5 Keys to Leveraging Sales Spikes

Spike! Sample demand chart for tax industry

Cyber Monday’s recent passing got me thinking about the pressure involved with trying to complete a ton of sales in a short period of time. Cyber Monday is super important to online retailers for lots of reasons. The main reasons are revenue generation (i.e. profitability) and inventory control. So that means that those sites can’t afford to mess up. They have to get traffic and convert it at a high level in a very small window of time. Failure affects the bottom line for the entire year.

When I helped run FileLater, we had very similar pressure. Over 80% of our revenue was generated the last 72 hours before the tax deadline. And 40% came within the last 12 hours before the deadline! (see the Google Trends chart to the right)

The reality was simple – if we didn’t produce, we were cooked until the next tax season because tax extensions can only be filed from January to April of each year. That’s extreme pressure.

We described the business as being hyper-seasonal because it’s basically a seasonal business on steroids. And let me say that we learned a lot. We failed enough to help us succeed and grow to the point where the company was acquired in late 2010.

Here are the biggest takeaways I always share with businesses in similar high-pressure industries.

1. Usability is critical
Assuming you’ve done all the work to get customers to come to your site, don’t blow it by making your product to hard to buy. Spend as much time as you can before the spike testing sales funnels. Talk to customers who have bought from you previously. Ask them to tell you what would make the sales experience easier. With so much at stake, it’s critical that customers get onto your site, pay, and get off as fast as possible. This will also help to prevent a long line of customers waiting to chat with someone on your support team.

2. Keep testing
Others may disagree with me here, but it’s important to test even on the big day. Test wording, call-to-actions, images, everything you can. If you don’t, you won’t really be sure where to improve next year. And, you’ll be a lot less willing to test. We saw this with FileLater. We didn’t test the first year. The second year came and we wanted to test messaging, but we didn’t know where to start because we had no idea what our strengths and weaknesses were.  This may cause some brief, short-term pain but it will be worth it in the long run because your site will improve every year.

3. Learn fast
Keep experienced, dedicated resources assigned to analytics.  Have one person (or more if you need it) watching what is working and not working and make decisions FAST. Lost time definitely equals lost money. So if your head of support is also watching your A/B testing results, there could be a big missed opportunity while that person is handling a 35-minute phone call.

4. Support, support, support
Killer customer support can always be a differentiator. On a day when your business is on the line, make sure to do everything possible to give customers the best experience possible. Have  the best, most up-to-speed resources possible available by chat and, if possible, by phone. This will increase your conversions rate and will make people repeat customers. This is something we excelled with on FileLater and it paid huge dividends. People trusted us because our service was so much better than our competitors.

5. Stay alive
Let me be the master of the obvious: a server failure on your most important day of the year is a killer. Do everything you can to avoid it from happening. Suck it up and spend the extra money you need to have contingencies in place to make sure that any outing is brief. And do it early. Don’t wait until a couple of weeks before your big day. Do it at least a moth in advance. Work closely with your hosting company to alert them of what you are going to need. The great hosts, like Rackspace for example, are well prepared and experienced for spike scenarios like this.

I hope this proves helpful. If you have anything to add or a comment, let’s chat in the comment section below.

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