Signature Strategies

8 Ideas To Improve Your Pen Pitch

Sell More PensWant a surefire way to turn your clients off to promotional pens? Show them an ultra-low-priced pen that doesn't write well and has a limited imprint area.

"I've noticed that nobody's interested in super-cheap pens. My clients are not," says Yvette Widdicombe, vice president of Counselor Top 40 distributor Jack Nadel International (asi/279600). "There are a lot of pens that have a 30-cent sell point. I have not sold one of those in years. Clients are wanting more quality – maybe a little more name-brand and not necessarily cheap."

Of course, clients might say they want higher-quality pens, but when it's time to order they might not always be willing to pay the premium. So how can you sell more pens without having to suffer razor-thin margins? Here are eight tips to help you position pens as an attractive marketing tool – bringing you more sales in the process.

1. Focus on Options

Caryn Stoll, president of Freestyle Marketing (asi/198342), says her customers generally ask for less-pricy pens – but that doesn't mean they're willing to settle for something basic and visually unappealing.

"That's really been the driving point in all my conversations – good quality but inexpensive," she says. "I have been selling more and more under a dollar than I have ever before, but a lot of factories are coming out with pens that are quality and less expensive. We're seeing that come out more to the market, and I definitely have been able to present those options to clients."

Stoll has found that an effective way of adding value to pens is through additional style components. "In the past, when you thought of a low-cost pen you thought of a plastic one-color print," she says. "But now when you think of a low-cost pen, you think of something with a rubber grip, an accelerator, a four-color process area – there are a lot more nuances and a lot more options, and clients are happy with that as an ability to both brand themselves and have choices."

2. Offer a Wide Imprint Area

Widdicombe says her clients want more space on pens so they can include more of their information.

"Clients want to be able to include their logo and website or their logo and product, so they're looking for a larger imprint area," she says. "More companies now have websites that are taking customers specifically to a product versus just a broad website. So, instead of Counselor.com, it might be Counselor.com/pens. It's more targeted marketing – they're targeting their audience more directly."

Widdicombe says the medical industry is leading this trend, as many corporate doctors' offices want to give customers more of a local feel. She has fulfilled numerous orders with medical companies that add a URL to their pens that includes their website plus a backslash with the name of a specific town that they're targeting.

"They're doing a lot of events like street fairs and other things that speak directly to the neighborhoods that they're marketing to," she says. "People go to the doctor and they get their medical care in the neighborhoods where they live, and oftentimes it's big corporations that act like a little small-town business. They want you to feel like it's your local doctor. So, they're doing things specific for a 10-mile radius."

3. Showcase Select Pens

The worst thing, Stoll says, that any pen-selling distributor can do is walk into a client's office with a bunch of pens in hand with nothing specific to say about any of them.

"How you present a pen can turn a client off to buying pens in general, or buying specific pens," Stoll says. "If you go in to meet with a client and you hand them a fistful of pens, immediately you lose that client and they don't know how to decipher one from the other."

Stoll suggests bringing in a smaller group of pens and presenting them one at a time. "You're discussing each individual pen – how it writes, what you like about it, the attributes of what makes that pen special or good for them and their audience," she says. "And then, you take out the next pen. You have reasons why you're showing them a few specific pens."

Not only does this approach allow the client to understand the benefit of each pen, but it gives the customer a sense that your presentation is specific to their company's needs. "I think part of our job is to pull out a few from the many," Stoll says.

4. Create a Package

Widdicombe always tries to package pens with other items during her in-person presentations. "I never just give a pen hand to hand," she says. "I try to take it to the next level and package it somehow. For instance, I might literally fill a coffee cup with pens and then wrap that up, and that'll go on their desk."

This type of packaging led to an order for Widdicombe with a medical company that was opening a new building. The firm's leadership team wanted to put something on each of the 450 employees' desks when they arrived on their first day. The pen and coffee cup both came with the company logo.

"We put 10 $1 pens for everyone in a cup, and they can either keep it on their desk as a pen holder or use it as a coffee cup for their new office," she says.

Stoll is also a fan of helping customers visualize different product combinations. Once for a customer, she packaged a pen into a folded paper envelope that included fun graphics on the outside.

"We took the entire folder and made it look like a composition notebook from the old-school days," she says. "We had the entire thing printed with all the different qualities about why a pen would be great, and different quotes from famous authors about writing and one-liners."

5. Leverage Tech Trends

Pens may not be used as much as computer keyboards these days, but Jeff Lederer, president of Counselor Top 40 supplier Prime Line (asi/79540), has been giving his distributor partners a way to bridge the gap and impress their clients in the process.

Lederer says Prime's Touch Stylus pens are its bestselling writing items by a wide margin. "There is a crossover here into tech accessories, which is our fastest-growing category," Lederer says. "A stylus pen happens to be an ideal companion for a touchscreen device. As the demand for touchscreen devices continues to surge, so will sales of stylus pens."

When a wireless company wanted to promote its new bundled service package to new and existing clients, "they wanted a cost-effective product that could be mailed inexpensively that would communicate the benefits of the new package specifically to mobile device users," Lederer says.

Prime and its distributor partner suggested Prime's Ergo Stylus/Ballpoint Pen. Lederer says the client liked the multifunctional, ergonomic aspect of the pen, and that each one was imprinted with the company logo, the name of the new service, a phone number and a website. Every pen was also packaged with literature and sent to 50,000 new and current subscribers.

"After the initial mailing, new subscriptions increased by 38%, and of the existing subscribers, the company saw a 64% upgrade to the new service package," Lederer says. "The promotion was deemed so successful it was repeated in other areas resulting in orders that have exceeded 200,000 stylus pens to date."

Lederer expects the high-tech pen momentum to continue. "I think what's changed over the last several years is that distributors are now looking for multi-functional pens that can be integrated with technology devices. This could be a stylus pen, a stylus pen and flashlight, or a stylus and highlighter combination," he says.

6. Pitch Higher-End Pens

Even though her clients usually request less expensive pens, Stoll doesn't shy away from offering top-of-the-line writing instruments as well. "One of my favorite higher-end pens is Logomark's (asi/67866) Bettoni line. I love that you can really customize those pens, and it's one of those pens that I bring to almost every client meeting because they write really well," she says.

These kinds of pens, with a price point in the $10-$20 range, can help a client to deliver a positive message to valued employees or customers, according to Stoll. "You can really get a unique message across to the client's audience," she says. "You can customize the barrel and get a unique look and feel to it."

But if your clients are looking for something really high-end, Widdicombe says personalized pens in the $100 range make for fantastic corporate gifts. "I have done more personalized high-end pens as awards lately," she says. "The other day, I had a client who wanted five personalized gifts to go to their top executives, and they were thinking about something like a padfolio, but I sold them on personalized pens."

These pens were about $120 apiece and included the name of the company and each individual recipient. Widdicombe says the purpose of these kinds of pens isn't so much intended for writing as they are for display.

"Not everybody is going to buy a high-end pen," she says. "Pretty much everybody is going to buy an everyday pen, so you're not going to show a high-end pen as an, ‘Oh, by the way, you may want to buy one of these' sort of things. You're going to show a high-end pen when someone says they have a $100 budget to give a gift for an award for a function or something like that."

7. Think USA & Union

Heidi Thorne, owner of Thorne Communications (asi/344244), says there are only about 10 suppliers that manufacture both American-made and union-made pens. "Made in the USA, but non-union, represents only about 4% of the pens available through ESP. Union-made and imprinted is at around 1% or maybe less," she says.

These small numbers can represent a frustrating situation for clients who have strict union purchasing guidelines. Nonetheless, the demand is out there, and Thorne has capitalized on it.

"We have a union contractor association client that needed pens that were union-made and imprinted. We introduced them to some pens from DLX (asi/48000)," she says. "The union bug was added to the artwork by the supplier to show union manufacture and affiliation. They love the pens for events and they've reordered at least three to four times since their initial order."

8. Make Selling Interactive

It's one thing to advertise pens on social media, but it's a whole other thing to create a dialogue with customers. "A lot of our salespeople, including myself, have an ongoing issue with how fine-tip we like our pens," Stoll says, "so we did a promotion where we asked our clients on Facebook: Are you a five or a seven?"

Translation: Freestyle Marketing asked customers if they preferred pens with a .5mm or a .7mm tip. "We had people talk about what they like in their pens and getting that fun conversation going," Stoll says. "There's a huge culture of people loving their pens, whether they love that fine scratchiness or that gel thickness, so we got that communication going online."

Along with allowing Freestyle to showcase its .5mm and .7mm options to engaged social media users, this was also a great way for Stoll to research her client's preferences.

"We've been able to use that information through direct mail and with clients in meetings, and it's been a great way to communicate with their clients about what they're interested in, and then follow up with a pen sale," she says. "I just hear from them about what they like, and all of a sudden, you hear about their pen programs, and that enables you to talk about what they're looking for."

– E-mail: sdale@asicentral.com