Episode 213: How to source experts for interviews
November 12, 2019
In this episode, Will Bachman explains how to source experts to interview for a consulting project.
The episode covers:
1) How to work with expert networks such as AlphaSights, GLG, and Third Bridge
2) How to source experts on your own using LinkedIn and other channels
– How to identify the populations to be sourced
– How to work with a researcher to generate a list of targets
– How much to pay experts
– Whether to record the call
– Detailed tips on a Google tracking sheet
On today’s show I’m going to share tips on how to source expert interviews.
Hey, welcome to Unleashed, the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. Unleashed is produced by Umbrex, the first global community connecting top-tier independent management consultants with one another. I’m your host, Will Bachman.
One of the best ways to learn about any company or industry is to talk directly with an expert, so you can ask exactly the questions that you need answered.
In Episode 75 of this show, I shared 11 tips on how to get the most out of those interviews with experts.
In today’s episode, I’ll provide my advice on how to get those interviews set up.
There is a whole industry that exists to help you do this – the three largest firms are Gerson Lehrman Group, usually referred to as GLG, AlphaSights, and Third Bridge.
Then there is a long list of smaller firms that are trying to capture a piece of this market.
When you work with one of these firms, the process is:
You email or call your point of contact and explain your project, the type of questions that you need an expert to answer, and the type of person you’d like to interview.
It helps if you can get specific, something like, I’d like to speak with former employees of any of the following six companies that were Director level or above in an operational role.”
Then the expert network will filter through their existing network to identify those who match your criteria and reach out to them to see if they are interested to speak with you.
If they can’t find sufficient experts in their existing network, they may go out and source new experts. But as you can imagine, that requires more work on their part, so they have an economic incentive to start with their existing network.
When they custom recruit a new expert, they have to reach out to new people, convince them it isn’t a scam, explain the business model, get them to go through compliance training, set them up for payment – and that takes time and effort.
So the expert network finds someone, either in their existing network or a custom recruited new expert, and then they present you with that person’s profile – often blinded, with the person’s name removed.
You decide which experts you want to speak with.
Then you provide your availability to the expert network, and the expert network with schedule a phone call – usually a one hour call.
Usually this is done with a dial-in, so you don’t get the direct contact info of the expert.
If you realize the person doesn’t have expertise on the topic, you can cancel within the first ten minutes and not have to pay for the call.
Some of the networks have an option where you can pay extra to get a transcript of the call.
This expert network service is incredibly convenient, and it is heavily used by the top consulting firms, particularly on due diligence projects, and by private equity firms and hedge funds.
It can be pretty expensive however. The rates vary depending on how much volume your firm does, but roughly you are looking at about $1300 – 1500 per one hour call.
Additionally, the larger expert networks will not serve a client unless the client is willing to commit to an annual spend of something like $75,000 per year – so you may not be able to hire them even if you can afford the fee.
The OTHER approach is to source interviews yourself, and the good news is that this is a very doable thing – I’ve sourced at least 500 interviews for my own projects, and here I’ll share my playbook.
The first step is to begin with the end in mind – create your interview guide – the list of all the questions you want to get answered.
Then, think about what sort of experience a person would need to be able to answer those questions.
You may very well determine that there are several different populations that you need to speak with.
For example, let’s say you are trying to understand the market landscape of the scrap metal industry in the United States.
You might decide that you need to speak with:
Executives at companies that BUY scrap metal. Within those companies, if you care about the dynamics of how the deals get done, you might decide you want to speak with the procurement officers who actually go out and source the scrap metal. Or if you care more about the technical tradeoffs between different qualities of scrap metal, you might want to speak with the manufacturing engineers who specify the material.
You might want to speak with executives at companies that PRODUCE or COLLECT scrap metal.
Perhaps there are BROKERS who buy and sell scrap metal.
Perhaps you want to speak with consultants who serve this industry, or economists who have studied it, or journalists who work at a trade journal, or a former regulator.
And you may decide that you care about different geographies – in our scrap metal case, perhaps you realize that you need to speak with experts in both the US and China to fully understand the US market.
So you do all this thinking and come up with several different populations that you want to interview.
At this stage, you may want to get your client to sign off that these are the right populations.
For each population, you may set a target for how many interviews you want to get.
It is a bit risky to do just one call for a given population, since you may end up with a dud interview or get someone who is poorly informed.
Generally, after doing three or four or five interviews within a given population, you start hearing a lot of the same things repeated.
Doing ten or more interviews within a given population would usually be overkill for qualitative interviews.
To specify your population, and make the research actionable, it is helpful if you can specify the specific titles and specific companies of interest.
In some cases, it is perfectly legitimate to interview current employees of the companies on your list. In other cases, you may decide the interviewees need to be former employees.
So you come up with your list of parameters.
The next step is to search LinkedIn to identify the individuals who meet those parameters.
You can do this yourself, but I recommend that you outsource this step to a researcher that you can find on Upwork. On Upwork, you can find researchers with a LinkedIn Sales Navigator account (that offers additional filtering options beyond the basic LinkedIn account) and those researchers will generally charge under $10 an hour.
I recommend that you set up a Google Sheet with the following columns for the Upwork researcher to fill out:
Current title at current employer
Past employer of interest (this is if you are looking only for former employees)
Title at past employer of interest
Population ID [the name of the population]
Name of the Upwork researcher who sourced this row
An Upwork researcher can usually fill out about 20-30 rows per hour, so each name on this list will cost you somewhere between twenty-five to fifty cents.
Once you’ve got this list of LinkedIn URLs, you reach out to the people on LinkedIn.
A very general thumbrule is to expect – if you are doing pretty well – that about 10-15% will eventually agree to speak with you. In some industries it could be lower or higher, but that is an average range.
So if you need to do 10 interviews, you will need to have a population of about 100 names on your list.
There are two ways to reach out on LinkedIn: you can send an InMail, or send a connection request.
If you have a Premium Businesss Account on LinkedIn, you get 15 free InMails per month, but they only let you accumulate 90 of them and then they expire.
If you have a bunch of InMail credits, you can use those – they tend to be more effective than connection requests.
If you have funds, you can buy InMails – they are $10 each.
Or, you can send a customized Connection request – in that case you’ll have to limit your message to 300 characters.
A typical connection request message would be:
Would you be willing to share your insights with me on the scrap metal industry in the U.S.? Happy to compensate you for your time. If interested, you can book time with me here: [my Calendly link]
Some people may accept your connection request, click on your link and schedule an interview. Those people are awesome. The others require follow up.
You should create an email template, and when someone accepts your LinkedIn request but doesn’t schedule time, send them an email that says something on the order of, “Thanks for accepting my connection request on LinkedIn. As I mentioned, I’d really love to hear your insights on the scrap metal industry – it would be very helpful for some research I’m doing. The topics I’m looking to cover include X, Y, Z. I’m happy to pay an honorarium to compensate you for your time. If you are interested, you can book time on my calendar with this link. If you aren’t interested, please let me know.”
You may want to follow up if you don’t hear back in 3 days or so. Often, people will respond and participate after 2-3 followups.
On that Google Sheet that the Upwork researcher created, you will want to add some additional columns to track all the outreach that you are doing.
Column headings to add:
Status of reaching out on LinkedIn – Send Connection request on DATE. Sent InMail on DATE. 1st Degree if they accept your connection request
Email address: If the person accepts your connection request, then get their email from their contact info.
Status of scheduling interview: Not interested. Scheduled. Completed.
Honorarium amount: Enter here the amount the person requests as an honorarium. Two approaches. If you know a market very well, you may decide – the going rate for a 45 minute call in this industry is $100, or $200, or whatever, – and you offer that amount in your initial outreach.
OR – you can say, we have funds to pay an honorarium to compensate you for your time. Let me know whatever seems fair to you for a 45 minute call. I like this approach generally, because there may be someone that you really want to speak with who wants $500 for a call, and for that person you are happy to pay $500. If you announce that you are paying $200 for the call, that person is most likely to just ignore your request – they aren’t likely to respond, Hey, I’ll do it for $500.
And in some cases, a person where you would be happy to pay $200 will ask for only $50 or something, so you save money in a few cases.
PayPal address for payment: I generally prefer to send people payment via PayPal – most people will accept it, it is quick, and it is easy to track and show receipts. Usually you as a consultant will need to send the payments and then you’ll normally get reimbursed by your client for this out of pocket expense – good idea to make sure your client has agreed to that ahead of time.
Other columns for our Google sheet:
Status of sending payment: Send via PayPal on DATE
If you are creating summary notes from the calls, you could have a column: Status of notes pages
If you are going to sanitize the name of the interviewee, then you could have a column for Interviewee ID number – assign them a number
If you are creating a transcript of each call, you could have a column: Status of Transcript.
For Transcripts, I use rev.com, which is $1 per minute for a transcript created by a human. They also have an AI version which is just a few cents per minute and OK for rough use, but is not yet high enough quality that I would provide to a client.
If you want a transcript, then you’ll need to record the call. Of course, you ought to ask the person’s permission before recording a call. Usually, given that you are paying the person, I’ve found that people are usually OK with you recording the call if you promise not to publish the recording online and explain that you want to be able to share the recording with a colleague or that you want to get a transcript made so that you can share it with team members.
Typically, other team members and clients don’t have the time or patience to sit and listen to full recordings of a bunch of calls. It could be very powerful, however, to edit together key quotes from multiple expert interviews, so that your client can hear them first-hand.
If you get transcripts made, you can go into each transcript and just highlight the quotes you want pulled together and then provide the files and transcripts to an audio engineer.
Transcripts are also helpful in situations where the client has questions about your paraphrase or summary version and wants to read the exact words of the expert on a particular question.
The downside of recording an interview is that the expert may hold back a bit and be a bit less forthcoming, since they don’t have 100% confidence in who may eventually listen to the conversation.
An alternate to doing a transcript is to have a great note taker join you on the call, so you can focus on asking your questions, and the note taker can capture key quotes verbatim and make near-verbatim paraphrases of the entire call.
I mentioned that in my initial outreach to the expert, I include a Calendly link. I discuss how I use Calendly in Episode 73 of this show. This tool is a huge help in scheduling expert interviews – it avoids all the back and forth of asking for the person’s availability and then sending a calendar invite.
You ought to create a special Calendly link just for your project, and you can add custom questions, such as – what honorarium would you charge for a 45 minute phone call. And – we normally pay the honorarium via PayPal, if you have a PayPal account, please provide your PayPal email address where we will send the funds. The default Calendly asks for the name and email address of the person. You should add a custom question of what phone number you can call them at.
I gave a sample text of a Connection request – you should send a maximum of 30-40 of those per day. If you send more than about 30 or 40, LinkedIn may flag your account and limit your ability to send connection requests in the future unless you know the email address of the person.
The alternative I mentioned is sending an InMail – there you get a longer message, and probably a better response rate. With the longer space available in an InMail, you can provide a bit more detail on the topic areas you’d like to cover.
You might mention explicitly that you are not seeking any confidential information that is protected by a non-disclosure agreement.
It is a good practice to send the payment via PayPal right after you conduct the interview so the expert is waiting around wondering if they will ever get paid.
Another tip: at the end of the interview, always ask if the person would be willing to do a follow up call if you have more questions. AND – ask if they could introduce you to anyone in their network who may be able to add a useful perspective. Some of my best interviewees have come this way, and it says you all the effort of that outreach.
I focused mainly on sourcing experts via LinkedIn, but there are some additional approaches that I’ve used and are worth sharing:
- Look up industry conferences, and sometimes the website for a past conference will list the presenters and may even include their presentations. Sometimes those presentations will include the contact info for the expert who gave the talk, or if they are from some consulting firm, you can easily find them via a quick Google search. If you reach out to that expert and say that you found their presentation at the XYZ conference insightful and want to ask some follow ups about the industry, the response rate is typically very good – usually over 50%
- If there happens to be an industry conference taking place during the course of your project – then go in person. People may not be willing to talk for an hour during the conference since they are busy networking, but you can get a business card and ask if they are open to a call after the conference. When you’ve made the in-person connection, most people will usually do a call.
- Search think tank articles at places like Brookings or the Cato institute. The email address for the think-tankers is usually right on the document and they are usually willing to speak for an honorarium.
- Also: academic papers. If you search the academic literature on a topic and find a paper that is spot on, contact the author
- Also: find experts quoted in the media – particularly in trade journals. You can probably find contact info with an Internet search
- Call retail locations to set up an appointment. This may be necessary with populations not that active on LinkedIn. E.g., did one project where we needed to interview managers of locally owned lawn and garden stores. In that case, had to just dial for dollars and call these places and ask to speak with the manager. You can hire someone on Upwork to do this for you – give them a script and your Calendly link
Hope this is helpful – would love to hear any tips you have that I missed.
Each week I send out an email that includes a summary of each Unleashed episode, a link to download the transcript, and bonus features.
One of the bonus features you’ll get is a draft expert-tracking spreadsheet that includes all the columns I mentioned earlier in this episode.
If you’d like to be on that list, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for listening