Kickstarter Lesson #182: Sell Me This Pen

31 March 2016 | 29 Comments

wolf-penYou have a pen. I don’t. Sell me this pen.

This is a classic job interview question, especially for sales positions. How would you answer?

Quartz recently featured the preferred answer according to hiring manager Mike Hillyer. Here’s his example, which involves a toaster, not a pen:

If I ask you to sell me a toaster and you immediately start telling me about features and benefits, how many slices it can toast, how it can burn in a picture of Darth Vader, you are not getting hired.

If you ask me how often I toast bread, how many slices I need to toast per hour, what I liked about my last toaster, etc. then you made it through the question.

Basically, Hillyer likes when people focus on discovery instead of pushing a product.


As Kickstarter creators, we tend to be in love with our products. Because of that, when we sell to people, our instinct is to focus on the features. We assume that if we list enough amazing elements, we’ll find one that resonates with the listener.

But, as Hillyer says, there’s a better, more direct path to connecting someone to the product that’s right for them. And it may not necessarily be your product.

During the Scythe Kickstarter, someone asked me on social media to sell the game to them. “Convince me to buy Scythe,” they said.

I could have told the person about Scythe’s asymmetric factions, the encounter cards, the fancy components, etc. Instead, I asked, “What are your top 3 favorite games?” I focused first on discovering the other person’s tastes.

Sometimes when I ask that question, the person responds with some games that share elements with Scythe. For example, maybe the person says, “I love Stone Age,” and I can say, “Cool! Me too. I like the balancing act between adding more workers versus building an engine. Scythe has elements of that too.”

Sometimes, though, the person tells me that they love a game that shares no similarities to Scythe, like The Resistance. That’s when I reply, “Awesome! I’ve had a lot of fun with that too. Scythe is very different than The Resistance, though, so it may not be a good fit for you. Have you tried Good Cop Bad Cop?” I’d rather they spend their hard-earned money on a game they’ll love from another publisher than a game they’ll regret from me.

Most of the time, though, there is some kind of a connection to make, and the person walks away better equipped to make an informed decision about my Kickstarter project.


If this method of selling is new to you, go ahead and give it a try in the comments. Sell me your Kickstarter project.

Also read: There Is No Perfect Pickle and Your Target Audience Is Not “Everyone”

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29 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #182: Sell Me This Pen

  1. Thanks Jamey!

    Background: I am a health educator who came up with a card game in order to help others become more comfortable talking and teaching others about sexuality. What started as an education tool, turned into a very punny game that is not only effective for the intended purpose but provides a lot of laughter. To date, most everyone (about 100 to date) who has playtested the game knows me. And while the response has been positive, after reading your terrific book, I understand the importance of having it playtested by people who don’t know me prior to launching. Because of your book, I postponed the idea of launching as soon as intended.

    “Many people have asked me how they might have conversations with their youths about sexuality. What is the best age? How might it be less awkward? What resources are available? Is that you or someone you know? The first key is to become comfortable with the language…..”

    No doubt you don’t have this issue with your cats ? but, I would appreciate your feedback.

    1. Kathy: Thanks for sharing your background here, and I think it’s a courageous move to add some more time for blind playtesting.

      Are you asking me if that’s a good way to start talking to people about your game? I think that might be something good to put on the project page, but if you’re actually talking to someone (in person or in real life), it might be better to engage the person with a question or two first, as you don’t want to impose other peoples’ experiences and questions onto them. It’s tough, though, because it’s a personal subject.

      A game like this (particularly any educational game) has to be a good game if people are actually going to play it. Right now the focus on your pitch seems more about the educational benefits instead of the gameplay itself. So if you’re talking about the game with someone, perhaps ask a question like, “What’s your favorite game that makes you laugh?” Or “Have you ever played a game that you were emotionally invested in?” As I talk about in this post, focus on the other person first and make a connection with them instead of focusing on the features and merits of the game.

      Also, be careful about phrases like “provides lots of laughter” on your project page. It’s a small thing, but laughter and humor are highly subjective. Rather than telling people how they’ll feel when they play the game, focus more on what the game IS (“it’s a game with lots of puns”).

  2. I’m an insurance sales guy. Not nearly as awesome as games. But I spend a fair amount of time telling folks NOT to do business with me, that they are not a good fit for what my company wants and charges for. My directness and integrity has brought many back when circumstances change. I hate slick salespeople who only care about their paycheck, no matter what they are selling.

  3. This was the exact experience I had when I was exhibiting recently at Orccon. Having now two radically different games to offer, a family game and a strategic solitaire game, I got the chance to ask the visitors more questions. “What kind of game do you LIKE to play?” was the basic gist. It was so much more meaningful to be able to say, “Oh, this one won’t be interesting to you. Let me show you THIS one instead.” Saved us both time, and the patrons appreciate the sincerity of making an actual connection to their interests rather than just pushing a product.

  4. Hey Jamey,

    I do t have a KS for you or anything, but just wanted to tell you that I appreciate the transparency you seem to have with the posts. They aren’t always tips for me personally (such as this one) but are always a great read and almost every time I start thinking about different aspects of the community slightly different.



  5. Hey Jamey,

    Another great article. Certainly something to think about. I can relate to the importance of finding out what people want/need instead of just trying to sell them on your latest and greatest. I know that I try and follow these guidelines when people ask about buying computers.

    The last time I purchased a car, the sales rep also took the time to talk with me and find out what I was looking for/needed instead of just trying to sell me the most expensive one.

    Another prime example of how we can but the backers/customers first.


  6. Hi Jamey,
    How often do you and the kids get outdoors and feel the grass between your toes? And when you do get a chance, what are your two must-take pieces of gear that make your family’s day easy and comfortable? (If any other readers want to add their two cents worth, I’d love to know about you too!) Julie from Australia

    1. Julie: Thanks for your question! I have cats but no kids, and the cats are terrified of grass. :) I like where you’re headed with this pitch, but you may want to pull back a little bit just in case your target doesn’t have kids or a family.

      So let’s say you just said, “How often do you get outdoors and feel the grass between your toes? When you do, what are your two must-take pieces of gear that make your day easy and comfortable?”

      I primarily go outside to play soccer, maybe once a week. When I do, the key pieces of gear are my cleats and a duffle bag.

      1. Excellent thank you Jamey, I could see immediately my error in assuming a bit too much about my target market. I might just use this line of questioning on my FB page to see if I can motivate a little engagement… because the online conversations I’m having at the moment are pretty much all with MYSELF!

    1. Right now? The three games I’m the most excited to play (not counting my own, though I’m super excited about a game I’m currently playtesting) are Castles of Mad King Ludwig, Tzolk’in, and Terra Mystica.

      1. Oh man! Castles of Mad King Ludwig is one of my absolute favourites.

        Also, I just found your November 2015 top 10 list. My game Scuttle! shares a few similarities with Patchwork: it’s super easy to learn, it’s full of interesting choices, and it’s based on a classic card game (Cuttle) which was originally 2 players only (although it’s been extended to be a 1-5 game)

        It’s also really family-friendly: if you have any relatives who aren’t gamers but enjoy games that they can pick up quickly, or play with children (without either side getting bored) it’d be a perfect Christmas present for them. Alternatively, if there are any kids in your life who you want to introduce to gaming, Scuttle! is the perfect choice – it’s simple enough for children to learn and enjoy, but it’s got enough strategy to keep adults engaged.

        Right now it’s on Kickstarter, and we’re unlocking cool stretch goals like crazy: – check it out when you get a minute, see if it’s up your alley!

        How’d I do? ;)

        1. Also, I’m in Saint Louis for the next month or so (doing some development for the Greater Than Games guys) so if you want a fresh pair of eyes on the game you’re currently playtesting, let me know! :)

        2. Peter: Well done! I’m impressed you went and found that list. Indeed, Patchwork is one of my favorites. I like most of your pitch above. I have a lot of small, short, light filler games that hardly ever get played, so it’s a tough sell for me, but you got me at least to look at your project page. I’ll consider it. :)

  7. This is great once someone asks you that vital question, “why should I buy this xxx?” But how would you suggest going about designing a project page with this in mind? You can’t really have a project page that features, “what kind of game do you play”…you need a project page to focus on what it is about, its target audience, and its features, no?

    I’ve found engaging my audience to be difficult most of the time. What kind of project page development might get backers or potential backers to ask those types of questions which you can engage with them and find out more information about what they are looking for in a product?

    1. That’s a great question. I think the project page is a different entity because it’s static. It might start a conversation, but by itself it isn’t a conversation. Unlike what I described above, it’s where you want to highlight what’s special about the product.

      The key, though (this ties into your second question) is not to tell potential backers how to feel. Like, don’t include phrases like, “You’ll love the player mats!” or “This is the funniest game you’ll ever play.” Just give them the facts and let them decide. If they have questions, they’ll ask them in the comments, and that’s where you can have a conversation.

      1. I agree, Jamey. I hate being told what I will like or what I want. If someone is trying to sell me something, and they say “You want this one”, it completely turns me off. It just comes across as patronizing.

      2. I was thinking of the same question as Hrothgar and I think there IS an opportunity to start a dialogue from a KS page, despite it being static. I used to help university students with their writing and I inevitably got a lot of resumes. Probably my most effective piece of advice in getting students a job was to tell them to tone the resume down a little. Every detail of a product (student’s characteristics) may be important, even relevant, but too much information in a small work-space becomes confusing, overwhelming, and eventually leads the reader to miss key details because they lacked the appropriate emphasis. I tell the kids to “lead the question” instead. Give enough big ideas to get your foot in the door (interview), but leave room for the customer (interviewer) to ask questions. The weakest/vaguest parts my own resume are actually the things I do best and know by heart. I WANT to explain them personally as part of a dialogue- my product description is just the teaser to start the ball rolling. An ‘interviewee’ should know the first question before the interviewer does because you planted the seed for them! Imagine a KS page that talks about style, influence, and types of mechanics- such as when scythe described itself as a 4X game. A non-hardcore gamer will ask “what’s 4X?” or “how is this a 4X?” maybe you put it in the FAQ! If you interest the viewer in broad strokes you can sell the details later (in fact the KS platform often has fans selling it for you!), so maybe a takeaway from this lesson would be to “lead the question” a little?

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