On June 25-26, 1876, Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer and his battalion from the 7th Cavalry fought the Battle of the Little Bighorn, one of the most controversial battles that has been studied and remembered in American history. In his attack against members of the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapahoe tribes, Custer lost his own life as well as the lives of 268 of his men. Can we gain insights in Competitive Intelligence from Custer’s failure?
The theories surrounding the reasons for this defeat are numerous and varied. Some historians say that Custer was too focused on taking civilian hostages, while others say that it was a matter of unfortunate circumstances that combined to derail Custer’s battle plan. One popular theory is that Custer, who saw great success during the Civil War and other Western campaigns, underestimated the numbers, equipment, and capabilities of his opponent, leading him to make tactical mistakes and put himself into a position to be annihilated.
Regardless of which theory (if any) is actually true, we can learn a lesson from this last theory about the Battle of the Little Bighorn: underestimating your competition is the best way to ensure that they will beat you, whether it is in a military engagement or in a sales opportunity with your buyers.
How Win Loss Can Prevent Your Company’s Last Stand
If the theory is indeed correct, Custer believed that—because he was so victorious during the Civil War—combating the Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe would be an easy and simple engagement. The firepower and past performances of the army would be indicators that they would not have a significant challenge. This same feeling of invincibility can be said about companies like Kodak, Kmart, and Enron. These were all large juggernauts in the corporate world that did not plan out or study their competition well enough and have collapsed and gone bankrupt.
Having a strategic plan is essential in business. Understanding competitors’ sales tactics and why they use them is vital to winning business and gaining market share. You have to gather the competitive intelligence and put it into an actionable format for your sales team to understand and use. This allows your sales team to have plans of action when going into the RFP—a plan of action based on the actual capabilities and tactics of your competition, not just what you think they might be.
Custer had been in many battles where he had won and gained confidence and pride in the performance of his troops. However, according to legend, that same pride caused him and his men to have their last stand. It only took one battle not planned out and without a clear perception of the opponent to lead to Custer’s downfall. When will your company’s next loss be your last?