Spike Selling And Service

Are you ready for spike buying cycles and the return of your customer?

When business owners talk about the current economic downturn, an often-heard comment is, “I have never seen anything like this in 25 years of being in business.” In terms of lost dollars and profit margins, they are right. But there may be another factor to consider. How will the situation affect your customers’ buying behavior when they return to your store? How has the economy changed customer buying habits in general? Will there be a steady rise in returning customer flow, or will a different customer buying pattern emerge?

Waiting in the wings are customers whose spirits have been battered by the economy and who now have re-assessed their financial resources, purchasing power and freedom. How do we know this? Take a clue from the continuous up and down spiking of buying patterns in the stock market over the last several months at the mere mention of good or bad news. That behavior seems to predict what the future buying patterns of returning customers might be. Prior to a longer recovery period, we may see similar “spikes” in customer buying activity over the rest of the year that can come suddenly, without much notice, and last two to three weeks. To respond to this “spike buying” customer, the response is to execute a “spike selling and service” approach.

The spike buyer can be characterized as one who has received good news about a project approval and been given a budget to move ahead. These customers have a short time to seek out and buy the right equipment and are likely to buy from a salesperson who has the right attitude, quick answers and simple-to-understand solutions to help them complete a deal quickly, before the good news disappears. Training your staff to prepare to respond to the patterns of spike buyers should focus on how to reassess their approach to past customers and how spike buyers need a “spike selling and service” response in the short term.

Spike selling and service means that your salespeople must be prepared to take advantage of every good minute there is to work with customers and seize upon these spike buying opportunities when they come. Otherwise, spikes will arrive, your sales and service staff will miss them, and opportunity will be lost because it was assumed that the return of the customer would steadily grow over a longer time period. Responding to the spike requires recognition that there is a short time to connect to the customer.

This presents three training and professional development challenges for your staff:

  1. How can you predict when a spike buying period will occur?
  2. How do you recognize a spike when it is occurring?
  3. What are the right spike buying sales and service skills, attitudes, and techniques?

Predicting the Spike
In his 1996 book, Only the Paranoid Survive, Andrew Grove, then the CEO of Intel, writes about Strategic Inflection Point (SIP), a decisive point of change in the business environment caused by a pattern of “10X changes.” Surviving through the SIP depends on how you manage your business through that point. The current economic environment has no doubt caused a 10X change in businesses, and we can accurately retitle Grove’s SIP as a “spike in purchasing,” where managing the sales and service challenges to deal with it will determine success or failure.

Using the principles outlined in Grove’s book, it is possible to conduct a “past timeline exercise” with your staff to review the trends that will provide clues as to when a spike in purchasing will occur. Add to this analysis other local financial trend information that might help track when a customer’s spike might occur, such as:

  • Financial security: Credit availability has impacted the customer’s buying power.
  • Security/comfort: General loss of personal 401(k) status has impacted older customers.
  • Habits: Significantly changed customer short- and long-range buying attitudes.

Clues can be found by expanding your local information search. Learn about who is involved with community and state projects, the bidding processes and who has a chance to benefit from potential government stimulus activities. If 10X changes are happening now with customers in your market area, this gives you a clue when customers who received good news will return.

Recognizing the Spike
You can recognize an in-progress spike by listening to customers who come in seeking product information driven by impending good news about a release of funds. In a recent interview, Neil Rackham, the author of SPIN Selling, stated that customers buy safety and security in stressed times, as they did in the Great Depression. So, if a budget is suddenly granted for new equipment, the customer will want to spend that money in the wisest and most secure manner possible. Recognizing a spike in progress means training your people to listen carefully to customer pain points that give clues as to when they will “buy the bandages” to cure the pain.

Asking questions that allow customers to vent and listening to discover what is impacting their ability to buy provides a friendly ear to the customer to reveal their stress points. At some point, that pain will have a chance to be relieved, and your store should be there with the right attitude and the right bandage to make it happen. Customers who knew you listened to their pains will come back to you for their Band-Aid.

Responding to the Spike
It is frustrating to go into stores and experience a depressed attitude, poor retail presence and disorganized merchandise, almost as a mirror reflecting current economic pressures. Overhearing staff conversations about what is wrong with the economy, what can’t be done because of the economy or why products are not available because of the economy does not encourage a customer to come back to that store. If an SIP were to occur suddenly, and a customer came into your store seeking help, are you prepared with the right attitude, the right environment and the right skills to instantly connect with them to enthusiastically continue their transaction with you? The Disney organization, for example, recognized that people wanted a refuge from the realities of life, and built a theme park environment that offered relief. When customers come to your store, does it reflect current pressures or provide an image of relief and optimism?

Jan Carlzon, president of Scandinavian Airlines, pointed out in his mid-1980s book, Moments of Truth, that every contact with your business is a moment of truth that will either keep the customer connected with you or instantly disconnect the customer from you. What customers see and experience at each instance of contact will encourage them to start or continue to do business with you. So, if you have been building a negative inventory of moments of truth that the customer has experienced over the last few weeks, then don’t count on them coming back to you when the good news occurs for them.

When you drive by some stores, do the grounds, building and signage encourage you to go into that store? If not, that is a negative moment of truth that will prevent customers from entering that store. Creating an outside and inside visual and interpersonal “pull” before the spike will signal positive moments of truth and attitude that keep the customer connected at all times.

The power of “yes” is another attitude asset. In the 2009 movie Yes Man, Jim Carrey found that he achieved more respect, trust, friends and results with a YES attitude rather than a NO attitude. For the purposes of dealing with spikes, add an S to the YES and execute the process as a “You Exceed Service Standards” (YESS) attitude that creates a WOW response from your customer.

People like “yes” attitudes more than “no” attitudes. “Yes” pulls in; “no” pushes away. For example, if a customer walked into your store today and said, “I broke my glasses and I need to get them fixed,” what would your response be? Would you say, “Sorry, we only sell industrial products here and we can’t help you,” or would you take that opportunity to form an instant contact by providing information about the nearest optician or retail eyeglass repair service?

If you are focused on pulling that customer in, no matter what issue they have, a YESS staff attitude will have that customer coming back. Responding to the spike means that you seek every opportunity to establish an interpersonal link with customers that lets them know that you want to be their “consulting partner” no matter what the inquiry is, and that “No, we can’t do that because of shipping, availability, etc.” is not in your vocabulary!

When your spike buying situation is occurring, think of implementing the 60-second YESS Response drill:

  1. Be prepared instantly to provide a “YESS I can help you” moment-of-truth response.
  2. Use the moment to form a bond with the customer by providing answers to questions.
  3. Create a moment of truth by listening to the customer’s pain points or issues that gets the customer to come back.

All of these actions create a “Wow, they were helpful, and I want to do business with them” response in your customer.

We can’t wait for customers to return. We must be constantly training for their return. Prepare to create a positive string of “moments of truth” when the spike in purchasing occurs. Prepare your sales and service staff to respond to a spike. Be ready to take advantage of multiple spike buying cycles as they occur at different times for different customers. As in any crisis, the solutions are not always new.

Revisiting and applying the sales and service techniques written by business experts is your way to train your staff to be ready for the spike and be ready for the return of your customer!

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
41a_slezak_joe Meet the Author

Joe Slezak is a manager of organizational learning and professional development at Miller Electric Mfg. Co., located in Appleton, Wisconsin, and on the Web at www.millerwelds.com.