Selling, marketing & Wyoming’s Cutt-Slam

Last week, I met a couple of old college buds in Southwest Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton range (near LaBarge) to take on Wyoming’s Cutt-Slam cutthroat fishing challenge.

This would not be easy. Four cutty subspecies in four different drainages – some of them in the tiniest of water (water shoes rather than waders), with two guys who are much more experienced than I am in the fine art of selling to fish.

This effort would be much like marketing and sales in a tough market with a prospect who knows exactly what they want and will accept nothing less. The parallels are fairly obvious: your message (fly), your presentation (cast) and your careful selection of the right prospect (in this trip, only four subspecies mattered).

Early on, unheard and unseen

For the better part of two days, I caught nothing. You would have thought I was making carpet cleaning offers to people with hardwood floors, or trying to sell family minivans to folks who live 20 miles off the highway on a rough dirt road.

At some point late on the afternoon of day two, one of the guys mentioned to me that the local hoppers were a good bit bigger than the flies I was using. Sending the wrong message (fly) to the wrong fish is no different than sending the wrong message to the wrong prospect (or sending any message to the disinterested).

So I changed my message.

Before long, the change in fly size improved my luck, at least until the last day. Ultimately, the Grey’s River contingent of Snake River Cutthroats never responded to my cold calls on that last day, perhaps due to an early morning downpour.

How’s your message working?

Obviously, the point of this story is to provoke you to take a look at the messages you’re sending and who you’re sending them to. For retailers, the most important sales and marketing period of your business year is ramping up. For those who serve tourists, what you do in the “off season” is as important. No matter what you sell, knowing that the message you send (even if you use “inbound” marketing) is being seen / heard by the right people and is context with their needs is critical.

Wrong message, wrong destination equals wasted money, time and effort. Even a little bit wrong is enough for someone (or a fish) to think “Oh, that’s not for me, I’m moving on.”

You’ve heard this before, but have you thought deeply about it? Think about the messages you get each day. How many of them truly grasp your interest? It doesn’t matter how clever or funny they are if they’re not about something you care about or are interested in. How many of these messages are about something you’re really interested in? How many of those convey a message that motivates you to actually take action?

That’s the critical eye you need to use when looking at each message you’re sending, whether sending a postcard or using the latest, greatest sophisticated inbound marketing tool.

When that fish fails to strike, you know why (sort of). It’s the wrong size, the wrong color, the wrong depth, the wrong time of year, etc. There are so many different ways to serve up the wrong fly – and it’s no different for what you use to communicate with prospects and clients.

Big (Fish) Data

Wyoming Game and Fish’s Cutt-Slam is, among other things, a combination of clever marketing and inexpensive data collection.

For the price of some record keeping, photography, a website, some color certificates (for participants who complete the Slam) and some cutthroat subspecies info, the Cutt-Slam provokes fly fishing enthusiasts to purchase licenses, eat and stay in Wyoming, fish the state’s southwestern waters and report details about the fish they caught, including date, location and a photo.

What this provides to WY Game and Fish is a litany of data and evidence about the progress of their efforts to repopulate the state’s four cutthroat subspecies – without sending people out on the road.

It’s a smart way to get people to visit, fish and help you with your project’s data collection – all at the same time.

Likewise, it provides a lesson on creativity and thinking about how to do more than what you have to get done – and how to involve enthusiastic experts in a way that benefits them as well.

ROI: Why they don’t take your call

These days, it isn’t about the shine; it’s about what happens when the shine wears off.

Will your business owner clients think positively of you a year from now because of an investment you championed? They’d better. Without buy in from everyone involved, resistance is the best you can expect the next time you visit.

As for this time – If you can’t explain to a random person in the lunch room or the warehouse why their employer should buy your stuff, it’s going to get picked to shreds.

ROI and the Why-To-Buy

The key to being successful is establishing Why-to-Buy in the context of each involved group. The discussion that sells the owner will differ quite a bit from the one that gets the warehouse on board, much less the one that gives the warehouse manager the tools necessary to get their staff on board.

When new purchase discussions do get down to talking about numbers, the ROI discussed is sometimes legitimately unproven and is frequently presented in a way that makes ROI impossible to prove, much less disprove. That’s a fast track to a “no sale”.

What’s your reaction to sales calls?

Ask a few business owners about sales calls. You’ll get a common list of “Why I don’t want to talk to you, sales dude.

  • I don’t know you, even though you act like I do.
  • I still have a bad feeling about our last deal.
  • I don’t need anything right now, but I am willing to listen to new stuff just in case, but you need to make an appointment.
  • You have no appointment.
  • I’m the wrong person.

The last time I had an office on a public street, the front door had a sign that invited two types of salespeople in (Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts) and provided the rest with instructions and a number to call for an appointment.

In seven years, one salesperson called that number to make an appointment. The rest wasted their time because they didn’t respect our time enough to make an appointment. You might think that an aggressive salesperson shouldn’t take no for an answer. When it concerned that office, that was the wrong choice.

Nice Presentation?

Another thing that I see and hear repeatedly is problems with a sales presentation.

These complaints include:

  • A one way conversation – like drinking from a firehose
  • Not customized based on knowledge of your needs
  • Generic financials that don’t identify a payoff period
  • Little consideration for your real situation
  • Inaccurate assessment of labor cost savings
  • Ignore additional costs and management requirements
  • Gaps between the presentation and delivered solution
  • Selling the invisible. Either things that don’t work or things that don’t yet exist – and won’t be delivered for months.

Consider whether your presentations exhibit any of these qualities.

What they want to experience

How would most business owners react when their favorite salesperson calls?

This person…

  • Only calls when there’s a win ready for the business owner to invest in.
  • Shows up with a checklist of qualifications that illustrate why the opportunity fits the business.
  • Shows up with testimonials from similar businesses – complete with contact information, so you’re welcome to call them.
  • Has clearly spent time thinking about why they and the opportunity fits the owner’s business.
  • Brings up alternatives and why they ruled them out.
  • Leads their market – not so much in sales as much as vision, crcitical because it carries with it influence and the reputation of a market leader.
  • Thinks about what challenges you face and what they can do to make it possible to overcome them.
  • Brings opportunities that you can implement  that without losing your existing momentum.

Getting buy-in

Think about how many times you’ve had to deal with the situations I described above – both good and bad. How many times have you done this to a prospect? How much trouble was it to make that deal happen, if it happened?

ROI grows as buy-in expands. Remember that everyone views ROI differently.  Next time, we’ll talk about strategies to involve everyone in that conversation so that the buy-in stretches from the main office to the warehouse dock.

When a business owner sees that sort of widespread buy-in, good outcomes are almost sure to follow.

Earning Return Business, Part Four: Confidence

In our last three conversations about earning return business, we tap danced around something that is at the core of getting people to repeatedly come back to your business without a second thought of going somewhere else – Confidence.

Confidence is personal

As their confidence rises, people have this interesting way of insisting that others use their go-to business. You’ve probably had this happen to you. You’ll mention that you need a new dentist, or are going to buy a truck, put your family up at a local B & B, or want to get a fence built and someone you know will be positively rabid in their insistence that you use their favorite business for that purchase.

Some take it very personally. If you choose a business other than the one they recommended and have a less than ideal experience, you’re likely to hear about it until you share your good experience with their favorite vendor the next time you have that need.

This happens for several reasons:

  • They feel an obligation to you as a friend or family member and want you to have a good experience. In short, they want to do something nice for you.
  • They want that business to stick around, so the more people they send to the business, the better.
  • When a business knows you are sending them clients, they tend to treat you a little bit differently. We all enjoy that feeling of being treated a little bit special, much like the response Norm hears when he walks into Cheers.

Don’t underestimate that last one. Loyalty of this nature is easy to build with the right kind of attention and is invaluable.

Building loyalty with pizza

My wife and I often have a dinner date night on Friday and more often than not, we’ll find ourselves having pizza. There’s a lot of good pizza where we live, so the choice isn’t easy.

Despite all the great choices, we more often than not end up at a restaurant called “The Back Room”, mostly because of barkeep Zak. When Zak was young, he swam with our boys during summer swim league. Yet that history isn’t why we go there.

After a long work week, we usually sit in the TV lounge area at the end of the Back Room’s bar. Because we’ve been there enough times, Zak automatically brings us one of the rotators he’s sure we’ll like (and he takes the time to tell us about it) after ordering our favorite pizza (which isn’t on the menu) and salads – never forgetting our preferred substitutions from prior visits.

Zak has learned that we’re creatures of habit when we come to the Back Room and we’ve learned to have confidence that he will take care of us and remember what we like.

Earning return business via confidence

The more confidence clients have in you and your company’s ability to deliver what they want, when they want it, at the quality level they’ve paid for – the more likely it is they’ll keep coming back.

Confidence comes from a number of different places, but at its root, it’s about your clients’ peace of mind and friction-free experience.

Whether they’re  good or bad, I’ll bet you can think of little things that happened during recent interaction with businesses that affected your confidence in them. The trick is figuring out what those little things are for your business and your clientele.

If you’re looking for ideas on how to instill that peace of mind, here’s a few examples:

  • A Realtor who provides a refrigerator checklist to her clients to prove her mettle by listing in advance the things that she may have to handle for the clients during a home transaction. This sends the confidence-building message “they will not surprise us”.
  • A software company that documents the minute details of their in-house source management, build, testing and deployment process for their clients, raising confidence in the quality of releases that are publicly available to them.
  • Once a rarity, now many restaurants frame their city/county health inspection for all clients to see. Ever see a framed “C” or “D” grade?
  • “Pre-owned” certifications for cars that indicate what has been checked prior to putting the car on the market.
  • Banks that don’t have a deposit cutoff at 3:00 PM.

To a good business, these things seem obvious. No matter how obvious, the key is taking the next step.

How do you build your clients’ confidence?

Consistency drives word of mouth business

Last week, my wife and I went to a place we’d been looking forward to for some time.  Our 31st wedding anniversary dinner was the perfect occasion to try a new (to us) place, so we went to a local Cajun restaurant whose entree price ranking is $$ and name includes “Orleans”.

Long time readers know I rarely name poor performers. I’ve made note of the theme, price range and part of the name to set the expectation you’d expect to find there.

Expectations vs. Reality

The combination of Cajun, $$ and Orleans implied white tablecloths, a Bourbon Street vibe / atmosphere and good Louisiana cuisine prepared to order, perhaps with an emphasis on seafood.

The menu’s broad selection of Cajun seafood dishes nailed that, but expectation delivery faded from there. There was little to tie the ambiance to New Orleans. The table settings resembled something you’d find in a pizza joint. This created a bit of disconnect with the pricing, menu and the restaurant’s name – which implied fine Bourbon Street dining.

Despite arriving at about 7:00 pm on a Wednesday, the place was empty. Warning bells went off, but we figured we’d give it a shot anyway. After being seated, I noticed the floor was filthy. It seats 30-35 and on a busy night, I can see how the staff might not be able to get to the floor between turns. However, the dining area has a tile floor and the place was empty except for us, so finding it consistently dirty throughout the restaurant was pretty surprising.

The chef arrived at the restaurant at the same time we did. Rather than going to the kitchen, the chef sat down in the dining area with a couple of web site consultants and discussed the menu, photos and what should be changed on their site.

At no time during our visit did the chef enter the kitchen – including from the time we ordered to the time we received our food. Likewise, neither the waiter or cook staff approached the chef’s table for guidance. I suspect that the chef has their hand in their sauces and general guidance of the kitchen, but in a place this small in this price range, I expect direct chef involvement in the food and perhaps even a table visit on a slow night in an otherwise empty restaurant.

Instead, there was no welcome, no eye contact, no thank you and no time in the kitchen. Nothing from the chef.

Speaking of empty, it was quiet enough to hear the microwave beeping just before my wife’s étouffée arrived. Despite the microwave, the étouffée was surprisingly tasty and easily the best part of her meal. Oddly enough, the waiter discouraged her from ordering the entree, so she ordered a small cup to get a taste of it despite the waiter’s recommendation.

The inconsistency returned with my wife’s Shrimp Pontchartrain entree, which turned out to be a massive platter of heavily salted pasta / sauce with little sign of shrimp.  Meanwhile, my Catfish Tchoupitoulas was very good. I’d definitely order it again.

Quality and branding inconsistencies can damage any business – even if they don’t serve food.

Police your inconsistencies

Inconsistencies plague small business and can destroy repeat business, as well as word of mouth business. The more processes, systems and training you can put in place to root out these issues, the closer your business gets to marketing itself by reputation.

Our visit included a number of inconsistencies with the business’ pricing, name, menu and food.

The menu listed numerous chef and/or restaurant honors, yet the most recent award was four years old. The years without an award stood out as much as the period of years where consistent annual awards implied high quality. If you can’t show award consistency, don’t list the award years or list them as “Five time winner”. Meanwhile, address the inconsistencies that caused the wins to stop.

Whether you operate a three star restaurant or a tire shop, cleanliness is important. It’s a signal that a business cares and pays attention to details, while sending a message about the cleanliness of other parts of the business that you cannot see. Given the filthy condition of the dining area floor, would you expect the walk-in cooler, prep table or kitchen floor to be clean?

What inconsistencies can you address to increase repeat and word of mouth business?

First impressions: Driven by mastery

Most likely you’ve heard the saying “A poor artisan blames their tools.

Despite the ROI of blame being zero (at best), this situation goes well beyond blame.

When you blame the tool, at least two situations can pop up:

  • Your current tools don’t produce the kind of benefits / outcome / work you need (even if they used to), and that suggests you need to choose another tool that will do the work.
  • Your comfort level with the existing tool may exceed your need (or desire) to select a better one, even though the better tool has substantial benefits to your business. A frequent obstacle is the inertia created by the anticipated learning curve of a new tool. Even the perception of that curve can prevent a tool switch capable of producing massive benefits.

However, there’s far more to mastery than your expertise with the tools used to create the services and products you deliver.

Beyond mastery of production

This experience includes the tools used to communicate with your client community, such as your accounting system, email list management (such as http://enews.aweber.com), webinar software, phone systems and redundancy management such as backup systems.

Low tech systems should also be a part of these discussions, as they’re as important as the others. Examples of low tech systems include office / shop / restroom cleaning, plumbing as well as trash and scrap disposal. Hazardous materials management (such as benzene containment) will also play a part in the equation for many service and manufacturing businesses.

Even if none of these systems touch the service or product your clients receive, they do form the foundation of your clients’ experience. How they interact with each other, as well as how they interact with your clientele, is critical to the first impression you make, much less the day to day experience you create.

Master your communications tools

Communications tools are a common stumbling point in this way. Consider the last few webinars or conference calls you’ve attended.

How many times have the organizers struggled with the webinar or phone software or hardware? Did it reach the point where it was a distraction that kept participants from accomplishing the meeting’s goals? Did it prevent effective communication in the meeting?

The frustration factor of these things wears on participants, particularly if they experience it repeatedly. The more organizers struggle with the technologies, the worse it gets.

A common factor in less-than-ideal group settings like webinars, call-in shows and conference calls is a lack of rehearsal by the presenters. When presenters read from a script or bullets they’ve never rehearsed, the mechanical / monotonous nature of reading text that the reader has not rehearsed reduces attendee comprehension.  If interaction is expected between presenters, an unrehearsed presentation’s conversation isn’t conversational, it’s mechanical.

Good speakers can ad-lib from bullets or scripted text, but if you haven’t practiced enough to make the ad-lib feel natural, it won’t be sound nearly as smooth as you’d like.

When a conversation loses this natural touch and goes mechanical, it leads listeners down the road to inattention and boredom.

Bark, meow, disconnect

When speakers confuse the mute button with the disconnect button on their phone, it produces a jarring experience. In some webinar software, it’s a challenge for the organizer to return to the call, and in some cases, the conference is terminated when the organizer disconnects. Are you ready to lose 1000 listeners because you clicked or touched the wrong button?

Less serious flubs like echo, feedback, cell phone rings and animal noises in the background not only distract the listener, but they speak to your attention to detail – prompting listeners to wonder where else your lack of attention will manifest itself.

Is it streamlined?

First impressions are rooted in streamlined interactions, a lack of jarring experiences and consistently well-met expectations.

How you achieve these things is not driven solely by product and service quality. Consistency in delivery, interaction, returns, accounting, conference calls, billing, refunds, follow ups and a litany of other minutiae (like spelling minutiae properly) contribute to the overall experience your clientele has, remembers and expects.

When great first impressions become a streamlined, consistent experience, it transforms referrals from “We use so-and-so” to “You’re totally crazy if you don’t use so-and-so. Don’t use anyone else!”

Isn’t that what you want?

Pivots make customer service personal

It was Saturday so my social calendar was in full swing.

Earlier today, I met a friend for lunch and barley pops at a place that has a sunny, well-lit dining area perfect for the first sunny day in a long while.

After being greeted as we sat down, no less than five different wait staff walked past us repeatedly during a 10 minute period that made it clear we’d left our cloaking device turned on. This prompted a well-worn thought, ‘This would be a great place for a restaurant.’

Once we were done joking about that, I stopped one of the servers as they passed by and asked if we could get some menus. He grabbed a couple, told us the name of our server and said he would send the server to get our orders. Not much later, our server arrived and while service was still slow on a busy Saturday, we were attended to in a reasonable manner. During this service, the initial delay was never mentioned, despite the fact that our server had walked past our table numerous times without a nod or a glance before being told that we’d asked for menus.

While it really didn’t matter or impact the occasion, I wouldn’t be writing about it if the server had simply mentioned that they were sorry for missing our table, that the place was rocking or they were down a waitperson, or what not.

Failing to acknowledge the lack of attention has a way of implying that the diner is supposed to think nothing of it.

Customer service slip ups happen

Things like this happen all the time. It’s OK. We’re human rather than perfect little robots, after all.

Still, by taking a moment to acknowledge a slip up, we give our clients the acknowledgement necessary to allow their minds to stop dwelling on it (even subconsciously) as a part of their experience, which makes it easier to forget and move on.

With the tiniest personal touch, we turn a negative into a positive.

The tiniest opportunity

Later that day, my wife and I met my in-laws for dinner.

The food was good – better than I expected, in fact. The service was quite good and definitely attentive. The server made recommendations based on their personal experiences with the dishes they serve – and she was spot on.

One of the dishes had a problem, though. When the person who ordered it took their first bite, they found a twisted piece of plastic in their food.

Once notified, the server handled the situation well, took the plastic, said they would show it to the manager and left to do just that. Not much later, the server indicated that the manager would visit our table.

The manager never showed up. I wonder if the kitchen was ever notified. The server comped the meal, which the diner didn’t request, so that was a nice gesture.

Will that diner forget that experience, or will it percolate the next time they consider eating there?

Involvement matters

What I would like to have seen, even though the plate was not mine:

  • The manager tells the kitchen what happened (which they may have done – we don’t know).
  • The person who prepared the food comes out to the table, introduces themselves, acknowledges the problem and offers a brief, but sincere apology with no groveling (again, mistakes happen).
  • The preparer explains what the diner found. This allows the diner to feel comfortable completing their meal, or not, depending on the situation. If the food problem could make the diner sick, they’d take the food and discard it unless testing was warranted.
  • Finally, the person who prepared the plate could, regardless of the explanation, offer to replace the dish, or substitute it for something else.

Consider what each of those steps demonstrates or accomplishes in the diner’s mind.

Consider how they’d describe the event to others after this happened and compare it to “I found plastic in my food and all they did was comp my meal.”

Customer service pivot

In the startup world, a “pivot” is a strategic direction change made after customer feedback indicates your idea needs adjustment.

In customer service, the pivot is that little thing you do to transform what could be a customer-losing experience into one that almost guarantees they’ll be back.

Omaha! Omaha! Omaha!” – Who knows, but it can’t hurt”

Broncos Defense

Any number of claims will be made about this weekend’s Bronco victory in the AFC Championship game, but one stands out above the rest.

Sponsorship evaluation firm Front Row Analytics said the city of Omaha got its money worth with each verbal mention of Omaha worth the equivalent of $150,000 in advertising.

This claim, from an ESPN story about Manning’s calls during the game – each of which generated donations to Manning’s Peyback Foundation, ignores marketing reality and most likely determines the value of advertising based on conference championship football game advertising rates.

Problem is, that’s not what determines the value of advertising – though it can impact the price.

While the PR and donation campaign by the Omaha Chamber is pretty smart, don’t even think about believing the claim that “each verbal mention of Omaha is worth the equivalent of $150,000 worth of advertising”. In no universe is this claim going to hold water.

It’s quite clear that Omaha Steaks’ SVP Todd Simon understands the nature of this project – in this quote from the same ESPN story:

“This is really great for Omaha as a community and for the businesses that are embedded here,” said Todd Simon, a senior vice president of Omaha Steaks, which his family owns. “Who knows whether any of this will translate to the bottom line, if ever, but it can’t hurt.

The emphasis in the above sentence is mine.

Don’t get me wrong. This was a very intelligent project by the Omaha Chamber and they should be quite proud of what they pulled off. It’s particularly impressive to see them jump on it so quickly and get something fun, beneficial and PR-friendly organized after last week’s game against the Chargers, where Manning said “Omaha” 44 times.

It’s also a great example of the “Use the news” tactic that we’ve discussed repeatedly in the past.

“It can’t hurt”

If each of Manning’s 31 mentions of “Omaha” are worth $150k, then Front Row should be able to describe how Omaha can track those mentions to purchase / investment and related actions made as a result. Obviously, I don’t believe they can do this. They can certainly inquire at every sale made over the next few months, but this is unlikely to produce results that would provoke someone into additional advertising investments.

Small businesses should not be investing their marketing budget in “who knows…but it can’t hurt” advertising.

Every bit of your advertising spend can be tracked so that you know whether it worked or not. Don’t let it out the door if it isn’t trackable.

Everyone is someone’s hero

superhero wannabe

What if you could leap tall buildings, throw balls of fire or swing from webbing that shoots out of your wrist?

If you could, lots of people would think you were some sort of superhero. Thing is, a fair number of people probably feel that way already.

Maybe you can’t do any of those things, but I’ll bet you have this thing you do that’s amazing to people who know what you do.

Sadly, many of us take that special skill for granted. It doesn’t seem like something anyone would want because it’s easy for us. Yet for others who lack that skill or finesse at that task, it’s your superpower.

It’s the thing they wish you would do for them.

Why do we take it for granted?

We tend to take our superpower(s) for granted because we enjoy that particular work, it comes easy for us, it’s a natural talent that we appreciate, and/or because we like the benefits it provides, whether those benefits are direct and immediate or not. To us, it’s something that just happens.

When this work has to be done, we simply deal with it in that Mr. Miyagi-esque wax-on, wax-off way that others might see as magical. Even if it doesn’t look like magic to others, it almost certainly is something they want for their life or business.

For example, my most frequently used superpower is the ability to deliver clarity. I usually do this in the face of a substantial amount of uncertainty, noise and BS. I developed a knack for helping people discard all the trash and focus on what matters most or what’s ultimately causal in a situation and help someone move forward – and I do so without making them feel stupid.

The funny thing about this ability is that it took several people telling me that this was my “superpower” for me to really “get” it.

The point of this discussion is that your superpower might also be something you don’t recognize or don’t see as a superpower. Ask a few people you’ve worked with what they value most about what you do for them. You might get some surprising answers about things you aren’t really selling right now. Speaking of selling, don’t be surprised to find that these things are difficult to sell without some serious re-adjustment to your marketing/positioning.

For example: Welcome to Rescue Marketing, would you like to buy a box of Clarity? “Sorry, just looking.”

Watch out for Kryptonite

Remember Superman’s allergy to Kryptonite? The funny thing about superpowers is that they sometimes have the oddest weaknesses or exceptions.

You can’t get too cocky about them or you end up in the clinches of your business’ version of Lex Luthor. For mere mortals like you and I, this can manifest itself through a superpower that you can only use on others. While I can help someone else’s business with clarity with what seems like ease (sometimes it is, sometimes not), applying it to my own projects can be incredibly difficult. I often need an outside view – the same sort of thing I’m used to providing to others. Ironic perhaps, but we have to be very careful not to create a little world where everyone agrees with us, because that world doesn’t buy too much.

Hello trees, where’s the forest?

Outside views are valuable because we tend to be too close to our own projects. We fall madly in love with them, which keeps us from seeing their flaws, or that they make no sense at all.

Think back over your business life for a moment. Have you ever created a product or service that just fell flat in the marketplace, even though you felt it was incredibly useful? We forget to get real about customer development and do the hard work of talking with potential customers, showing them working prototypes, talking with them repeatedly rather than spending two years building our Taj Mahal, only to find that no one thinks they need it. Your superpower must be marketed with care.

What’s your superpower?

What’s yours? Does anyone know about it? Is it at the core of the stuff you do for others? How do you package it?

Some people keep their superpower to themselves. Almost seems a shame not to share it with the world.

I’d like to hear about yours.

How do you know which customers want to be an insider?

Coffee Cupping

This past weekend, I checked off two to-do- list items with one visit to @OnyxCoffeeLab.

First, I was looking for a good locally-owned place to sit, sip and write. A coffee shop.

Second, I was meeting with the founder of a @StartupWeekend-born startup to discuss how it would go forward.

It started off nicely enough with a chat with the baristas about the Northwest (one of them was from Pullman, WA), including some agreement that NWA’s current 18% gray winter sky is right out of a classic Northwest winter.

After some solo writing time, my meeting guy arrived. As we finished our discussion, a group of people entered together, filling the table’s remaining 10 seats. Soon after, the shop’s owner came over and started assembling a mass of small coffee cups, bottled water and other gear.

Turns out that a couple of hours earlier, I had settled into a seat at the Onyx Coffee Lab‘s cupping table.

Lean Customer Development

What I witnessed next was a nice session of customer development.

In addition to enjoying some new-to-me coffees, I watched as the owner exposed already-bought-in customers to new products that he’s considering for their product mix. None of the coffees we tasted are available for sale – the owner was still determining which ones he liked and presumably was using the reaction of this group to refine his opinion.

Later, I found out that the shop does cuppings (think “wine tasting” for coffee) almost every Saturday at 10 am. Sometimes they discuss different brew methods or other coffee geekery – always with a dual focus on education (building a better customer/spokesperson) and the coffee itself. This week, the education component included some help understanding how the coffee business grades coffees, ie: specialty vs run of the mill vs “not-so-specialty” coffee and how the various acids and sugars in the bean result in what we taste and feel when we have a cuppa Joe.

I didn’t discuss this with the owner after the cupping, but I suspect this was not only done in the interest of Lean Startup style customer development, but also to gather some feedback from those bought-in customers – presumably some of their biggest, best-engaged fans – as well as to build on their fanbase while pulling existing fans a bit closer.

I wish these sessions were on YouTube. They’d make a nice series for new fans to review as they choose their next “thirdplace“, much less for fans who missed a Saturday.

Oh yeah, the coffee

Coffee nerds, if you’re wondering what we tasted, we had:

  • Brazil Caturra
  • Burundi Bourbon (pronounced burr-bone, which has nothing to do with Jack Daniels)
  • Guatemala Geisha (no, nothing to do with Japanese bathhouses)
  • Ethiopian Heirloom (this one seemed to be the crowd favorite)

I preferred the last two, but I wonder if the order of their presentation provoked that result.

All in all, it was a great combination of StartupWeekend, coffee and the use of Lean Startup principles. Yet there’s one more lesson you can take from it.

In what position do they see you?

How can you can tweak and use this for your business? By understanding that a cuppings aren’t just about coffee, they’re about positioning.

  • The owner shares his coffee insight, education, expertise and knowledge with a group of customers who appear to be insiders. Almost everyone else in the shop is watching and listening intently since they don’t have a seat at the table (it’s first come, first serve). Some of them want a seat at the table.
  • The owner gets to meet with customers who have raised their hand to show they’re interested at a level beyond the customer norm. These folks will talk about the shop, its coffee, the cupping and anything else they felt was important. These people have other friends with common interests – including coffee. You know it’ll be discussed. In fact, you just read what I shared about it.
  • “Raising their hand” says “I care about, enjoy, have enthusiasm about coffee at a higher level than your average customer.” Just being a customer at a “coffee lab” shows a higher than typical interest in coffee. These guys go beyond that norm. Those are the customers for whom your positioning is most important. They are also the customers whose feedback you want.

How you can accomplish these things for your business?

Who accepts the risk of buying from you?

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Creative Commons License photo credit: Amanda Nicole Betley

If you don’t accept the risk and responsibility of a purchase, the customer automatically does.

How does that hurt your ability to get a product or service into the hands of someone who very much wants or needs it?

Consider these thought processes that might be going on in the mind of your prospective customer:

If I buy this and it doesn’t work out….I’m going to have to take the hit for this purchase decision from the big boss. I can’t take that risk because I’m due for a review next month and I really want a raise/a promotion/to keep my job.

If I buy this and it doesn’t work out…my spouse is going to blame me.

Are they going to take care of me when the bloom is off the rose (ie: after they have my money)?

Are you going to take the risk of explaining this purchase to my spouse if it goes south? Or am I still on the hook?

Or will you simply guarantee what you sell in a manner that eliminates risk as a concern in the buyer’s mind?

Sales are lost every day because the apparent risk is too high when compared with the trustworthiness of the salesperson, their company, the manufacturer backing the product, or the service provider.

While we signal that with little things that say and do, our guarantee and our history in backing it up goes a long way.

Who accepts the risk of buying from you?