most do not take the time to figure out the answer to a simple request - sell me this pen!

Research suggests that as high as 80 percent of buyers do not see a need for change or feel it is worth the effort to change a prescribing habit. This is probably true outside the field of sales. When it comes to people making a decision, most have a difficult time doing something different. 

This leads us to one of the key elements of knowing how to “sell a pen.”

In a recent interview with individuals in the field of psychology, the term schema was introduced to me. Schema is an individual’s mental framework on how they make a decision. All of us have schemas. We have simple to complex ones. For the most part, all of us reading this take our clothes to the same dry cleaner, our car to the same mechanic and have developed favorites. Favorites can range from things we like to: eat, read, attend, visit, wear or watch. The list of these items could be vast. We have our habits, preferences and biases. The same is true of the providers you are trying to communicate with or sell to. 

What does it take to get someone out of their box? How do you get someone to think or act differently? It is not about a clever gimmick, or a more forceful approach. Getting someone out of their box and doing something different is one of the answers on how to sell a pen!

A number of years ago I discovered the importance of how we communicate to each other with reference to establishing needs and desires. I realized it needed to go beyond simple expectations, questions and answers. It needed to go beyond implications, fear and situations. It needed to move people in a way that they haven’t thought about. It needed to come from them. This would allow them to support and have confidence around the idea of change and moving in a different direction. 

To accomplish this, there would be a need to know how to craft a better conversation and guide it to a better interaction and conclusion. To conduct a better conversation, an acknowledgement should occur that indicates a need to recognize that most conversations are simply an exchange of known information. That is a pretty simple and mundane observation. Because most conversations are based on the exchange of current knowledge, momentum or the impetus for change does not occur as often as it could. 

This leads me to a cornerstone to advancing an interaction with a healthcare provider. From now on, don’t view your conversations as fact-finding. View them as explorations and the need to get someone out of their box. The best way to obtain that mindset is to understand that most questions fall under the category of “recital.” 

A recital question gets someone to simply state what they already know. It allows the provider to maintain pre-determined biases and thoughts that keep them from expanding into new ideas and directions. To avoid predominate conversations that rest in the world of recital, it is essential to craft a discussion with someone to engage them in in-depth dialogue. Dialogue is the exchange of new ideas and thoughts, not just the delivery of a correct answer. 

Obtaining this level of conversation is the key to knowing how to sell a pen. It gets someone to reconsider their position and paves the way for change. Prior to every conversation, there is a need to determine the mindset of the provider you will be speaking with. Is this person unreceptive, receptive or accepting? The success of your conversation will depend on this answer. Most established mindsets are rooted in two to three essential main beliefs or values. Crafting conversations around these areas will help facilitate the likelihood for change. Not every conversation will lead to success; however current recital conversations diminish the potential for change. Stepping back and determining the two to three critical areas of conversation will enable the representative to move the healthcare provider to reconsider their current habits and initiate the notion of change. 

Taking the same approach to getting more pens sold will only work when the ink has run out. Achieving greater success is contingent on knowing how to get clients to discard their favorite pen when it isn’t empty. 

Charles D. Brennan, Jr. is president of Brennan Sales Institute and the author of several books, including Take Your Sales to the Next Level. Email him at

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