On sales: What I learned serving coffee at a conference

This weekend I’m at a conference in Seattle where I’m part of a group sponsoring free coffee for everyone in attendance. I poured and served up hundreds of cups of coffee.

Here’s a few things I noticed:

  • When people want what you have they will come to you. They will ask others how to find you and they will seek you out. Whether they have to follow the clues or their noses they will do what they have to in order to find you and your offering.

  • Sometimes features don't matter. The coffee we served wasn't craft coffee. It wasn't brewed by a hipster barista with a chemex and a bean grinder. It wasn't brewed and kept at the perfect temperature. It wasn't even starbucks. But people wanted it anyway.

  • A simple hello and a “how are you doing” can go a long way. Most people just want a personal connection. There could be competitors all over the place, but if you make customers comfortable with you, they’ll choose you over others every time. I'd ask simple questions like "what are you looking forward to," and "how is your day going so far," just to get people talking. Then you use context clues from their answer to ask more questions and move the conversation forward.

  • Direct eye contact is uncommon. Make strong eye contact and hold it with confidence. Repeat peoples’ names back to them. Make them feel seen. It matters. If people walk away from you with more energy than when the conversation started, they'll remember how you made them feel. That's attractive.

  • You can make them want what you have. Sometimes people want what you have, but they’re on the fence. Invite them into it with you. Grab their attention, bring them in and close the deal. "Need some coffee?" That simple invitation landed at least 100 people who were otherwise going to walk right past the coffee station. I invited them in, made it personal, and closed them with a hot cup.

I don't know much about sales, but every experience is helpful. While giving out coffee isn't nearly the same as closing a 6-figure deal, every bit of learning moves you forward. I'm grateful for those compounding experiences.