Level Up Your Sales Game: Proven Techniques for Success in Tabletop Game Retail

We talk often about the mechanics of operating a game store—things like opening procedures, POS tips, and event management. All these things are intended to help facilitate sales, but we don’t see much discussion about the customer interaction that makes these sales happen.

I’ve avoided that talk is that there’s so much available for general sales discussion, but as part of the effort to gather everything you need under one banner, here’s a sales overview.

Prepare for Sales

As I’ve mentioned, I have a background in restaurant management. Restaurant management is all about using down time to prepare for peak times. The better you prepare ahead of time, the more productive and more profitable critical times become.

Employees should wear uniforms so that customers can identify them in a full store. We usually discuss uniforms in terms of branding, but it’s also a customer interaction benefit.

Staff according to projected sales, not necessarily foot traffic. If you don’t work the sales floor yourself normally, be prepared to fill in as necessary. In my case, I have cameras on the sales floor, but I work from the office. If the store I’m in gets busy, I can fill in as additional sales. You might not have that flexibility, but if you do, let your crew know when you are or aren’t available to help.

Train sales procedures. Roleplay sales techniques, and share tips among the crew. Crew meetings are a good opportunity for sharing tips and for practice, but training should be ongoing and continuous, not reserved for once a month.

Lastly, prep should include an ongoing education in product knowledge, which is important enough for its own section.

Product Knowledge

Product knowledge is important to the customer. While some shoppers learn as much as they can before walking into a store, strike the thing they’re after like a raptor on a dove and then preen back out with their prize, others enter the store with a less clear notion about what they want. They rely on you and your crew to guide them to the right choice.

Product knowledge should be something you train regularly. Knowing a product as a gamer and knowing it as a retailer are different bodies of knowledge. Here’s a comparison

Players Know

  • Game mechanics
  • Player dynamics

Retailers Should Know

  • What other games are similar. If a player had a good time with Dungeon!, what other games is that player likely to enjoy?
  • What product a player needs first. If someone wants to start playing D&D, what do you sell them?
  • What expansion adds value to the game experience. Some expansions detract from a game. Others vastly improve it. Recommending the right one can lead to a happy customer who introduces many friends to a game, and the wrong one leads to a game staying on a shelf and a negative association with your store.

Both Want to Know

  • How many players is the game for?
  • How long does it take to play?
  • What’s the recommended age?

Greet People

Greet customers a moment after they enter the door. Give them a beat to look around and adjust to their environment.

Greet everyone. If you ignore one person out of a group, you alienate that person immediately. Unfortunately, this behavior can also be perceived as discrimination. If you greet a man and disregard the woman with him, you might upset both. Egalitarian behavior is best.

Introduce yourself. Shake hands. One of my best employees worked his name and the names of anyone else working into the conversation as soon as possible. I was not doing that yet, and I introduced it as a standard policy right away.

“I’m Taylor. If you need anything you can ask me or Sage.” Of course, a motion of the hand indicates who Sage is.

Likewise, get the customer’s name as soon as possible. Often, they introduce themselves when you provide your own name. If not, you can ask. If they decline to answer, that’s fine, too.

Body Language Matters

Most human communication is non-verbal. How you stand and behave while you engage the customer affects the customer’s perception.

Stand at “the right” distance. Be close enough to have a personal conversation but not close enough to invade their personal space.

Make eye contact. You don’t need to stare at them non-stop like a Twilight Zone mannequin, but don’t flinch away when they meet your gaze.

Maintain good posture. Good posture shows alertness and attention.

Smile like a normal person who enjoys the gaming community.

  • Don’t interrupt when they are speaking
  • Don’t cross your arms
  • Don’t sigh or roll your eyes
  • Don’t fidget
  • Don’t check your phone

Remember, each customer is unique, so it’s important to adapt your approach based on their cues and preferences. Building a positive and genuine rapport leads to more successful interactions and satisfied customers.

Ask Open-ended Questions

Avoid questions with one-word answers. Ask questions that encourage dialogue. The more they talk, and the less you talk, the better.

Examples of good questions.

“Can you tell me about some of your favorite board games and what you like about them?”

Find out what they’ve liked, and why they liked it. If they tell you they loved Santorini, but you don’t know what aspect of the game they liked about it, you might miss by suggesting Azul, Spirit Island, or Elysium when Tiny Towns is the one that mirrors the part of Santorini they liked.

“Do you prefer games with a strong thematic element, or are you more focused on strategic gameplay?”

“Are there any specific game mechanics or features you find particularly appealing or challenging?”

Question structures to avoid

“How many people are in your play group?”

While you need to know that information, find a better way to encourage dialogue while getting it.

“Tell me a bit about the people in your play group. How many people are usually there, and are there any favorite game genres or themes that everyone enjoys?”

Avoid Confusing Language

Don’t use jargon, acronyms or and verbal shorthand. Don’t talk about drafting to a Magic player for example, unless the customer exhibits knowledge of drafting or you ask if the customer is familiar with it. Likewise, it’s Dungeons & Dragons, not D&D.

Don’t assume knowledge. You could ask “Are you familiar with the Richard Garfield?” before telling somebody that he designed Keyforge, for example. Better yet, “This game was designed by Richard Garfield, who designed Magic: the Gathering, Bunny Kingdom, and 30 other games.“

Provide Options

Suggest more than one when it’s appropriate. If a DM comes in and says the D&D group is finishing up a year-long adventure and needs another one, have a couple of suggestions ready. 

Avoid too many options. If they get “analysis paralysis” and can’t decide, they choose not to act. It’s true in games, and it’s true in game sales. Offer no more than four titles; proposing three options is ideal.

Never judge the player. Leave your personal opinions at home. If the player plays games solo, don’t assume that person can’t make friends. I know a man who’s very engaging when he comes into the store once every couple of years. Except for a few hours reprieve here and there, he takes care of a parent full time. We are fortunate that he spends some of those free hours with us. You won’t always know why they do what they do, and it doesn’t matter. Assume the best.

More often, judgment comes from a player’s choice of games. If their favorite play style for Magic is mono-red, and a thought bubble appears above your head with an image of Simple Jack from Tropic Thunder because you have an elitist attitude about your blue and white deck, keep it to yourself. Instead, offer them the new Deretti commander deck and some red deck protectors to go with it.

This game preference veers into important territory: never pitch one product at the expense of another. Don’t tell potential players that Malifaux is a great game because it’s “so much cheaper” than getting into Games Workshop. You might convince them to buy into Malifaux, but in three months, they might see a game of Necromunda and want to get into that and then maybe move into Warhammer 40k—except for your warning about how expensive it is. Leave those doors open.

Additionally, we have customers for whom cost is not an obstacle. I’ve had customers in my play group whose gross income was comparable to the store’s annual sales. Remember that your personal shopping preferences are not shared universally. Let players make their own decisions about how much is too much. If you make the game attractive enough to them, people find room in their budget.

Avoid Exaggeration

Don’t oversell. If you’re pitching a game that’s regionally popular, don’t tell them they can find players everywhere.

Say No Sometimes

If a customer won’t enjoy a game, or they don’t need it for what they want, tell them. If—and only if—that’s your honest assessment of what they like. If you discourage a sale, you show them that you have their best interest in mind, and you’re not trying to get their money no matter what. They’ll appreciate your honesty and you having their best interest in mind.

Close The Sale

I’ve mentioned Marcus King elsewhere in this book. I almost bought a game I already owned from him. The man knew how to close a sale.

Once you have determined what a customer needs, put the game in their hands. They have to make an effort to return it to you or the shelf. Once they have it, they might be reluctant to let go of it again.

If you have learned enough about what they want and you know you’re giving them the right product, confidently say “This is what you want.” Repeat back the traits they’re looking for. Explain how this game has it. Not all sales are board games, so let’s go with a roleplaying example. “This adventure is a campaign-length adventure with sandbox elements, lots of undead so Dana’s cleric can feel important, and a really satisfying ending. ”

If you have kept their needs in mind during your conversation, they’ll trust you.

Thank the Customer

If the customer says thanks at the point of sale, and you say “No problem,” I will hear it, and I will castigate you for it. While I acknowledge that “No problem” is a suitable response among the younger generation, it’s not always appropriate, and this transaction is one of those situations. In one sense, you and the customer are making an equal transaction. The customer gives you cash and you hand over something worth that amount of cash. However, you benefit financially from the exchange. You should always be expressing the final “thank you.”

Finally, Follow Up

“If you need anything else, let us know. We’ll take care of you.”

Vary the dialogue, but the important component is to reassure the customer that you will continue to provide the same level of support in the future.