Seven Red Lines (3): Anderson the Expert’s Failings

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“Anderson, it seems like you and Walter aren’t getting along very well.”

Anderson the Expert is in a tough spot, his value as an expert wasn’t well defended, but he doesn’t do very much to help himself out.  Stuck in a meeting with a customer who is uncertain of their goals, a project manager intent on scoring points and a boss who appears most interested in putting together a business trip, he’s the only one in the room who seems able to deliver what the customer needs.  Unfortunately, he compounds the difficulty of his position by making a few mistakes.

An opening “No”

Anderson spends a lot of his time trying to clarify what the customer wants – but his first word to them is “no.”  Many of his later efforts at clarification could have been more successful had they been his opening response, rather than immediately putting the buyer on the defensive.

Let the customer speak – “Red lines”

The Customer lead mocks Anderson slightly (1.45) asking, “And what a “red line” means, I hope I don’t need to explain to you?”  This was a perfect opportunity for Anderson to let the customer play out their own definition.  Instead, he works hard to maintain his ‘expert’ title, rather than using it as a segue to get her definition of ‘red line’ – which would have been useful as it contains neither lines, nor the color red.

Send ahead and preparation

At several points, Anderson is forced to describe basic technical terms for his area of expertise.  Color terms and perpendicularity pop up right away.  Using some kind of FAQ or ‘Red Lines 101’ document would have armed him with a way to address the customer’s ignorance in a way that is not insulting and doesn’t waste anyone’s time.

Re-write the spec

As the customer continues with her definition of seven red lines, Anderson holds dearly to the spec.  He’s got everyone in the room, all the decision makers are present, and rather than adjust the spec on the fly he allows himself to be trapped.  He could have made the modification himself or done a hand-off to his colleagues.

Improvisation without caveats


Improvisation is fine, as long as everyone knows it isn’t predictive.

At nearly 4 minutes the customer notes that her example used a blue pen – she clearly wanted red lines.  Anderson then follows this path too far, with his point-scoring project manager Walter using his own words against him.  Anderson was improvising in front of the customer, but hadn’t made sufficient caveats to clarify what his results would imply.  Using the proper caveats would have helped the customer understand and also improved the likelihood that the improvisation would have worked.

Playing down to the customer


If you think your customer is stupid, you are both in a bad, bad place.

The customers’ “transparent lines” comment is pretty ridiculous.  Rather than address it directly by saying something like, “we can get the same effect with simply no red lines, and that will save you money,” Anderson decides to play along.  At the end, frustrated he uses his expert status to claim confidence in all fields.  At some point this is going to catch up to him – the customer team has their own Anderson somewhere, and when they finally discover the silliness going on here, the vendor will love all credibility.  Treating the customer like a fool will not lead to a winning scenario, educating them and helping them get what they want will lead to success all the way around.

Sidebar with the customer team

Justine shows interest in the perpendicularity issue.  As her request for kitten drawings emerges, it becomes clear that she could be the brains behind the customer’s desires.  This provides an occasion for Anderson to have a sidebar meeting with her and resolve some of these issues directly.  Empowering Justine would improve the customer’s comfort with the project and help alleviate the vendor’s technical risk in taking them on as an account.

Wrong job

Anderson’s in the wrong job.  He’s clearly frustrated with his boss.  The project manager he works with is more intent on embarrassing him.  The customer doesn’t have any appreciation for his skills.  Anderson himself seems pretty frustrated, and rather than maintaining calm, he simply caves to the social situation he finds himself in.

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