I recently had an interesting conversation with a Maven customer. This particular customer had been approached by an “expert network” company (a company which is also involved in the ongoing insider trading scandal) offering him anonymous phone consultations with industry experts. Yes, anonymous, meaning the expert would not know the customer’s identity. The customer expressed interest in this capability and asked if Maven could offer the same service.
After setting aside my astonishment that a company could be so unscrupulous as to ask experts to talk anonymously (or that ethical professionals would be willing to do so), I emphatically replied, “No, Maven Consultations are never anonymous,” and proceeded to explain why. You see, Maven’s ethical standards are very clear on this point: we believe that people have the right to know with whom they are speaking, with no exceptions. We reveal the identities of participants in Telephone Consultations before the conversation occurs so that the participants can assess whether or not such a conversation would be appropriate and to help them avoid unanticipated conflicts.
Here is a concrete example of why we do this. A couple years ago we were doing some work with a major fast food company. The customer was interested in learning more about a new beverage dispensing technology, and several Mavens came forward to share their knowledge on the topic. One of these Mavens was an independent consultant who had deep domain expertise in this area. The customer was very excited about this Maven’s capabilities and asked to schedule a Consultation. Upon receiving the scheduling request and learning the identity of the customer, however, the Maven immediately declined the scheduling request and backed out of the engagement.
Why? Well, it turns out that this particular Maven had recently completed a consulting engagement with our customer’s closest competitor, and was still bound by a non-compete clause that specifically named our customer. The Maven apologized and told us, “In another month I will be free from my non-compete, but until then I can not consult with your customer.” We thanked the Maven for his honesty and for doing the right thing, and worked with our customer to find a different qualified individual who was free from such external conflicts.
Now imagine what would have happened if we had not revealed customer’s identity to the Maven. If he had been willing to participate in an anonymous Consultation, he could have violated his non-compete agreement without even knowing it! This in turn could have exposed both him and our customer to an unacceptable level of legal risk.
We are emphatic on this point: anonymous consultations are unethical, and any company that offers them is unethical and unscrupulous. The fact that this service is being peddled by one of the investor-focused expert networks is even worse – companies should avoid such services like the plague lest their confidential information and areas of interest be shared with the big hedge funds to whom the expert networks are beholden.
As a professional and potential consultant, if you are ever approached by someone offering to pay you to talk on the phone without knowing the identity of the other party, RUN AWAY! Such an engagement could expose you to tremendous professional, ethical, and legal risk.