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When the black powder cartridge smoke and plains dust had cleared and the last arrow had been launched at the Battle of the Little Big Horn on June 25, 1876, Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer of the 7th Cavalry Regiment was dead, along with five companies of his command. Prominent military historians and professional students of the American West have analyzed and dissected Custer’s Last Stand ad nauseam. Bottom line: Cheyenne and Sioux American Indians had inflicted on a respected regiment of the United States Army the worst defeat in the history of the Indian Wars.
George Armstrong Custer was certainly a complex character. He was described by some correspondents of the time as arrogant, brave, egotistical, opinionated, self-centered and self-promoting. Everything was usually “all about Custer” to an extreme extent. Custer did not spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on or worrying about the opinions of his own command or about the skills of his adversaries. Having been extremely aggressive and successful as a cavalry officer in the Union Army during the Civil War, Custer carried over this same modus operandi to his campaign to subdue selected American Indian tribes living in the western United States.
Imagine for a moment if Custer had been a horse dealer and if Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull had been his customers. Custer would likely have maintained a War Department-mandated cookie cutter website subsidized entirely by the government. The website would probably have had minimal “edit by dealer” capability and would have presented to its American Indian visitors only stock information about Custer’s product line of four legged ponies. However, the site would also likely have honked the horn excessively on its home page about “the wonder of Custer” and would have let the American Indian world know how lucky it was to have had an opportunity to do business with such a super human dealer whose horse-shoeing department stayed open regularly until 4:00 p.m. every Saturday. Wow.
Fast forward to the end of the aforementioned Little Big Horn showroom battle. Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull would have logged onto regimentrater.com and would have started typing. From the botched meet and greet on June 25, 1876 all the way to the ultimate crashed deal, “Two Live Crew” Indian Chiefs (no, not the rappers) would have described how Custer’s focus on himself, his capabilities and his talents led him to ignore and consequently to show disrespect to Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and their circling horde of Internet-sourced customers. End result, to steal and tweak a title of Tag Team's smash hit rap song, “Whoomp, There It Is”: upset American Indians, subsequent deals going sideways, not to mention many troopers down for the count and bad CSI for the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry Regiment. Of course, the customers (American Indians) got blamed for the whole debacle. (Hey, that’s always the way in the car, oops, I mean the horse business!)
O.K. now, putting aside for a moment the aforementioned satirical view of an important historical event, let’s get 100% serious. What is the “Custer factor” at your dealership? Is there so much focus on how fantastic your dealership, your “process” and you are that your customers may view such love of self as over the top hype? Are you spending too much time telling your customers that you are better than other dealers instead of telling your customers that you are just like them (the customers?) Think about it.
Don’t underestimate the desire of your customer to want to deal with a mirror image of himself or herself when purchasing or servicing a motor vehicle. Today’s customer, rattled by a battered economy, really does not care about dealer X comparing himself to dealer Y on line or in any type of print media or TV advertisement. The customer seeks respect and perhaps a bit of empathy from a professional sales consultant or service advisor who can say, with complete honesty: “I understand. I am just like you.”
“Just like you.” These are three simple, yet power-packed words that, if used judiciously and sincerely, are calculated to soothe anxious customers and to reassure them so that they will not soon be circling your dealership and shooting arrows at your sales consultants’ and service advisors’ rear ends during a modern day re-enactment of Custer’s Last Stand.
Got “Custer bluster” in your dealership’s presentation on line, on the phone and in person? Lose it, muy pronto, and you will be well on your way to cementing long term relationships. Most customers yearn only to be respected, not to be forced to act as judges in “dancing with the cars” samba competitions involving frenzied dealers who need to simmer down a bit and project continuous themes of balance, calm and certainty to stabilize and even grow their businesses during these times of unparalleled economic challenges.
Christopher Ferris c 603.233.8759 firstname.lastname@example.org