Selling is one of the most nerve-wracking and technical parts of getting a small business off the ground. You must absolutely master it to achieve the financial success you desire when self-publishing a game. When you’ve put in the hard work, it’s only natural to want to reap the benefits.
This crash course is broken into six parts:
- The Fundamentals
- Your Emotions
- Targeting the Right People
- Keeping Momentum After Launch
- Sales Techniques
- Tracking & Optimizing
Let’s get a few basic things out the way first. Selling is hard to learn even in the best conditions. Yet so many people end up making it harder on themselves by making a few simple mistakes. These mistakes are dead simple, but easy-to-miss: creating a sales system that doesn’t work, having a fulfillment network that can’t ship on time, or even making a product that’s not that good.
First things first: make sure your game is great. If your game is brilliant, it’ll be way easier to sell than if it’s so-so. The reviews will be better. The play-throughs with customers will be better. More people will talk about it. Perhaps most importantly, you’ll be more confident when you’re selling something. That psychological boost is huge – you won’t feel like a huckster if you completely believe in your game.
Whether you sell your game online through your site, online through another site, offline through distributors, or face-to-face at conventions, your process needs to be seamless. If I go on your website, I need to be able to find and read all the relevant information, put the game in my cart, enter my information, and check out without a hassle. Whether you use something like Celery or create your own shopping cart from scratch, the selling system needs to be flawlessly executed from both a technical and a user experience standpoint. Use your own system to make purchases! Double check, triple check, if you must!
As soon as those orders come in, you need to centralize the notifications to go to one inbox. You need to then either manually or automatically field those orders to your fulfillment companies in a timely manner. If you’re fulfilling the orders yourself, you need to be able to get the package in the mail today or the day after. You need to have a well-defined process to get your game to anyone who’s able to buy it as fast as possible without exorbitant costs or damages. You need to be able to work refunds into this process, too. (To learn more about setting up a fulfillment network, see A Crash Course on Board Game Fulfillment.)
I know this reads like four paragraphs of obvious advice, but the simple truth is that there are more ways to screw up sales than there are to get it right. Screw up any one of these three things and you’re going to have an awfully tough time with sales. Likewise, if you get it right, you’ll be able to benefit because you’ll have better control over…
Let’s not sugarcoat it. Selling puts us in a vulnerable position that, for many people, can drudge up fears of rejection, social anxieties, insecurities, and memories of being cheated by shady salespeople. You need to have a good frame of mind when you’re going in. Sometimes it’s not the lack of knowledge or poor technique that costs us the sale but rather some fear of getting started rationalized away as something else – procrastination shrouded in the dressing of logic. With this in mind, I want you to remember 3 things:
- There is nothing wrong with selling a good product. People buy, sell, and trade things all the time. It is the bedrock upon which our economy is built.
- There is nothing wrong with asking for money. If someone buys your product, they are making a choice. There is no reason to feel guilt about asking for money. If you do not deceive them or misrepresent your game, you are not taking away anybody’s agency.
- You will be rejected far more than accepted. Most people just won’t want what you’re selling, but you will still come out okay. You have to be mentally tough when you’re selling something, because even for the best salesperson, you’ll get like 80 no to 20 yes.
Targeting the Right People
If you’re self-publishing, you probably don’t have a whole lot of resources to work with. That means that even more so than established companies, you’ll need a clear sense of target market. Each game you make will have a different target audience and you need to know how to find them and speak to them. Find the right crowd, create the right message, and selling will be a lot easier.
To give you a sense of what your game is like and who it will attract, imagine your game’s location on this graph. You want to find people whose tastes align with where your game falls on the graph.
If your game is thematic, you also want to make sure your theme is a good match for the audience you’re targeting. If you take the exact same game and give it a zombie theme, you might scare off people who would have preferred a more family-friendly theme. It works the opposite way around, too.
You need to make sure you have strong, targeted ways of reaching out to the audience who like games like yours. When growing your social media following, make sure you’re catering people who like games like yours. This makes it way easier to spread the word because 10 super-fans count for more than 1,000 people who are barely paying attention.
Keeping Momentum After Launch
It’s one thing to be able to hype up your game during a Kickstarter campaign. Those are inherently exciting events that put a lot of eyes on new game developers in a short amount of time. Yet even in the midst of launching your game – whether you do so through Kickstarter or another means – you need to be considering “the after.” What happens once that campaign is over? How do you keep the hype going when you don’t have a flashy call-to-action in the form of a Kickstarter campaign?
There are two methods to bring in sales without direct selling. In order for them to work, you need to get the fundamentals I listed above right and you need to have a well-defined target audience.
The first method involves building a community. Make a place for people to hang out – a mailing list, a Facebook group, a Discord server…you get the idea. Ideally, the community should be related to your game but not pigeonholed exclusively to the discussion of your game because people would get bored quickly if it were. Having an active community keeps momentum in a passive, unobtrusive way.
The second method involves perfecting your distribution model. This can mean getting your game in local gaming stores, online stores, subscription boxes, or convention booths. Find people who sell games like yours in high quantities and start asking them if they are willing to carry your game. They’ll pay you a significantly reduced price since they’ll be marking up the price to take some of the profit themselves, but that is not necessarily bad for you. Choose distributors on a case-by-case basis. Make sure that a) they can sell your game to your well-defined target audience, and b) you’re getting good money from the deal.
It’s all well and good to make a great product, focus on the right people, and get a community and/or distributor to carry some of the weight for you. Yet you would be remiss if you thought you could make it without some amount of direct selling. Selling is an unavoidable part of doing business. Fortunately, the two basic forms of selling in the board game industry are dead simple: play the game with as many people as you can and ask people directly if they want to buy it.
Playing your game with somebody is a great way to get them to buy it. In-person is the best way to do this, but you can also use online tools such as Tabletop Simulator to sell board games to people far away from you. A lot of people just don’t see the value in buying yet another board game until they play it and see that they enjoy it.
Sadly, playing your game isn’t the most scale-able sales tactic. If you want to succeed in the long run with sales, you need to create a robust sales funnel. A sales funnel goes something like this:
- Leads – these are new people who you have not talked to yet
- Prospects – these are people who you’ve talked to and who might care about your game
- Opportunities – these are people who are interested in your game
- Customers – these are people who have bought your game
With a sales funnel, you have four objectives: generate new leads, qualify leads by interest to make them prospects, talk to prospects until they become interested – opportunities, and hard sell to the opportunities. You’ll notice that only one of these actually involves asking people to buy directly. You’ll hard sell a lot, asking directly “would you like to buy X”, but only after you have a conversation and figure out what they like.
Here is where sales gets really hard. There is no one-size-fits-all methodology for generating leads, qualifying leads, or getting people interested. The part that most people think is the hard part – asking people “would you like to buy X” and giving them a link – is actually pretty easy. It just makes you tense up like the idea of jumping into cold water. By the time you get to the opportunity stage, you should be getting at least a third of people to open their wallets by asking questions.
To give you a sense of what my sales funnel looks like, I use Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to generate leads. If they follow me, I consider them a prospect. I reach out to them and if they reply with an interested response, I consider them opportunities. Then I ask them to either buy my game or join my mailing list.
Rejection in sales doesn’t often look like a “no.” Oftentimes, rejection is when a lead never responds to your “hello” message. Rejection looks like prospects hearing more about your game and not being interested after all. Rejection looks like opportunities who disappear when you ask them the “buy” question. To this, all I can say is keep selling even as you get rejected a ton.
Before I conclude this section, I’d like to point out one thing you didn’t see: dropping prices or running sales. While these methods can be great for converting stubborn opportunities into customers, I don’t recommend slashing prices as your modus operandi. Dropping prices is like eating a whole funnel cake – only very occasionally a good idea. The simple fact is that board gamers are not all that price sensitive – just look at the tags on the most well-liked board games.
Tracking & Optimizing
I can give you a full course on theory and technique all day long. I could open up my business notes and tell you everything I do. Yet because your situation is undoubtedly distinct from mine, it might not do you that much good. You need to write down your methods and track your successes and failures. Get in the habit of making notes about your own behaviors and techniques and how they relate to financial data.
Every once in a while – whether it be every week, every month, or every quarter – you need to review your notes. You need to do so dispassionately so you can see the whole truth without your emotions clouding it. If you notice that one day your pitch message is different than the others and it succeeded, you should start using the more successful pitch message and seeing if it’s not just a fluke. Mindfully responding to your unique environment could be the difference in breaking even and being wildly successful.
Selling is hard to master. I’m still learning something new everyday and I’ll share with you as I know more. It is through rigor, emotional stability, thoughtful messaging, responsiveness to our environments, a high rejection tolerance, and a good old work ethic that we can all become proficient in selling. You don’t have to be Mr. or Ms. Charisma.
If you have any questions or comments, I encourage you to comment below 🙂