Solving ‘Sell me this Pen’ problem — from UX Designer’s perspective

Take a view on how a User experience designer would attempt to solve the "Sell me this pen" problem


Charchit Neema

3 years ago | 7 min read

I recently watched the film ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ starring Leonardo DiCaprio and came across this scene, where he pulls a pen from his pocket and asks his representative, ‘Sell me this pen’ a couple of times in the movie.

I have heard quite a lot about this gig in interview experiences, and came across few blogs and Quora articles discussing it, so this should be a cliche jargon in the sales and marketing world by now, I presume.

Wondering about the scene, I got stuck with a sudden idea of What would happen if this same problem is tossed to a user experience designer? What outcomes does it holds if solved from the User Experience standpoint? Moreover, can there be an ideal UX strategy to tackle this riddle?

What’s wrong in making an attempt, right? Before Starting, let us get mark out how a non-professional or a people who are naive at salesman instincts would try to tackle it? As generally observed, They would directly jump into salesman mode and throw descriptions like:

This pen is great because…
This pen writes upside down…
This pen is the best value for its money…

and will try to close the deal. This strategy should fall under the term Feature-Based Selling, where the person would just go out to a prospect, push the product directly or showcase the bunch of unique or exciting features in his pitch.

But this problem doesn’t turn out to be that efficacious, as it should from a sales perspective. The problem with this is when you just go out and try to sell something and in other words what you are saying is, ‘ I don’t give a shit about you, I am just gonna ram this product down in your front pocket’. Sounds rude, right?

This is how a person who is being pitched might feel, either uninterested or irritated. The real reason this strategy is not much fulfilling to either of the sides is because of the following reasons:

  • I don’t know whether the other person is even my potential customer or not.
  • I don’t know what exactly is my customer’s need.
  • I don’t know what is my customer’s relationship with such a product in the past or present.

Now that I have mentioned Feature-Based Selling above, There stands another term called Solution-based Selling, which explains itself, and as a UX designer, I will have a default predilection for this approach. But in order to prepare a pitch for that ‘solution’, we need to hunt genuine problems, isn’t it? and for this quest of finding problems, we need to ask the right question!


In the UX Designer way

The Challenge / Problem Definition

In a candid way, We need to find, ‘How to persuade a buyer to buy a pen’ With a catch!

The Catch is not to force push the product. The idea is to find the gaps in the user’s routine where fitting this pen can either enhance or benefit his daily workflow. This way, it also opens up the possibility that the product is not just being used once, but can inculcate a habit or make the person accustomed to the product.


In this phase, we will try to understand the problem statement in more depth. The core idea is to think and understand different personas and their possible usage patterns that can involve in his daily routine, based on his type of profession, or scenarios.

User Research

Defining Profile Type would help us define our breadth and mark our coverage, deep dive into their personalities, and able to derive possible traits they carry on the basis of their age, lifestyle, profession, etc.

Covering different profile types in reference to Age band | Illustration courtesy :
Covering different profile types in reference to Age band | Illustration courtesy :

Define Traits Now once we have charted our personas, we need to cover the possible traits which can be relatable to their profile. These could be any action which a person might do. To give a push, we can think of either a general sector-wise, profession wise, and age-wise; some examples like:

  • An accountant who does a lot of paperwork
  • Music student using the pen for Tablature for noting down musical notes.
  • College student to take notes
  • Press and journalist who always keeps pen and diary with them
  • Businessperson for signing cheques and documents.
  • Homemaker for arbitrary usage like grocery list, sticky notes, etc
  • Celebrity or influencers for giving autographs
  • Author/Writer working on scripts
Brainstorming on deducing common traits
Brainstorming on deducing common traits

Do you feel the rising momentum? realising numerous possibilities of combinations that can be formed and churned out?

Take this as more of homework to have a pre-understanding of what kind of people we are likely to meet out on the field, what are the possible activity they are likely to do, do they fall under the personas we prepared, do they match with the traits we have created?

If yes, Bingo! they can be on our radar, as we know them we can expect fruitful and productive communication with them.

Define Questionnaires Once we have listed all the traits that we’ll be covering so far, it’s time to craft a list of questions on an individual trait, which will be focused on collecting in-depth understanding and clarity from the person we are going to interact with and pitch our offerings to.

By this approach, we’ll have a dedicated questionnaire bundle prepared for every individual persona that can help us have a meaningful conversation with the potential client.

Connecting the steps together
Connecting the steps together

I understand this list could be large and overwhelming, as using a pen can have a plethora of use cases, but finding possible use cases that can be bundled and mapped with definite traits, can help us in:
1️⃣ Understanding our prospect’s routine and lifestyle.
2️⃣ More confident in interacting
3️⃣ Asking out meaningful questions relevant to his lifestyle.
4️⃣ Better chances of finding the right problem or gap to feature our product as a solution

💡 Advantage: Pen comes under trivial things, like sticky notes, sharpie, paper clips, etc. so no matter what person’s background is, there is always a possibility to find the right gap to feature in your product.

Finding the Gap

Once we have mapped all the above attributes with respect to a particular person we are pitching to, we need to keep our attention all open and look for the following opportunities:

  • Try to find key problems, which perhaps can be explicit, if we are in luck or tacit, needs to sniff out and inferred from the interaction you have with the client.
  • Try to find common use cases that cover every personality type, something which comes as a part of daily routine, like having a pen and paper near your telephone receiver, keeping a pen with the sticky notes, etc
  • Sometimes, be open to creating the need or urgency for the product, like the essential need to have a pen near to a paper, napkin, sticky note. To give a good practical example for this is, Observe how apple market its product devising use cases which entices you to use, ‘Apple Pencil’ for which you are bound to have their other product ‘iPad’ and vice versa, smart move, right?

With that we are all set to test of efforts in the real world!

Empathise and Pitch

We have the outline and a basic idea about the kind of people we are going to meet, following our strategy. Now, this is the phase where the rubber meets the road!

It’s all about them! Our potential clients should feel and realise that we are actually and genuinely interested in knowing them and solving their problems.

The very first icebreaker would be to get them talking and knowing them. With the help of open-ended questions, we must try to understand their lifestyle and in context with that, their current relationship with the pen, how they take notes if they need to.

Once we get them talking, actively listen, pay close attention and try to uncover any real problem they are facing which is either costing them their time, effort or money.

Pen being considered as a trivial thing might ask a great effort from our end, make sure to elucidate to them how our product is saving them either their time, hassle, or money. This is only possible if we are listening to understand, versus wanting to talk, then we can put ourself in the shoes of the user and get the idea of what they are going through.

⚠️ Now one of the biggest mistakes which one can make is, that try to pitch and sell it to everybody. Instead, a better approach would be to weed out people who are not fitting in our profile and reaching out to people who fit in our target group.
The Ideal Flow
The Ideal Flow


Now while scrutinising it more, The pitch can be ideated and enhanced further by reflecting on the responses from the prospect and look for possible adjunction of scenarios like:

  • Making a pen available near your refrigerator in the kitchen along with sticky notes, for quick communication to others or reminders for self, for a homemaker?
  • Making a pen available near your telephone receiver in your common room or work desk?
  • Promoting it as a wearable accessory to go along with a tailored suit and pocket square, for a business person?


Now here is the fun part. There is no prototype phase in here, you ask me why? If we closely observe the crux of our problem state, what if I state that,
The product in our case is not the pen, but the pitch we are strategising!’ make sense? As here in our case we already have the physical pen with us, we can say the product is already been ideated and created, all we worked on is an effective and sound strategy to pitch for the solution basis.

Once the foundation has been set, Solution has been pitched to the deduced solution or gap, Placing out the product and explaining its features and befits befitting their need should be a smooth flow.


Every interaction made with the prospects allows us to reflect upon them, and take necessary feedbacks from them. Meeting vivid profile types will help us out testing our approach, enhancing our questionnaires, and even iterate them by adding new profile types and traits we come across in our domain we are covering.

Moreover, from the numerous pitches that you made and couldn’t came out fruitful will serve out as feedback that need to be worked upon either on the need finding or the product. Understanding client requirement would serve as introspective to the existing product, look for possible gaps and working on them.

With this, Feel free to add in your views, ideas, or any suggestion to improve or enhance the above approach.

Thanks for reading :)

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Created by

Charchit Neema







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