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Sell me this pen

And you’ll be Scorpion of Silicon Valley

Otto Pohl

Feb 6, 2024

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I recently rewatched that glorious and cinematic sprawl of excess, The Wolf of Wall Street. One of the recurring moments is Leonardo DeCaprio’s character asking various people to “sell me this pen”—and getting mostly unsatisfactory answers. It is a classic question managers ask potential sales agents to see how they would go about selling a customer.

The untrained will respond by trying to pitch the pen: It’s the best pen on the market. It’s shiny. It writes upside down.

Is that how you’re currently selling your product or service?

The experienced salesperson will instead first probe the potential customer’s motivations: How long have you been in the market for a pen? What do you need a pen for? What problems are you trying to solve with this pen, and have you had problems with other pens in the past?

You can only sell effectively if you target your message to the buyer’s needs and wants. This is why every B2B founder needs to spend enough time on customer interviews—particularly to prepare the messaging in channels like a website or sales materials, where you can’t adapt messaging on the fly. Do your homework and you’ll be ahead of 90% of the competition.

Today, let’s take it one step further. Sell your product or service up Pohl’s Pyramid:

In other words, don’t just tell prospective customers how smooth and how blue your pen is (the lowest, “product features” level). Pitch their dreams and aspirations as described in the upper levels. Much more powerful.

So let’s sell this pen. Here are 4 exaggerated pitches for each level for my fictitious new FineScribe pen, which I’m definitely going to launch one of these days:


Smoothest Pen Ever!

The new, smoother FineScribe has a tip that is 30% finer, and our latest-generation blue ink is the bluest on the market.


Record Your Thoughts Anywhere

Whether you’re writing in your diary, signing documents, or preparing a grocery list, this smooth, blue FineScribe lets you do it in style.


Unleash Your Life with FineScribe

It’s not just a new job—it’s a new start. Sign it with a pen that makes a statement as bold as you are. Smooth. Blue. FineScribe.


Are You Ready to Move the World Forward?

The Declaration of Independence. E=MC2. The first designs of the Wright Brothers’ flying machine. Being bold starts with the pen you hold. Move the world with FineScribe.

 

At which level are you pitching your company’s products? Write a pitch for each level and see which resonates best. A combination might ultimately be most appropriate. And of course, the actual aspirations and references should be derived from actual customer knowledge (as shocked as I know you’ll be, I didn’t interview anyone for my FineScribe!).

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Otto Pohl is a communications consultant who helps startups tell their story better. He works with deep tech, health tech, and climate tech leaders looking to create profound impact with customers, partners, and investors. He has taught entrepreneurial storytelling at USC Annenberg and at accelerators across the country.

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© 2024 Core Communications LLC