Performance-enhancing drugs that entrepreneurs rarely seem to use (expert network calls)
Expert network calls I think are looked at like legal performance-enhancing drugs for investors — every investor uses them, they’re incredibly helpful (if done correctly), and nobody likes saying they use them.
What’s impressive is that entrepreneurs seem to rarely use this resource, but before we address that:
- Expert networks are provided by a bunch of different companies, but the ones I’ve seen people use are GLG, AlphaSights, Guidepoint, and Tegus.
- To access experts on an expert network, you sign a contract for typically a minimum of 25 calls (priced at $800–1200 a piece), so ballpark $25k.
- Once you have a contract, you email your account manager saying something like “I want to speak with budget owners at Fortune 500 organizations who have purchased a headless CMS in the last 24 months”. You can get more targeted by specifying the exact companies you want to speak with (if you want to know e.g. how Bank of America runs their infra), you can specify the vendors you want experts to be familiar with (e.g. Ghost, Strapi, Contentful, etc.), and you can have the account manager ask specific qualifying questions.
- The account manager will then match your request with experts both in their existing network, as well as ones they contact ad-hoc for your specific request.
- When the account manager finds matching experts, they will send you matching profiles that you can review and then book calls with. You get a lot of info here you can use the qualify the expert and many they find will not be great fits, so you’ll probably pick 25–50% of what they send.
- When you’re on the call (1 hour), it’s happening on a single-blinded basis, so you know who the expert is, but they don’t know who you are.
- Experts are typically happy to talk about anything except for information they deem confidential to their employer, but in general, you’ll be pleasantly surprised about how much they’re able to share.
That background out of the way, what blows me away is that entrepreneurs seem to so rarely leverage this resource. Let’s say you’ve raised even just $500k-1M at a seed / pre-seed round and you’re building a B2B software product that you want to sell at $50k+ ACVs, why wouldn’t you pay $25k to talk to 25 budget owners / decision-makers / technical experts at major companies? Operate your company on the other $475k and spend $25k to deeply understand your customers without needing to send cold emails, ask for intros, etc. (where you’ll get biased feedback anyway). You can pick up super valuable insights that will much more quickly find you product-market fit, assuming you ask the right questions:
The questions you can ask
- Budget — What do buyers pay for these types of solutions? Or what would they be willing to pay?
- Feature Requirements — What key pieces of functionality do you need to sell into this organization based on the scale of their organization / environment?
- Relative Prioritization — How does your solution rank relative to what this organization is trying to accomplish?
- Market Awareness & Competition — What other vendors have they heard of? What do they think of them?
- Replacement vs Greenfield — What are you up against in terms of what you need to replace / compete with in their organization?
- Integrations — What do you need to integrate with to be a viable option for these major organizations?
- Buying Process — What does the buying process typically look like? How long is it? Who are the key decision-makers?
So why don’t entrepreneurs use this resource?
I don’t have a great answer. It might be this anti-consultant / anti-old-world culture / that you should be finding exports and customers by hustling through your own network. Or maybe entrepreneurs already do this and like investors, they just don’t like talking about it. Who knows…
The “Pro Tips”, if you do want to leverage these calls
- Come in with a structured question list and try to stick to it (unless you find a really compelling tangent). Remember, you’re paying a lot for this. Be polite of course, but some people will ramble — cut them off and keep them on the track to get the info you need.
- As part of the structured question list, have a few quantitative questions you ask each customer. You’ll have a ton of long-form notes from each call, but being able to compare each call/expert on a spreadsheet (by size of organization, size of budget, price they’re currently paying for comparable software, 0–10 rating how how important this is to solve, # rank in budget priorities, etc.) is valuable in getting the 30k-foot view you may miss in the weeds of each conversation — this helps you stay objective.
- You can cut off the call in 15 minutes and not be charged. You’ll need to do this 20–30% of the time because you’ll get on the call and realize the expert is not familiar with exactly what you want to talk about, they misrepresented their background, or just generally they don’t seem knowledgeable. Once you’ve done 5–10 of these calls, you’re find that if in the first 10–15 mins you have a bad gut feeling about the call, you’re probably right (and should just cut it off).