Single Origin Shots

Selling Value.

The phrase “selling specialty coffee” is often used interchangeably with “being in the wholesale coffee business”.  Clearly there is a difference. One that sells specialty coffee sells a value, supports a lifestyle, and improves lives. Whereas others, well they simply offer a commodity based on price, and technically, that’s not selling and it’s best saved for soft drink salespeople.

Let’s start with the coffee; What is “specialty coffee”? Here are some of the most comprehensive explanations I have come across written by SCAA Executive Director Ric Rinehart.

The term “specialty coffee” refers to the highest-quality green coffee beans roasted to their greatest flavor potential by true craftspeople and then properly brewed to well-established standards. Specialty coffee is not defined by a brewing method, such as the use of an espresso machine.

•The definition of specialty coffee begins at the origin of coffee, the planting of a particular varietal into a particular growing region of the world. But the definition cannot stop there. The concept of specialty includes the care given to the plant through harvest and preparation for export.

•Specialty coffee in the green bean phase can be defined as a coffee that has no defects and has a distinctive character in the cup. It is not only that the coffee doesn’t taste bad; to be considered specialty it must be notably good.

•The next phase is roasting, and there is a lot of opportunity here to continually define specialty. Every coffee in combination with every roaster has a potential to express itself in a way that will be most satisfying for every customer. Bringing out a coffee’s distinctive character is the roast master’s challenge. If he comes close to succeeding then it is still specialty if it started out in the green form as specialty.

•In roasted coffee; most agree that freshness is a part of the definition for specialty. If the coffee is not highly aromatic then it no longer deserves to be called “specialty.”

•Then there is the brewing phase. There are many different methods, and all are capable of brewing beverages that can qualify as specialty coffee, but only if done correctly. The right ratio of coffee to water, the right grind suited to the method and the coffee’s physical characteristics, the proper water temperature and contact time, a good preparation of the coffee” bed” or “cake” are all fundamentals that must be satisfied to produce a specialty cup of coffee.

•Specialty coffee is, in the end, defined in the cup. It takes many steps to deliver that cup into the customers’ hands. Each of those steps can uphold the classification of specialty if quality has been maintained throughout all the preceding steps.


Specialty Coffee is an affordable luxury; it should be sold on value, not price.

Armed with the above information are you really in the “specialty coffee” business? Does your company’s unique value proposition (UVP) embrace these elements? Here’s why, a unique value proposition differentiates your company from your competitors.  It should match a need for your target demographic, and be easily communicated in 30 seconds or less.

There is no shortage of specialty coffee roasters adhering to the above criteria, possibly with their own UVP that differentiates them from you. What’s left is value. Selling on value is perhaps the single most difficult concept to execute in the industry.  Value translates into impact, what is the impact on the customers own business by buying from you? The challenge is to continually educate while building relationships so the cost benefit analysis (CBA) works in favor of value over price.

How do you know for sure? The foundation should be laid while performing demographic studies in the early stages of your company. Let’s say that you have chosen to focus solely on coffee shops those whose success relies on the coffee and support offered by their roaster/ partner. Then there is a good chance that you probably won’t find yourself calling on a retirement home. So, once you have successfully navigated the gatekeepers and find yourself in front of potential new account’s decision maker think about the following.

Let them tell you what they perceive as value right from the start, ask about their business, allow them to tell you they’re proud of it. Don’t interrupt, simply listen and summarize the situation. Listen for key words that emphasize what they are pleased with and where their opportunities lie. This is where your UVP comes in to play, tell them how you can add value to their business where they need it most. If you listened and are in front of an account that matches your target, it will feel right, for both you and the potential customer. This gives the potential new account reason to see value in aligning with you. From here it’s a lot like knowing when to kiss your date, timing is everything-ask for the sale, and close.

Recently many of us attended the largest family reunion on the planet, the SCAA expo. I say that, tongue in cheek, we must recognize the intrinsic value of strengthening relationships however; we still have to pursue new business. Aligned with the above-mentioned approach to on site calls, the trade show’s UVP is that they bring potential customers to you. One could easily argue tradeshows are the single most expensive choice of marketing. I suggest, they don’t have to be, if done correctly, I know from personal experience the statistics can work in your favor.

For starters, too many times I have seen roasters create “entitlements” within an organization, which sums up to an incredibly large chunk of staff attending, with little or no measurables. Given the economic costs of taking them away from your business but more importantly, everyone who goes, must do so with a clearly defined mission. Some staff are attending for educational enhancement, others for competitions, and of course the sales element, the key to the CBA, the first two being measured intrinsically, and the later having numbers in front of them, sales goals.

Set goals not for leads, but rather qualified leads. The cost of shipping out $20.00 worth of samples to 8,000 people will not likely contribute to a positive return on investment (ROI). Be smart more time planning than exhibiting is always time well spent. Send out invitations to potential new customers, something that always worked for me was the SCAA new member list. A simple self-introduction communication welcoming newcomers to the industry accompanied by some type of incentive to come visit you there. The trade show industry reports that trade show attendees were 75% more likely to award loyalty points to the sender before attending.

Training those working your booth is imperative. Not to drag corporate philosophy into this, but some structure here will also improve your batting average. Consumer behavior studies tell us that as the UVP is your 30-second “commercial”, your booth must communicate your UVP in the same 30 seconds as attendees pass by. In short, attendees have to know who you are, what you are and how you do it in 30 seconds while bouncing off other attendees in some cases. One more note about the look and feel of your booth, keep personal effects out of site. Okay, enough said. …

Sale staff, the rest is up to you once again. Mathematically, it’s basically fishing over 2 or 3 days. How do you know which ones to snag at the risk of wasting time you could spend on a trophy (buyer)? Once again a thought process similar to on site selling , summarize with leading questions. Who are they with, what is their niche, what is their role with the company..?  Chances are they one of the following; enthusiast, product user (Barista, and potential future client), or owner/ manger.  Not one of those three can truly be a waste of time, however distribute your time accordingly.  Identify opportunities as you listen for variations of two trigger words “price” or “quality”.  If it sounds like price is most important to them, know when to bow out gracefully. You can try to “convert” them, as all the other potentially bigger fish swim by or simply put something in their hand before they leave, a latte, business card, glow stick, whatever. And finally, always huddle for 10 minutes to discuss leads and apply them to goals in terms of numbers while everyone else is rushing out to “strengthen relationships” and rehydrate.


Vertical penetration through reinforcement of value.

Sorry for sounding corporate but the basics of consumer behavior withstand the test of time. What it means is once you have been successful with one of the two approaches described above, or any other assortment of new account landing, you must continue to supply them with value that makes impact. Obviously there is some degree of brand loyalty in place as your value proposition appealed to them enough to see a positive impact on their business working with you. So now, you have to continue to deliver impact. The truth is, they want their store to emulate your store if you have one, or that of another successful client of yours. This is when extending your educational artillery to them, through jams, cuppings, customer service trainings, throw downs or hoe downs, you get the picture. That’s all just to maintain, doesn’t mean guaranteed retention. Enter, cutting edge trending information and practices Chemex, TruBru, Bodum and the likes have done the engineering, your job is to train the pilots. Show them how to prepare alternative brewing methods with more preciseness and confidence than their competitors.

Bring them “programs” which include them in your own purchases of Cup of Excellence coffees and the likes. It’s relationship-building 101 and remember you sold on value, regardless of price talk about profit.  Present simple one sheet bullet point menus and suggested pricing to improve their execution of the program thus improving the odds of impact.  Continue to create points of difference for both yourself and your customers, always putting you both out in front.

Immediately after leaving Anaheim, I spent the next two weeks with a client in Greece. If you think for a minute about anything you may have read or heard about their economy, it’s probably true. And much like our own recently it’s probably going to get much worse there before any signs of improvement. One of the most trying and ambitious projects we have taken on to date is there. A visionary contacted me and wanted to “convert Greece to specialty” a couple of years ago. Granted changing a culture is lengthy task and takes generations, but small movements of the needle are not without notice. The market was built on price, beginning oh.. around 2500 years ago, and slowly but surely the culture is changing, value is bringing change in the worst of economic times, value is recession proof.

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