Most of you have some familiarity with Gerson-Lehrman Group (GLG), the phenomenal success story that pioneered the idea of connecting experts on a wide variety of topics with those who needed fast, trustworthy and unbiased insights into a market, a company, a technology … whatever.
Not surprisingly, GLG found most of its clients in the financial sector, from hedge funds to private equity firms and others that needed expert insight fast to inform the often significant investment decisions they were making. These clients paid fat fees, and the experts were well paid for small chunks of their time, and it all went swimmingly for many years.
Where things got awkward is that some investors wanted more than background information: they wanted confidential information. GLG was very aggressive about policing this, understanding that it could damage its business. However, some GLG competitors didn’t have the same ethics, and differentiated themselves by playing on the often-murky line between public information and inside information. This potential to misuse the raft of expert services that now exist continues to cast a pall over another otherwise strong business model.
Enter a new start-up called Emissary. It’s an expert service, but rather than focusing on connecting experts to investors, it seeks to connect experts to salespeople. Want to know how to tailor your pitch to a particular company? Emissary can find someone who knows. Similarly, salespeople often find themselves wondering if they are dealing with a decision-maker or not at a particular company. Say hello to Emissary, whose experts may well have worked at the company in question.
Visit the Emissary website, and you’ll see a carefully crafted message: we’re just people helping other people. At one level, this is certainly true. And connecting a sales team to a recent former employee of the prospect company doesn’t seem to be rife with the same legal and ethical issues that exist for investors, but I suspect Emissary’s long-term success will depend on it also establishing an ethical line in the sand and policing it closely.
What also makes Emissary interesting is it’s a model that can be moved not only across verticals, but across functional areas as well.