Meeting & Greeting: A Q&A with Mike Ebert

If you’ve ever met Mike Ebert, sales representative for Alterra Coffee, then you know why he’s the man to talk to when it comes to meeting and greeting customers. Whether he’s working the farmers’ markets, giving consumers a bit of talk-education, or creating long-term partnerships, Ebert understands the importance of making connections on a person-to-person basis.

Along those lines, we asked him if we could pick his brain to glean some of his consumer comprehension and, delightfully, he said yes.

Chronicle: Can you tell us a little bit about all the ways in which you connect with consumers in general and your customers in particular?

Mike Ebert: It’s all about focusing on the quality of our coffee, and carrying that through with quality preparation of all coffee drinks. That serves two functions. One, it helps me qualify potential customers and two, it shows them we are a very serious coffee company.
Typically, the relationship with the owner or manager starts with a coffee tasting, utilizing various manual brew methods. I continue this with their consumers, being on-hand as they open or as they make a switch to us. I’ll set up a table with various brewing methods, including Chemex, French presses, drippers and the Aero-press, and just go to town. This proves enlightening for the consumers, as well as the staff.

Chronicle: Have you always used this method or is this something new?

Mike Ebert: Most of them are new, but developing all the time. I am fairly new to the sales realm, since spent most of my career buying and roasting coffee. In truth, I prefer not to be the “sales guy,” but to be the coffee expert. But let me be clear: I do not try and be the all- knowing source of everything. Our company has many, many talented coffee people— service, trainers, etc. I try and focus on showing my customers (and their customers) great coffee and then connecting them to the people who can help make it happen.

Chronicle: Is it about teaching, connecting, selling, a little of all of that, or something entirely different?

Mike Ebert:  It’s all about education – period, end of story. Our coffee is not the cheapest out there; we compete at a very high level within the industry. The process of qualifying accounts is key to our success. They need to understand what we do, but more importantly, they have to have the necessary knowledge that will allow them to deliver high-quality coffee, thus continuing the chain.
Through education, it very quickly becomes apparent as to who is a good fit and who is not. More often than not, a potential customer is not ready for us at they time we first meet them, but after a few months (or longer), they find that what we discussed “haunts” them as they look for ways to differentiate themselves and survive in the marketplace. They then contact me and start the process of raising their game.

Chronicle: What are the benefits for your business of this kind of customer interaction?

Mike Ebert: The development of true partners, not just customers. People who understand what we do, embrace all we have to offer and constantly challenge themselves to get better. These turn out to be our best customers.

Chronicle: What about the benefits for consumers?

Mike Ebert: Success, put simply. These are tough times, and if a café wants to just be mediocre in a sea of coffee offerings, the big boys will win every time. People love the big chains for one simple reason: they know what they will get time after time. If our customers can offer beverages of even higher quality, consistently, time after time, it’s a recipe for success.

Chronicle: What is another company doing in this regard that you think is awesome and that you want to steal for your own? Who are they and what are they doing that’s working so well?

Mike Ebert: I really like what Counter Culture does in regards to training the end consumer with their weekly open cuppings and their multiple training facilities across the eastern part of the country. It seems to be key to their success, and something we believe in. We offer the some of the same things, and are offering more and more consumer events all the time.

Chronicle: What tips do you have for coffee businesses that are attempting to do more in the way of connecting with consumers? How should they get started?

Mike Ebert: Very simple – get together over a cup of perfectly prepared coffee. For if there isn’t a connection after that, there will probably never be.

Chronicle: What, for you, has been the best reward of what you’re doing in this regard?

Mike Ebert: Simply the chance to brew great coffee, for many people, all the time.

Mike Ebert works for Alterra Coffee Roasters, out of Milwaukee, and is focused on bringing the “Alterran” way to the greater Chicago area. He loves all things made with deep passion and a high respect to all those individuals & environment involved in the process; be it food, drink, or music. With 24 years of experience in specialty coffee, he has developed working relationships with colleagues throughout the industry.