Rachel Content Marketer at CleverX with a massive thing for people, conversations, and marketplaces.

Understanding Expert Networks

8 min read

Expert network

CleverX has over 3000 experts on the platform today(June 2021). We’re adding 100s of new vetted subject-matter experts onto the network every month.

Our clients specifically seek to work with us because of our transparent platform, cost-effectiveness, and our skillset in onboarding experts from the most difficult industries. Needless to say, CleverX is an expert network platform. We’re going to explore what expert networks are, what services they provide, and which are the top expert networks you should consider for your needs.

Why do expert networks exist?

We face an ever-growing list of responsibilities at our workplace. When there’s a lot of money on the table and time is of the essence for us, and as businesses grow and venture into unchartered territories, it can be a challenge for managers to quickly learn how an industry works at a strategic level or stay on top of current events.

Luckily for us, there are a plethora of expert networks on the market to help us succeed in our role and stay productive. CleverX is one such expert network.

What is an expert network?

An expert network is a platform or a service where you can find subject-matter experts who are paid by individuals and businesses for their specialized information and research services.

Although LinkedIn was pitched to us as a professional network that helps build connections in our industry, it doesn’t do a good job when you really want to reach out to someone and get real work done. Freelancer hiring platforms like Upwork struggle when you start scouting for people beyond the design and the tech domains. This is where expert network platforms fill the void.

Expert Network Industry 2021: Growth or Decline?

With the rapid evolution of technology and AI in recent years, many experts predicted that expert networks will be rendered obsolete by 2021. However, our research suggests otherwise. Our study has found that demand for experts is going to be driven by the increased complexity of work in general.

Termed by Yankee Group’s Mark O’ Connor, the phrase ‘expert networks’ was first used in his presentations when he introduced his report, Knowledge Management: People and the Process in 1997.

In the 1950s, industry analysts and investment research were the only kinds of experts. Hedge funds were the first users of expert network services. The 1980s saw rapid industrialization and growing global trade which gave rise to management consultants. Post the 2008 recession, there has been a new brand of experts on demand. First-generation expert networks used internal databases and phone directories, just like conventional recruitment firms did. In the early 2000s, a marquee industry grew to enable expert connections outside the confines of a company and its limited networks.

The expert network market size is a fast-growing one with trends indicating that there was double-digit growth in 2020, bringing the total industry size to over $1.5 billion.

Who uses expert network services and why?

Expert network marketplaces can be used by anyone. Depending on the platform you choose, you’ll be provided with a variety of services including 1-on-1 advisory, short/long-term consulting, market research services, custom projects, and expert support.

Market researchers use them to conduct targeted surveys and for qualitative research.

Investment firms including Private Equity firms and Hedge Funds use expert networks to understand new markets, investment opportunities and due diligence.

Entrepreneurs use them during their primary market research stages, product validation and to develop their go-to-market strategies.

Consulting firms use these marketplaces to understand their clients better and to deliver faster and better results.

Freelancers use them to improve their skills, network with peers and get referred for independent consulting projects.

Healthcare industry is a big customer of expert network companies. Clinical trial firms, Pharma companies, Hospitals, and Doctors frequently engage with external consultants and advisors.

Employers who need to hire freelancers or contract employees on a short-term basis also subscribe to such platforms. If your team is working on a project, consulting an expert with decades of experience will not only supplement your team but also help deliver enhanced results. Even public companies provide their employees access to expert network consultants for skill development.

Types of expert networks

The expert network service landscape is classified into three broad categories:

Global players

Four big players lead the expert network industry. GLG (the Gerson Lehrman Group, Inc.), Boston Consulting Group, Bain & Company, and McKinsey & Company. Today the expert network industry market size tops $1.3 billion, with double-digit growth year on year. Other nascent competitors like AlphaSights and Third Bridge are competing at the heels.

Regional leaders

The regional leaders have a secure position in their respective geographies. Expert Powerhouse, for instance, has been a big player in Germany. There’s also Infomineo with a strong foothold in Dubai, and Avenue in the US.


There are over a hundred smaller expert networks that serve specific geographies, industry segments, or operate on different business models. They are particularly fast-growing, some with a distinct positioning. Dialectica, for example, is based on a traditional expert network model. CleverX and Prosapient are more automated platforms in the recruitment delivery niche.

How to choose an expert network service

One of the most important considerations is whether you want to connect with a single expert or an entire network and how much time you have available. Some platforms only deal with experts from specific industries or regions.

Before you hire an expert, you might want to predetermine the service level your project or organization needs. A few things to consider:

  • Do you have a dedicated account or project manager for your niche industry? Hew professional are they and what is their level of expertise?
  • Is your brief well-articulated and simple to understand?
  • What is the turnaround time for these projects and the speed of execution?

For instance, if your company needs a customized app developed within three months from now then Toptal would be the perfect choice as it connects good app developers directly with you.

Which is the best expert network?

We’re going to compare some popular expert network firms and platforms: CleverX, GLG, Guidepoint, Coleman, NewtonX, Toptal and DeepBench – with an emphasis on what they do differently from one another.


CleverX is an expert-network marketplace in the high-end knowledge-work space. (Humblebrag starts…) What’s great about CleverX is that we’ve introduced several domain-first concepts and technologies into this industry. Clients include large investment firms, market research firms, high-level officials from Fortune 500s, compliance officers, asset managers, investment professionals, etc. Some of these unique firsts include:

  • The pre-vetted ever-growing list of experts from every industry
  • Transparent pay-per-minute pricing
  • Browse, message, book meetings and hire experts on the go
  • Custom hiring for niche requirements
  • 5X cheaper than every other expert network alternative
  • No upfront contracts; pay only when satisfied

Gerson Lehrman Group (GLG)

GLG is an expert network for research, recruitment and consulting professionals. They were one of the first companies to stake a claim to the expert network space; it boasts access to a large database of experts or, as they refer to them as ‘Council Members.’


Guidepoint connects clients with its global network for industry advisors. Unlike other networks, Guidepoint also offers a variety of quantitative data products with real-time information on market growth, pricing dynamics and market share shifts in key sectors.


Coleman offers business intelligence services to its clients from the inside out by providing data-driven solutions that derive insights into their operations and markets.


NewtonX is one of the newer entrants to the expert network industry. One of the key differences between NewtonX and standard expert networks is that it doesn’t have access to a curated list of experts. Instead, it starts with a blank slate for every new client project. Once you submit your requirement, the inbuilt tool will scour the internet for potential experts and then allows you to reach out to them.


Toptal’s team of experts come from technology backgrounds and offer skills in all areas, including software development & engineering, design & UX, data science and analytics. They work with some of the world’s most prestigious brands on challenges such as product development, digital transformation and customer experience optimization.


DeepBench is a community of experts who provide consultations for companies looking for expert advice. Unlike other networks, Deepbench lists the client project requirements in its public pages so relevant advisers can apply.

How an expert network works

1. Sourcing model

Expert network companies may source expert professionals from their internal database or a custom recruiting method or both. Custom recruiting for specific projects has become popular with the rise of job applications and networking platforms like Linkedin.

2. Revenue models

Transaction-based Also known as the pay-per-use model where the expert networks invoice the client for every hour or minute of expert consultation based on the credit price of the expert. Transactional revenue models are good for generating direct revenue. Consumers may be attracted to the simplicity and the availability of various expert resource options in this model.

Subscription-based As a traditional concept, a lion’s share of the industry runs on the subscription model where clients pay for a pre-decided number of credits at the beginning of every contract year or month that they can use on every expert consultation. The network bags the difference between the subscription fees collected and the hourly rates paid out. This model generates great revenue if the company is mature. On the other hand, maintaining a high subscriber rate is key to profiting from this model.

3. Operating models

Beyond, revenue and sourcing, different expert networks have unique internal operations. Each operating model is unique and has its merits. And there is room for multiple players to thrive in this industry.

Standard expert networks are dependent on the intelligence, savviness, and flexibility of junior employees to find the right experts. It takes hours of manual work, research, and scanning through career databases. Internal databases are built based on the previously used experts who may be contacted again in the future.

Technology-driven expert networks CleverX, Xperti, NewtonX, Prosapient, Techspert.io, and Atheneum overcome the bottleneck of associates looking for experts and automate this process. Scraping from a multitude of data sources like directories and professional sources is not simple. Machine learning helps make sense of large datasets and come up with a comprehensive solution to scrape relevant data that is comprehensive, detailed, and up-to-date. These lists may be further refined with a good human-vetting process.

Expert Q&A Networks: Expert question and answer portals like Answers.com and Quora to get answers to questions vetted from experts. But these sites are not as esoteric and are best suited for matters that are not pressing and do not need confidentiality terms sealing them. They may also almost always cater to B2C audiences. It is rare to find secrets of trade as most of this information might already be available on the internet. The upside may perhaps be that one may have it explained by someone familiar with the lingo of the industry that one is looking for.

DIY Marketplaces Customers get to browse for experts or gig workers to hire in DIY marketplaces. At the core of the gig economy are such platforms that apply algorithms to match client requests to experts who are on board. Upwork is an example. These platforms aim to provide highly specific knowledge workers on-demand to clients.

A crowd-funded expert calls Slingshot Insights is an example of a crowdfunded expert network. Standard model expert networks often use open expert calls when there’s no need for confidentiality clauses and a need for better-crowdsourced wisdom and insights from other researchers on the conference line.

Trends in the expert network industry

Three primary trends pervade the knowledge expert industry.

1. The stratification of consultants and consulting as a service The expert industry is a labor-intensive space and revenues are deeply steeped in billable hours. The bigger the value, the bigger the bills one can invoice. In a post-COVID and digitized world, knowledge workers and experts are being further categorized into two primary groups. One, the strategic ones, worth the high price, and two, the gig workers who make up the expert resource category that charges hourly rates.

2. Digital delivery and remote working models The rise of remote and hybrid working models related to technologies is no doubt a norm. This is a great opportunity for tech platforms to set up processes to bridge gaps in work processes and methodologies. This needs to go beyond video conferencing and disrupt consulting offerings like no-code software and artificial intelligence to create new digital operations.

3. Scalable business models with value pricing If clients can pay for skills, expertise, and information goods on Upwork, SlideShare, or CleverX, why would they need a consulting firm that bills them annually? The standard business model is based on leverage. Senior partners depend heavily on MBA freshers who can make big bills for them. Conventional expert networks stand the risk of losing the market share to younger challengers. Frameworks, tools, templates, and other information goods will be commoditized as free resources on the internet. Different brands of expert networks must reinvent themselves from offering Gantt chart answers to solutions that will last beyond the engagement itself.

Summing up expert networks

On the demand side of things, the global value chains are becoming even more complex as companies branch out into niche segments. The supply segment is also thriving as expert professionals make themselves more and more available on online career directories, and are more open to gigs. Both companies and expert professionals have made themselves at home working 100% remotely and trusting each other regardless of their different time zones. Remote work tools, mechanisms, and self-service gig-based recruitment platforms will see enormous growth in 2021.

Rachel Content Marketer at CleverX with a massive thing for people, conversations, and marketplaces.

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