July 5th, 2019

Article 1 as part of the ‘How to use Expert Networks’ series

Since the founding of the first expert network provider in 1998, the industry has expanded significantly to an estimated number of around 50 expert network providers, making it increasingly difficult for the customers to select and navigate the web of expert networks.

From the first sight, the large number of players in the market should make the work of the customer much easier, and most are reaching out to many providers for each project in hope that the larger the number of agencies working on the request, the higher will be the number of experts to select from and the higher will be the chances of having an expert interview fast. Blind engagement of many providers however can result in numerous issues such as: 

  • High transactional costs: managing numerous vendors entails a high volume of briefings, e-mails, calls and, updates, making it a very time consuming and often frustrating activity
  • Potentially higher costs: expert networks generally offer discounts on the volume of interviews (total or per request), so spreading volumes across networks might increase the cost. Besides the available pool of experts is not infinite and when several expert networks reach out to the same candidate the expert is in the bargaining position to raise his/her compensation
  • Market noise: while expert networks do maintain expert databases, most also do ad-hoc recruitment for each request, which entails that all engaged vendors will be reaching out to the available pool of experts in an uncoordinated manner, thus raising chatter. Furthermore, as most experts are currently working professionals, a suddenly high level of incoming calls and emails to numerous employees within the organization from different sides with participation requests on a certain study raises red flags within the company itself and sometimes can result in the employer blocking the participation of its employees

Choosing the right expert network provider, or a combination of providers is therefore key. 

Five key areas to consider when choosing the Expert Network

  1. Services

While most expert networks provide only the contact of the experts or the connection via the phone, some provide additional services saving a lot of time and internal costs. Before choosing a provider therefore it is very important to understand what exactly it can offer or whether that meets all needs (also considering the evolution of the project).

The best expert networks for example provide enhanced expert network services together with the traditional research services, thus answering all client’s information needs throughout the entire phase of the project:

  • Phone consultations with the experts via conferencing system. As part of this service some providers also deliver the recordings of interviews free of charge upon the request of the client allowing for an easy synthesis of the findings
  • Interview guide preparation, interview execution, delivery of the recordings, interview syntheses including time-stamps allowing for a quick cross-check, and a summary of key findings based on all interviews as stand-alone services or a combined service
  • Experts for face to face meetings, workshops, and short/medium-term engagements. This option is very beneficial to have, and clients find it very useful to engage the expert further into the project saving a lot of time and gaining a higher level of credibility with the end client
  • Translation services covering all regional languages ensuring that the top expert is available for each engagement regardless of the language constraint
  • Secondary research services allowing clients to complement qualitative insights with quantitative data
  1. Regional Coverage and Expertise

Expert networks can be global or specialized in different industries and regions. It is important to evaluate whether a vendor is equipped to access experts for the given assignment. Premier expert networks specialize and engage local staff with international qualifications and industry expertise thus being able to access experts where global players cannot and deliver on extremely niche topics and even in troubled, hard to access regions.

  1. Quality of Experts

Some expert networks proactively build a database of experts and try to place each expert as often as possible, some reach out to a large pool of experts for each assignment, post advertisements for each project and submit all interested experts to the client to choose from. Highest quality expert networks on the other hand use a customized approach and engage in highly targeted recruitment thus avoiding any potential market noise and ensuring that only the top fitting experts are reached out to and only rigorously screened experts for requested topics are delivered either from the existing database or via ad-hoc recruitment for each assignment.

  1. Working Process

Expert networks engage in different manners with clients. Some ask the client to submit requests online and then generate the profiles from the existing database, some simply offer access to their database and the client must search himself/herself for the best suited profiles.

Top expert networks on the other hand provide a highly customized approach, take time with the client to fully assess exact information needs, advise on types of profiles, and, then engage in highly targeted recruitment to deliver only the most suited profiles screened for knowledge on the subject at hand. The best providers partner up with the client throughout each engagement giving full access to their teams and delivering high quality experts and insights fast. A full-service agency (offering expert network and research services) furthermore can advise the client regarding the most efficient and fitted approach to access the needed information, which services to select, and in the end can deliver both qualitative and quantitative information depending on whichever need comes up throughout the entire project lifecycle.

  1. Confidentiality and Compliance

One does not need to summarize how important it is to work with the expert network which follows the highest confidentiality and compliance standards. While all expert networks do sign expert agreements including compliance and advertise that they do follow the highest standards, what exactly this entails still always needs to be examined in detail (even with already company approved vendors). Areas to consider include:

  • Does the expert network provide ongoing compliance trainings (and if so how often?) to its staff and experts, and, has controlling mechanisms for cross-checks? Most expert networks have strong agreements in place but lack training provisions for both experts and its staff
  • Are the agreements in line with local and global rules and regulations and adapted to the most recent developments such as GDPR regulations? Most expert networks for example are still not adapted to the GDPR provisions
  • Does the expert network approach experts in a compliant manner? For example, some expert networks send project notices to the entire database, and post project announcements on their website or social networks such as LinkedIn, which can easily generate market noise

Top-tier expert networks are committed to all the above. They have strong agreements which are in line with local and global requirements including GDPR regulations, provide ongoing training to both experts and staff, and have random check-mechanisms in place to ensure all requirements are followed. Furthermore, they follow a highly targeted approach, meaning that only top pre-selected experts are approached and via personal channels.


Aiste Skardziute - Head of Expert Network Services


Get It Now