Making an Emotional Connection with Cannabis Customers and Creating Safe Edibles – Maureen McNamara

Maureen McNamara

In this interview Maureen McNamara of CannabisTrainers.com helps us understand how cannabis business owners can make a connection with their customers, so customers stay loyal. Maureen also shares some best practices on creating edibles in the kitchen.

Don’t miss Maureen’s invaluable suggestions about making your cannabis business stand out.

*Guess What? You could be listening to this interview on your commute. Get the free podcast for your iPhone or Android Device*

Read Full Transcript

Matthew: Hi, I’m Matthew Kind. Each week I’ll take you behind the scenes to interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly evolving legal marijuana industry. Learn more at www.cannainsider.com. That’s www.cannainsider.com. What are the five disruptive trends that will shape the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with your free report at www.cannainsider.com/trends. That’s www.cannainsider.com/trends. Now here’s your program. Many cannabis businesses have invested in compliance training for their employees, but after that is done how do they go to the next step and ensure employees have meaningful customer interactions. We’re going to find out the answer to that question today with Maureen McNamara from Cannabis Trainers. Welcome Maureen.

Maureen: Hello, pleasure to be with you.

Matthew: Maureen, for people to get a better understanding of where you are in the world, can you tell us where you are?

Maureen: Yes, I am in Denver, Colorado.

Matthew: Okay, and how did you get started in the cannabis arena?

Maureen: It was interesting. It was almost accidental. I teach classes, I’ve been teaching classes for, oh my gosh, training’s been my focus for about 20 years. And last year… in the beginning of every class I introduce myself and I get a feel for who’s in the room, where do they work, what are they doing in the world. And I had about 13 months ago, I had some folks in my class that make edibles, and I stopped in my track. This is the first time anyone who had come to one of my certification classes that worked in the cannabis industry, and I was fascinated, and I kept referring back to how what I was teaching would be applicable to their business. And from there it just started to grow. Month after month I had more and more people coming and then seeing the opportunity and the need to provide to the industry, I created a new company called Cannabis Trainers.

Matthew: And what does Cannabis Trainers offer?

Maureen: Our top two programs, definitely about responsibility, knowledge, compliance and we offer those classes to owners, managers, cannabis consultants, really anybody in the industry. Our top two programs, one is about food safety and the other is about responsible selling.

Matthew: Okay. Can you go into a little bit about what each one of those is, the food safety and responsible selling?

Maureen: My pleasure, sure. Sure. So the food safety class that I teach, it sounds pretty boring, dry cracker. But it is one of those foundational elements that they need and in fact, Matthew, here in Colorado it’s a requirement for recreational adult use marijuana edible infusers to be trained in food safety. And I think that’s a really positive move. And it will likely, as more and more states become cannabis friendly, that that will probably be a requirement within other states as well. But the food safety class I teach, I have been teaching it for 18 years and I’ve certified probably over 10,000 people, and what’s interesting and that I’m loving is customizing that for the cannabis industry. So it’s based on the model food code and all of the basic elements to food safety, but then I bring in the cannabis twist to all the different parts from receiving to cooking to infusing, all of those elements. And I think it’s widely and hugely impactful.

There’s some crazy statistics out there. Well I think they’re a bit crazy. They’re not crazy, they’re real. They’re real statistics from the CDC. The Center for Disease Control says that just in the United States about 58 million people get sick every year because of food borne illness. So that’s a huge one.

Matthew: That is huge.

Maureen: If we could see all your listeners as raise your hand if you’ve had a food borne illness, it is unpleasant.

Matthew: Yes it ruins your weekend for sure.

Maureen: It will ruin a couple of days. It’s not good. And I applaud the team that put together the rules here in Colorado by making that mandatory, part of the regulations. And I think it shows a commitment to safety and compliance and certainly with cannabis and cannabis edibles. Part of the population consuming that are medical patients. And people at most risk of food borne illness are people that already have a compromised immune system. So I know because the clients that have been coming to my classes are committed to creating a product and medicine that does good in the world, not that’s going to create all the symptoms of food borne illness that we shall not speak to right now.

Matthew: Yeah right. So if I have a cannabis related business or maybe an edibles business and I want to get up to speed with compliance, what’s the best way to do it from like a holistic standpoint? I want to build it into my business, not just have it as an add-on that kind of gets duct taped on.

Maureen: That’s a great way to say it because I find compliance to be a foundational element, shall never be duct taped. And honestly, Matthew, it’s one of those things where get a gallon of coffee, a comfortable place, maybe even some reading glasses because you’re going to be at it for a long time. And really read through the rules, read them. Read them from front to back, and I have done that several times, and feel free to take frequent breaks. But it is interesting and I think that’s the most comprehensive way to jump in is read the rules and then you will be likely, unless you have a strong legal background, a bit confused. And that’s where I come in. I have found it part of my job to read the rules, read them again, read them thrice and then create it in a way that’s digestible and easy to understand, easier to understand. But really that’s the place to get up to speed with compliance is to go front to back on them, and then make your list of questions and talk to an attorney, a client, a coworker, somebody else that can say how do you interpret this. And that’s something I’ve found really interesting. As I read through the rules and regulations to ensure I’m sharing with people how to be most compliant. There is room through interpretation. So I have a working relationship with the enforcement folk, and I call them often with questions.

Matthew: So you have this food safety course and now it’s kind of evolved into edibles. Is there some big differences there as far as food safety and edibles? It’s probably, is it the food safety plus so you’re doing everything you were doing at food safety and then adding specifics for the edibles people?

Maureen: That’s right. The food safety program I facilitate is already a well-established, five learning people already trained course that’s based on elements of the food code. Not based on elements, it is based on the entire food code. Now what’s different, at least in Colorado and that I’m aware of in other states, no one yet is making cannabis infused edibles with highly risky foods. I think I know business, now going to be a crazy example, here we go. Cannabis infused chicken, cannabis infused burgers.

Matthew: Foie Gras

Maureen: These are the things I am grateful for here and now in this moment don’t yet exist, although I’ve just inspired somebody to go create that. Good luck. Why I say that is because there are potentially hazardous foods and certain high risk foods, and most of our protein items are high risk foods. So your classic restaurant works with a lot of potentially hazardous foods. Where our cannabis infused edibles are generally more baked goods and chocolates and lozenges and candies and things like that. There isn’t an across the board, those are all safe, yet they’re typically safer. There’s a lot of science that goes into determining which foods are actually potentially hazardous; water activity, ph level, etcetera, etcetera. But typically I’d like put air quotes around that, most edibles are… look at your classic cookie. You can have your cookie, non-medicated cookie just on your shelf. It doesn’t require refrigeration. So when I’m leading these food safety trainings it is about customizing the conversation to their specific needs from certainly receiving food safely, who they’re purchasing from and how to receive trim or flower, what to look for. How to make sure we’re starting with the highest quality ingredients so that we’re assured that we’re creating the highest quality and safe edibles. And I know that the word safe has many meanings when we’re talking about cannabis from a food safety prospective, from a concentration prospective, all of that.

Matthew: So there is people that have experience in baking and creating edibles and infused products, and then they have this experience and then they come to your class. Is there any light bulbs that go off where they say oh my god I was doing X, Y or Z and that was really put me at risk.

Maureen: I love when experienced people come to my program. It delights me because I really… I facilitate in a way that it’s really pulling on all of my participants’ wisdom, savvy, street smarts. I call them stories from the streets as well. And so I really love when there are well-educated, everybody comes in with knowing elements. And I believe and in fact I ask in most classes what did you learn that you didn’t know before, and everybody hand… every hand goes up and like I poll on some of those details. I would say the biggest opportunity, and this isn’t the cannabis industry, this is anybody making, working with food is the basic, this is something we started learning decades ago, it’s personal hygiene. And it’s amazing. In fact I will throw down a challenge to your listeners to how long do we have to wash our hands, and there’s actually details about that in the food code, and it’s 20 seconds. And I would say most people, and I’m an observer of this when I’m out there in the world, wash their hands for about 5 seconds or less if they do at all.

Matthew: It’s the Happy Birthday song right?

Maureen: It’s Happy Birthday twice, you know the deal. You know the scoop. So this is the number one way to keep ourselves healthy so that we never miss a day of work, a day of fun, whatever it may be is our own frequent, proper, thorough hand washing. And so almost every class I meet people are like yeah, I could correct and coach my team to do that better, more frequently, more thoroughly. And then we talk about details with glove use, and there are some guidelines around that so that we’re making sure we’re making safe product. It’s been wonderful. I would say I’ve trained a lot of people in food safety and a lot of cannabis focused people as well, and they’re already doing a lot of this really well and that’s good to see.

Matthew: Now what is reliable vendor training? Can you explain what that is and also tell us if that’s required?

Maureen: It is the other of the top two programs that we offer. And it’s a class that I love, and I’ve actually been leading its sister version for restaurants and hotels, safe alcohol service for 18 years. And so I transformed and created a program called Sell Smart, and it is the responsible cannabis vendor training. And it really digs into the details of at point of sale for cannabis consultants, managers, owners, and it goes into security at an establishment, at a dispensary, all the laws and regulations that really pertain to the selling process. Details of checking IDs, how to handle tricky situations and our final chapter is a hugely important one, How to Educate Consumers or Patients to Consume Responsibly and Safely. And it’s interesting about it being required. In Colorado it’s a voluntary program and it is called the Responsible Vendor Act. And if people get their team trained and then every new employee is trained within 90 days, they are then designated and considered a responsible vendor. And it is a voluntary program and I look forward to seeing, as the years go on, what other states will choose. In Colorado it’s voluntary. It’s interesting, I would put a guess out there. Am I allowed to make guesses and predictions?

Matthew: Sure absolutely.

Maureen: Is that I’m seeing that many of the enforcement divisions in each state are linked or cousin/sisters of the liquor enforcement divisions. And I have a hunch that when alcohol training has been required in states, those states will also mandate/require safe cannabis selling training as well. But this really varies state to state.

Matthew: Okay. Now switching gears to leadership. In addition to some of the services you offer, you offer leadership coaching. Is leadership something that can be taught?

Maureen: I do believe so.

Matthew: Okay.

Maureen: We have probably crossed paths with people that seem natural leaders. They seem to do it easily, effortlessly. It reminds me of being in yoga. There are people in my yoga class, I’m like whoa, you are so bendy and flexible and you can do that with great ease and I admire that. And then there’s other people in yoga like me that really need to work with positions, but it does get easier and it becomes more fluid. And I think that’s similar to there are natural talents and skills of leadership, and they are skills. So when we practice or get coaching on how to coach, how to lead, how to communicate, those skills strengthen and can transform. And so I do believe there’s a blend, but somebody that would claim, ugh, I’m just a horrible leader; I don’t buy it. I believe that if you desire to create changes, you can learn the skills, practice, practice, practice the skills and create a shift.

Matthew: Do you have an example of somebody that really took to the leadership training and came out of their shell and went with it?

Maureen: I do. I did some work with an organization, a nonprofit organization that works primarily with at-risk women and providing them food cooking, restaurant skills and things like that. And I was honored and thrilled to be able to work with this group. We did a five week series really blended of communication and leadership and to see the shift from session one to session five was powerful. And these are… these were people that really wanted to create changes in their life circumstance and likely hadn’t taken, you know, the Dale Carnegie course or leadership skill or a Red Books, etcetera. And so the shift that I witnessed was powerful. And one of the things, sometimes it’s just the simple things that really can create those changes. And one of them was on how to give feedback powerfully. So many of these men and women in the program would need to tell people how to do things better or differently and that always wasn’t so well received. So to give correction in a way where it can actually be heard and then skills change and develop was one of the most powerful things I saw them able to do.

Matthew: So some soft skills that people can work on right now, you know, eye contact, tone of voice, body language, can you tell us a little bit about those things?

Maureen: Well I do believe those are a foundational element to powerful communication, connecting leadership and really moving forward. And I would say consider those… I know we call them more soft skills, and they are transcendent between a colleague, a team, a customer, a patient, all of us, and find them so hugely important because they really are those foundational elements to success. And they create an environment of respect, professionalism, loyalty, and again that could be for my teammates, my colleagues or my clients. And the other thing that I think is really helpful about being a good communicator is that if something goes wrong, it’s just way easier to recover. I teach a class called “Calming the Cranky.” And all of us, we’ve had stuff go wrong in our business or not go quite the way we desired. I’m dreaming of a quote here and I forget who said it. A good recovery can be better than if nothing went wrong in the first place. A great recovery could be better for the customer interaction if nothing went wrong in the first place.

Matthew: That’s a great quote because you really get to see how a person responds under stress.

Maureen: Indeed, and if we have already created that respectful, professional, loyal foundation again with one of our clients, customers, patients or with our internal team, it’s simply easier to overcome or dissolve any of those tricky situations.

Matthew: Now one of the themes of this show is that at some point supply and demand are going to even and cannabis is not going to be this green gold in essence. There’s going to be more competition. It’s more commoditized, and dispensary owners and managers will have to stand out in a certain way. And some of the things you’re talking about like some of the soft skills, and I can even tell when we’re talking you weave in my name as we talk over and over again. And not everybody does that, and I can imagine that someone that’s a bud tender that listens to their customer, you know, says their name once or twice throughout the conversation shows that they’re listening and what customer is saying is being understood. These are huge advantages. Can you tell us some other ways that dispensary owners can do things to stand out so that customers come to their dispensary over and over.

Maureen: I am so grateful that you pointed that out, and I think that using names is a major way to show that person that they are important, that you are connecting to them and if we were going to poll your listeners again, right, now set aside whoever’s had a food borne illness. My next question for everybody is who listening is excellent at remembering or using names. My hunch is the majority of people are like, uh, not me, not me, sometimes I need to look at my own driver’s license to figure out names. So it’s a skill that is powerful to create connection. And I have a couple of tips especially for cannabis consultants, bud tenders is that one of the, let’s see, one of the skills that I encourage and invite people to do when they’re in Sell Smart class is to not only check that person’s identification at the door, but to keep that ID visible and available throughout the selling process and to check it again for sure as the sale is complete in that element. And with that, for those of us that think we’re not good at remembering names, good, don’t. You don’t need to remember it, just look at the ID. It’s really easy. It still creates that connection. So overall the question, I think, imposes how do we stand out. How do we stand out in this industry. And other industries might say location, location, location. It’s the three legged stool, location. I would say quality, compliance and connection. First of all with compliance, if we’re not being compliant, you know, good luck. That calls for shutdown, investment money gone, etcetera, etcetera. So please always play compliantly. I say whatever the rules are do that and add a little bit of extra rule in there. But the way I think we really begin to stand out is how connected we are, how caring, compassionate and creating that connection. As humans we desire to feel seen and heard, respected, honored and so much of that is in the high quality guest service, customer service, patient service skills. And I think you mentioned one of the most basic, yet helpful in creating that connection is really being attentive and in that attention using people’s names, making them feel heard and honored. And one of the things I’ve done several secret shops when I go in and visit and see how are the bud tenders doing and what’s my experience. And one of the things I really liked in creating that connection is staying ahead of the game and standing out in the competition. What if everybody has high quality flower and high quality edibles, but what’s the differentiator from there. And this cannabis consultant said, ladies I really hope you have a good experience like this, please come back next week. Let me know what your experience was and then I will be able to help direct you to your next purchase. And I loved it, and she was the only one out of the shopping that I had done that did that. One, comeback, ask for me. Let me know what your experience was, I will help guide you in your next experience. And there’s so many things about that that are great and inviting and it’s assuming of course I’m going to see you again. I have more products so you might as well do it with me, and I will guide. Like all of that is really powerful.

Matthew: A little bit of subtle power of suggestion in there.

Maureen: I know you’re going to have a fabulous experience and you’ll want more. Let me guide you.

Matthew: It’s so funny that we’re talking about these things. I did a poll recently and I asked everybody I knew almost in the cannabis industry, you know, who’s the best bud tender, what’s the best dispensary. And it’s so funny to hear the things come up over and over again. You know, and it’s the connection that you’re talking about. That’s what people go back for. I even heard things like, sometimes they even run out or they apologized even for those dispensary’s mistakes because the connection was so strong.

Maureen: That’s right. Those soft skills that you and I spoke to moments ago really help create that. And again if a ball gets dropped, when people feel respected, honored, appreciated, the ball is more of a bounce, right. It’s not going to shatter. So that is an important element to that. I also had another interaction that was a stand out experience. And I’m also very aware. When I go into purchas cannabis I’m very curious. I’m a newer consumer and I have a lot of questions, and I also want to honor that consultant’s time. And if there’s people in the waiting room or there seems to be a line, I kind of want to hurry it along, yeah, I’m still curious. He did such a good job. He said don’t worry about anyone else. I am completely here for you as long as you need. And the thing that was different about this, Matthew, and I think you’ll get this because this is a huge part to standing out and created that connection. It was authentic and genuine. You know, there’s probably.. you and I have crossed paths with people that are kind of wrote. They learned the script and they’re saying it and it doesn’t mean anything. He was very authentic and genuine, and really seemed like I’ve got all the time in the world for you.

Matthew: That’s a great point because if it’s not authentic and genuine, it can have the exact opposite effect.

Maureen: It’s so true. We’ve all crossed paths with that. Like oh, your robot is saying that and it doesn’t mean it is. And so sorry that was your experience. I wonder how can I make it better. Like it’s a script and the person doesn’t really care. But the caring, genuine, authentic, professional, those are the people that I’m seeing a lot of in this industry and they will continue to flourish.

Matthew: You know this has been a great interview Maureen. I’ve learned a lot today and I think that I may need to take How to Calm a Cranky Person course.

Maureen: It’s one of my favorite classes. There’s formulas that we use on how to handle a diffused, tough situation. It’s a good one.

Matthew: Now how can listeners learn more about Cannabis Trainers and follow your work?

Maureen: Oh I’d love for your listeners to come join me. Well that can occur at Cannabis Trainers on Facebook, on Twitter and www.cannabistrainers.com My I share my email?

Matthew: Sure, absolutely.

Maureen: Yeah, I welcome people if you have questions about what Matt and I spoke about today, I welcome you to reach out to me. It’s Maureen@cannabistrainers.com. So those are the best ways to reach out.

Matthew: Well great, you know, one more question. I was just thinking that you’re also really involved with Women Grow. We’ve had Jane West on here too. Can you just touch a little bit on your experience with Women Grow?

Maureen: I am a big fan of Women Grow. Jane West and Jazmin Hupp are the co-founders, and I’m proud to be one of the founding members. And really it’s about cultivating cannabis entrepreneurs. Who’s the next generation? And it’s caught like wildfire. We’ve got chapters from coast to coast and a lot of involvement. And I’m honored to be contributing in part of that. And one of the things in fact earlier this week, we are putting together webinars and live streams, and one of the first ones we’re going to launch in January is about how to get into the industry. If there are women that are curious and kind of watching us from the sidelines or really anybody who wants to be involved, well be having a webinar on that. And the industry, I’m really pleased and thrilled. There was times I was at a women networking event which happens the first Thursday, unless it’s on a holiday, of every month, and at the last meeting a couple of weeks ago I got teary eyed. I was moved, and listening to women talk about her experience and story about why she’s in the industry. And I felt and feel so honored to be part of this movement, to be a contribution in any way that I can to have it go more safely, professionally, filled with knowledge and awareness. And I find that so many other entrepreneurs and especially female and Women Grow are really moving the conversation forward in a super positive, professional way.

Matthew: I agree. Women Grow has been very helpful to me too. It’s not just women they are helpful to, you know, it’s been very helpful to me. So I appreciate that.

Maureen: They have lots of brave men that come in. Yeah.

Matthew: And just to reiterate for women listening across the country, there’s chapters in different cities and you can also make your own chapter if there isn’t one in your city.

Maureen: Yeah, please consider that. The team at Women Grow is trying to make… is making that as easy as possible, and we’ve had chapters popping up all over the country. And it’s a really great way to be collaborative with other professionals in your actual area.

Matthew: Thanks so much to you Maureen McNamara of Cannabis trainers for being on CannaInsider today. Thank you Maureen.

Maureen: Thank you.

Matthew: If you enjoyed the show today, please consider leaving us a review on iTunes. Every five star review helps us to bring the best guests to you. Learn more at www.cannainsider.com/itunes. What are the five disruptive trends that will shape the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with your free report at www.cannainsider.com/trends. That's www.cannainsider.com/trends. Have a suggestion for an awesome guest on www.cannainsider.com, email us feedback@cannainsider.com. We would love to hear from you.

Join CannaInsider For FREE & Receive
The Five Disruptive Trends Shaping The Cannabis Industry Now