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During the 18th century, visitors to Abenaki Motors’ showrooms in the northeastern USA often encountered stressful shopping experiences. The reins of each customer’s equine trade were routinely tossed onto the roof of a village lodging hut after the used horse manager had taken Sea Biscuit for a quick spin around the forest. Before each customer could state the current status of his search for new transportation, he was most often forced to run the “gauntlet”, which race entailed jogging between two long lines of Abenaki braves armed with war clubs.
As the anxious customer reflexively raised his arms to protect himself during this dealership-mandated run, he was whacked in sequence by “Meet and Greet” (the chief’s favorite son), “Trade Appraisal”, “Early T.O.” (the chief’s wife’s second cousin), “Demo Drive”, “Write Up”, “After Seller” and “Closing Champ”, just to name a few of the gauntlet’s key participants. Most customers who survived this type of gauntlet run signed a P & S and took delivery, just to escape with their lives. They were often too exhausted to care that the Abenaki Motors’ back office, working in harmony with “Closing Champ”, routinely diverted factory CSI surveys to a post office box owned by Early T.O.’s brother-in-law. (What a system! What the heck, it put horses on the board, right?)
Fast forward to Clint Eastwood’s classic 1977 film “The Gauntlet”, in which he starred as a police officer tasked with shepherding a star witness (actress Sondra Locke) from Las Vegas to Phoenix. Attacked along the way by mobsters, bad cops, good cops, a biker gang and a corrupt police commissioner, Eastwood and Locke ran a 20th century gauntlet and got shot to pieces in the process. Of course, the thousands of rounds of ammunition expended by good and bad guys failed to knock down the heroic Eastwood and his female witness. In the end, Eastwood and Locke prevailed. However, one wonders how Eastwood and Locke would fare in a modern day auto dealership’s showroom.
Consider for a moment that the current, well established “road to the sale” process makes excellent business sense from an internal industry perspective, but that many customers regard this process as something both mysterious and nausea-inducing at the same time.
How many times has one of your dealership’s well meaning modern day gauntleteers, probably either “New Bee” or “Burned Out”, said to a fresh showroom customer, “Hey, we got this system here, so I gotta put you into a computer first, or my boss is gonna make me recon canoes for auction, understand?” or “Hey, what’s your e-mail address? My boss makes us ask everybody, but you don’t have to give it to me right now, you can give it to me later along with your cell phone number after we have tortured you for a while. Speaking of torture, we offer complimentary water boarding as part of our elite VIP package, and the after effects are fully covered under warranty for four years!”
Don’t laugh. Well, you may chuckle softly if you so desire. But as you do so, admit that there are many customers who consider entering a dealer’s showroom to be a fate almost worse than death. These customers sense that they are going to be compelled to endure pain in order to effect the purchase and delivery of a new or pre-owned vehicle of their choice. Yes, the perception out there is that a gauntlet of some form, shape or type still exists in every dealer’s showroom.
Why? Because some “modern” dealers, closet fans of the cool 1987 science-fiction film “The Running Man” (starring Arnold Schwarzenegger), may prefer to load their stunned showroom customers into bobsleds (see photo below) and rocket them at neck-snapping speed into the clutches of Buzzsaw, Fireball and Subzero, all of whom are well trained deal writers who know the exact sequence of steps that must be taken on the infamous road to the sale.
"Do you know who I am, Schwarzenegger? I starred on Hogan's Heroes!
Who do you think you are, the future Governor of California? Now, sit
still, shut up and follow our sales process! A demo drive is the next step!"
Such “modern” dealers will state, unequivocally, “Hey, we’re new school, not old school, everything is automated, our CRM tool is the best, we’re fast, we’re motivated, we’re movers, we don’t waste our customers’ time. We get it done.” (Too often, “all done”, as in “you know who won’t be coming back again” done.)
I can hear howls of (legitimate) protest from certain intelligent, savvy dealers who may rightfully maintain, “We don’t have gauntlets in our showrooms. We are modern. We are future focused. We are forward thinkers.” Fortunately, more and more progressive dealers out there truly understand the need to acknowledge customers’ real fears about our industry’s selling processes. Such reflective dealers render their internal “road to the sale” processes flexible (within reason) to meet each customer’s unique needs and thereby to exceed his expectations.
What’s the fear factor in your customers’ eyes? What’s the fear factor in your customers’ body language? What’s the fear factor in your customers’ words? Evaluate the existing “gauntlet factor” in your showroom. Be brutally honest. Check with care for the presence of hidden war clubs, Running Man bobsleds and employee attitudes that reveal enjoyment of the presence of a gauntlet of sorts. Retrain your sales team as necessary to instill a sense of clear, deep understanding about the need for consistent, inherent flexibility as customers move with either alacrity or hesitancy along the path to a new or pre-owned vehicle purchase. Get gauntlet-free. Do it today. You will be glad you did. More importantly, so will your growing, relieved customer base. The good word will spread about you. Fast.
(Special historical note to readers: this specific satirical interpretation of an Abenaki "gauntlet" does not represent a true depiction of Abenaki culture in any way. The great Abenaki nation (still existing today) pre-dated the arrival of settlers by thousands of years. Google "Abenaki" to learn more about these proud Native Americans.)
Christopher Ferris c 603.233.8759 firstname.lastname@example.org