The BD Barista: Turning lattes into leads

Two years ago, I started my new career as our company’s BD Barista. That might not seem like a whole lot but it was actually one of my better moves if I may say so myself.

Basically, the BD barista is the guy who makes the coffee and does BD at the same time. The success behind this conference act can be easily explained if you think about:

  1. People love coffee

  2. Conference coffee is usually shit

  3. People will come to you for your good coffee

  4. People will talk to you to get your good coffee

Quod erat demonstrandum!
So yeah, that's me!

The major benefit of being the barista yourself instead of a hired hand, is that you get to talk to everyone who is coming by for coffee. All too often, you see BD folk just giving out goodies just like that without any conversation or whatsoever; that’s wasting money.

For some reason, people don’t expect the barista to understand their business which puts you at an advantage as well because they tend to be less concerned about sharing their problems.

Making someone a latte should take you anywhere between 60 and 90 seconds, so make the best of this time. I use it to:

  • introduce our company and myself

  • ask about their challenges

  • convince them to participate in a raffle

  • exchange business cards and create commitment for follow-up

When’s the last time you shared one or multiple of these with 400 prospects in one day?

There’s more to it than just renting a coffee machine and waiting for magic to happen though. Here are the things you want to consider:

1. Organization and costs

This is something you will want to plan well ahead because you have to find a suitable local vendor willing to rent it, convince the conference organization to let you do, and get permission from the conference center itself (sometimes they charge fees).

Try to determine for yourself where you’d like to do this because you can’t be everywhere. Personally, I feel larger conferences are best for this because people are walking around a lot and if there’s a limited amount of professionals, you won’t be able to maximize the potential. So try to aim for 2000+ conferences.

All together this little strategy will cost you somewhere between 1000 and 1500 euros. Which is totally worth every cent. This usually includes the bean, milk, standard cups, milk/sugar, and rent.

The coffee, the cup, the sweet It all needs to be good.

2. The coffee

This means good beans and it also means that you need to have someone on board who knows his or her way around a professional coffee machine. Your menu should include at least (double) espresso, latte macchiato, capuccino, cortado, and that hip new flat white.

3. The cup

Coffee goes into a cup and this cup is your means of spreading free advertising throughout the exhibit floor. Imagine you give away 400 coffees (which is very realistic at larger conferences) and all these people walk around with your cups as little billboards. They’ll put the cups on tables everywhere because no one actually uses bins at conferences.

Subsequently, leaving all those who surround the cup wondering where they themselves might find this wonderful black brew. And they will find you, don't worry about that.

4. The sweet

Consider this your finishing touch because you’ll really hit the sweet spot (pun intended) with some of your visitors. They’ll be all like: What? A flat white and a stroopwafel? You guys are awesome.

What to take? Anything valued above the standard issue mint. Just take some chocolaty stuff along, or cookies, or you can make some customized M&Ms. Something original from your country is also fun, whatever you feel comfortable with.

5. Authenticity

If you’re going to try this, please don’t take along just any regular coffee machine, put it on a table, and think everything will be ok. So far, I’ve received very positive reactions on rented piaggios that have a rustic Italian-like look and feel that make people want to talk about it or ask some questions.

I’ve literally stood next to another exhibitor with fancy automated machinery that’s able to generate much more coffee than I do. But guess where the line was.

Keep in mind that these little piaggios are not so little when you have to cram them into a 3x2 m spot. So, try to get a slightly larger booth if that’s possible or talk to the organization about being on a corner spot or something.

6. Your colleagues

If you’re playing your cards right, there should be a line occurring some of the time. Don’t worry about it because people are well aware that they have to wait a bit and chat to you in exchange for their drink. Sometimes, it’s even good to slow down and generate a line for a bit to create a sense of value for passers by. Think about it. People are waiting for something so there must be something good.

In any case, instructions for your colleagues should be clear:

  • chat up people in the line

  • be available when you want to introduce someone

These instructions are pivotal to the success of the barista act because of the simple fact that you can’t walk away from the coffee machine all the time. This will annoy people. If there was ever a time for teamwork, flexibility, and quick thinking, this is it. So make sure to have a team in place which can process prospects, leads or whatever at the speed of light.

7. The barista

Re-reading my own story above I feel it comes across as easy, but be assured that it’s not for everyone. Besides being ok with actually burning your hands every now and then and getting a bit dirty, whoever you pick as the barista should be able to:

  • talk convincingly and knowledgeable about your company

  • socialize with a diverse crowd

  • identify their customers quickly

  • ask the right questions to determine challenges

  • make a hell of a latte

Or you can give me a call / send me a message and I will do it for you. Success guaranteed because I love doing it.