Blog Posts

What Leonardo Wilhelm DiCaprio taught me.

I’ve been studying negotiation, teaching negotiation and serving my clients as a business development consultant for over a decade now but no one has ever asked me to sell them a pen until Leonardo DiCaprio stepped off a stage in the Wolf of Wall Street.

(start the video at 2:38)

I should know how to do that, I thought. But I didn’t. Or I thought I didn’t. The closing credits came up with the house lights and my friends and I fell into the typical post-movie chatter.

How’d you like it? A little over the top although I have worked in one of those “Boiler rooms” just making call after call and living for the commission cheque. Also once upon a time during an interview for a job at Holmes Place Gyms I was asked to sell my watch to the room.

Much later I was asked to speak about business development and the art of sales and I started thinking about recent books and films I could use as a way into my talk.

Sell Me This Pen!

I’ll start by asking them to sell me “this pen” like DiCaprio did in Wolf of Wall Street, I thought. Which made me ask the question again. Why didn’t I know how to do it?

I did, of course, know how to do it. Negotiation, we’ve been saying for years, is just a conversation that leads to agreement.

It’s not a sale. It’s not a pitch. It’s not a zero sum game where I gain what you lose. It’s not manipulation. And it’s not a trick.

We start with small talk. People who begin a bargaining session talking about the weather, family, traffic, or the real estate market are four times more likely to close a deal that people who start the conversation about the topic at hand.

That damn pen.

Why had DiCaprio Thrown me?

DiCaprio threw me because he framed the task as selling. And we’re all suckers for the frame. Lawyers are even more influenced than the regular Joe on the street by the word “sell” because they are in the persuasion business.

Counsel? Appearances please.

Victoria Pynchon for the plaintiff, your honor.

You may proceed.

Most Lawyers don’t get to start a day in court with small talk.

How’re the wife and kids, your honor? London traffic was crazy this morning, right? What did you think of my opponent’s arguments? Any thoughts about mine?

No, Lawyers have to start the day selling the Judge the pen! Lawyers don’t even know if the judge has read the brief. A former bench officer, once told me on the down low that he didn’t read the opening and opposition briefs, just the “reply,” which tends to have both sides’ arguments in it and is generally limited by Court rule to fewer pages than the other two sets of papers.

You’re lucky if the Judge is sufficiently prepared to ask you a few questions. Otherwise, you’re telling him how shiny and new your intellectual product is. How many uses it can be put to. Why its better than the one your opponent has in his pocket.

It’s like talking to a brick wall.

So How Do You Sell Anyone Your First Pen?

You find out whether they need a pen, silly!

Here’s what Ian Adams had to say about that earlier this year in his post Best Answer to Sell Me This Pen I Have Ever Seen.

There are exactly four sales skills [a sales] interviewer is looking to see when you answer [the question].

how you gather information
how you respond to information
how you deliver information
and how you ask for something (closing)

I’m not 100% on board with Mr. Adams’ answer, but he’s dead on about the skills necessary to do the job. After small talk (and pre-interview research) you find out what the heck your bargaining partner wants. What he desires. What he needs. What he fears. What he values. At the end of last night’s presentation, one of the women at the meetup asked me to sell her the pen.

I draped my arm over the back of my chair, the one with the pen in hand, and casually asked her to remind me of her name.

Me: What do you do?

The Woman: I’m a song writer.

Me: Wow! (we were pressed for time or I would have spent a far amount of my conversational dollar learning about the songwriting trade).

Me: What do you write songs with?

The Woman: Huh?

Me: Computer?

The Woman: Yes. I compose on a laptop.

Me: Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night and scratch down lyrics? Or on a napkin at a diner?

The Woman: Yes, as a matter of fact, I do.

Me: Do you have a favorite pen?

The Ask

It’s all about the close, of course and when you’re selling a hypothetical pen, you can say anything you darn well please about its characteristics and how they’ll satisfy the needs and desires of your bargaining partner.

I’d talked about comparable value (all houses on this block at selling at a million or more). And I’d talked about value in the hands of a particular person ($10,000 in Bill Gates’ hands, as opposed to $10,000 in mine, for example). And I’d talked about emotional or sentimental value (my grandmother’s gold pen that she handed to me on her deathbed). So I went all emotional.

Me: I was at the White House last week talking to the First Lady and we just happened to be talking about lyrics. Well, not lyrics exactly. But poetry. We’re both secret amateur poets and she gave me her favorite pen. This pen, in fact” I said, lifting my arm up from its relaxed posture over the back of my chair.

I’d love to give it to you but I’ve been thinking of selling it on eBay. I shouldn’t, I know, but I suffered some market reverses (exchanging power for sympathy). Might you be interested in buying this from me?

The Woman: Yes, why, yes, I would.

We didn’t settle on price because I think I made my point and my questioner was happily smiling. I’m pretty sure she was glad I hadn’t failed my own test. No one wants to embarrass another person in front of a crowd.

She was happy. I was happy. Even though I still hadn’t closed the sale of Leonardo DiCaprio’s pen. Maybe you can close the deal in the comments below.

Either way, I hope that you learned something from this…

Leave a Reply