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?

Indivisible

Coffee
Creative Commons License photo credit: Selma90

Howard Schultz is doing what few large corporate CEOs have done: Following up rhetoric with leadership, action and money.

While I prefer freshly-roasted beans from local roasters and rarely do Starbucks outside of airports, I will stop in this week in order to support this.

The post title? It’s inscribed on a wrist band you get if you donate $5 to the job creation fund the Starbucks Foundation started.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/10/03/us-starbucks-idUSTRE7921M320111003

 

Coffee: The new “Do you want fries with that?”

Mystical station
Creative Commons License photo credit: Jsome1

Anyone who has studied business or marketing for any period of time has looked at the impact that one sentence has had on McDonald’s.

It gets used in sales training every single day because almost everyone is familiar with that upsell. In some cases, it has become a punch line. The increment on each sales transaction was minor, but it adds up store-wide in a big hurry.

The “new black” in MickeyD upsells is moving people to a McCafe coffee drink. Bet on it to be HUGE financially for McDonald’s, even if it is primarily a get-it-and-go sale.

I suspect Ronald McDonald knows better than to think his stores are going to be the next “thirdplace”. Still, with a new upsell of $2.50 to $3.50 to their average transaction, there’s a big payoff.

Thirdplaces can relax, just a tiny little bit

I don’t expect it to hurt Starbucks and independent coffee shops all that much because they tend to be a thirdplace: a meeting place, an escape from the office, a hangout with friends, a place to meet clients and the like.

However, the new McCafe habit could easily impact the drive-up coffee kiosks that saturate street corners and unused parking lot areas nationwide – particularly if they don’t stand out with outstanding service and great coffee.

Having a good reason to drive past McDonald’s wouldn’t hurt their case.

For example, one of the coffee shops here stands out by having a cowgirl theme. The ladies in the kiosk dress like cowgirls (modern day, but still), their branding is Western cowgirl oriented and it flows nicely across their entire business – including their catering trailer. I know people who drive miles across town past 3 or 4 other kiosks just to get coffee from the cowgirl drive-ups.

That’s what standing out will do for you.

I was kidding about the relax thing. Relax? Are you nuts? 🙂

Starbucks just sells coffee.

Look closely at your business. Is there a complementary upsell that you can add to your line of products / services?

Maybe it won’t add 50% to an average transaction like a McCafe drink can, but you should still be looking for things that your customers SHOULD be buying when they buy what they came to the store to get.

Do you let them walk out the door with plywood or 2x4s without asking about nails, screws, liquid nails and other necessities?

Do you sell them a website without asking about other business services that complement their site?

I hear it coming: “Oh, but we just do websites.” Sure. And Starbucks just sells coffee.

If their website looks like it was built with Microsoft Front Page in 1995, it’s reasonable that other aspects of their business could use a refresh as well.

Chances are there will be all sorts of inconsistencies with their stationery, business cards, and in fact their entire marketing message. They may need other help as well. Once all this new stuff rolls out, will their sales staff need training? Will their delivery people or service staff need a reboot on how they do things? Probably.

The tough question: Are you selling them a pile of HTML and graphics or are you giving them the tools they need to take their business to the next level? No one wants to buy HTML. Everyone wants to buy the magic pill that transforms their business, even if that means buying HTML along with a few other things.

Even if you don’t want to, can’t or are not interested in doing those other things, you can always find someone you trust who *can* do them.

Save them from themselves

Remember, an upsell doesn’t have to be an extra. It might be what saves that customer an extra trip back to the store (or worse, to a competitor’s store). It might be what they REALLY TRULY NEED.

Save them money. Save them time. Make sure they have everything they need before they hit the road. I guarantee they’ll remember it if you start saving them return trips to the store, regardless of how much extra they spend during that first trip.

How to serve mail order coffee while wearing your e-commerce marketing hat

I ordered some coffee beans online the other day and received the box on Saturday. Or maybe Friday – dunno since I didn’t check the mail on Friday.

The box arrived in good condition and the beans were packed in their airtight bag with a nice spring-y colored tissue paper. So much nicer than those annoying statically charged packing peanuts that stick to everything.

Buddha dog
photo credit: SuperFantastic

Included in the box was a hand-written card from one of the owners of the coffee shop (no photo of the owner or the shop), and a business card (no photo). Nicely done, I thought, but what would make the purchase really memorable?

What would provoke me to tell a dozen friends about this package, and even to show it to them before tossing or reusing the packaging?

  • What can they do to make doing business with them unbelievable?
  • How can they truly make it an coffee shop experience – even by mail?
  • If Seth Godin ordered coffee beans from your shop – what would you have done differently, or what would you hope you would have done differently?

Here are a few ideas:

Tell me how fresh it is and why I should care: Include the roasted date on the package so I know that they put my coffee in the box on the same day it was roasted (or maybe the day before). When telling me the roasting date, remind me that coffee beans lose 25% of their flavor within 14 days – or whatever the number is – and note that store-bought coffee is often months old (and Starbucks is as well). Make it clear to me that their efforts to get me the freshest roast possible is so I and my friends and family have the best coffee we can buy – without spending 2 or 3 times what the grocery store charges.

Tell me how special it is: I know of one shop that includes a birth certificate with their Christmas-time Hawaiian Kona coffee package. A nice touch over the holidays, but it could easily be continued throughout the year. If it’s French Roast, tell me where the beans came from. Tell me where the farm is. If it’s Fair Trade coffee, make sure I know about it.

Show me what else I might like if I like French Roast: Next time I order coffee, I might be in an experimental mood. Or I might want something stronger, or different. Let me know what I might enjoy if I liked this one. Help me shop more wisely.

Show me what else I might do if I am “into coffee”: Perhaps I’m using bleached coffee filters. Maybe my water isn’t filtered. Maybe I toss the half-full bag in the fridge or in the freezer. Shouldn’t I get an owner’s manual for this bag of beans?

I mean, if I’m going to really enjoy them and get the same experience I would get if I was drinking my Joe in your shop, what would I do at home?

Help me find the things I’ll need if I really am a coffee geek, or want to be. After all, there is a reason why the coffee is so good at your shop – shouldn’t you help me make my coffee just as good at home with your beans?

Help me reorder: Until I establish a purchase history, this coffee place has to make a guess about how long it’ll take me to use this bag of beans. I’m guessing they can tell me to the cup how many cups of espresso I’ll get (give or take a couple) from a bag of beans ( I have no idea ).

If they guess that two people are drinking java in my house (an accurate guess) each day, then they’ll need to follow up in a certain number of days so that I never run out of their coffee. How many days should they wait before following up?

Roughly speaking, that’s (cups per bag) divided by (cups per day) minus a few days for shipping so that they have time to get me another bag before I run out and establish motivation to buy someone else’s coffee at the local grocery or coffee shop.

Rhode Island Cinnamon Latte
photo credit: Chris Owens

Adding to that reorder thing – help me get it automatically: If I like their coffee, give me a code or a special URL or phone number or an order form or email address or *something* to make it drop dead simple to order another bag, and include an option to start having them send me a bag so that fresh beans or ground coffee automatically arrive every X days or weeks.

Help me tell a friend about this great coffee and the package and so on: Include a card, something with a bonus-for-a-friend URL, some other doohickey, or a 1 pot sample bag of ground coffee (just in case they don’t have a grinder) or something to give to a friend. If I’m a coffee geek, chances are that I know other coffee geeks – the same kind of people who appreciate the same kinds of things.

Remind me to reorder: Follow up with me in a week or two and make sure the beans are as good as I expected. Remind me how I can get them again and make it as easy as possible. Don’t make me work to get another bag.

Make me feel like I’m part of your gang and do it in a way that’s viral: Include a cleverly logo’d coffee cup in the package for their first order. Remember, it isn’t about getting the order, it’s about gaining a new client. You want people to ask your client about that cup they’re using, so be sure it’s cool enough that they can’t help but use it. Make sure they know that the first order ships free if they mention they saw the cup.

Of course, this discussion could easily be modified for imported bamboo plants, boudin, motivational CDs, workout DVDs, t-shirts, barbeque sauce, gourmet chocolates or anything you are selling online and over the phone.

For more ideas and motivation for your mail order business, order a CD from CDBaby.com and see how they make every aspect of the purchase interesting and fun, even the order confirmation emails.