A Conversation with Josh Kernan at Catalant

Josh Kernan, VP and Head of CX & Marketing at Catalant Technologies

Tom Firth

Last week we had a conversation with Josh Kernan, who is a VP and Head of CX & Marketing at Catalant Technologies. Catalant is a fascinating business一they run a platform to connect businesses with top-ter freelance consultants. Think an ex CMO or ex-VP of Supply Chain that has gone into independent consulting and is running 6 month projects for Fortune 500 companies. Catalant’s business is people and relationships, so it makes sense that they invest heavily in CX. Here’s what we learned:

Can you introduce Catalant and explain its business model?

Catalant is a technology platform that is an open marketplace that connects really high end independent freelancer consultants to Fortune 500 companies, private equity backed portfolio companies, and consulting firms. It serves as a digital marketplace where companies can find and engage with freelance consultants for specific projects. 

We only work with “high-end” consultants. Our folks are ex McKinsey, or a former Vice President of a Fortune 500 company, who is now doing full time independent consulting. Instead of hiring McKinsey for a $3 million price tag, with a lot of firm overhead and not a lot of flexibility, you can hire an ex-McKinsey consultant, with ten years of operating experience, who actually has solved your problem before, and who can come in and work on that for anywhere from two weeks to a year plus. And you pay them directly, which is much cheaper than hiring a large consulting firm.

This model offers a flexible alternative to traditional consulting, providing access to a broad network of experts across various industries. Businesses benefit from specialized skills on-demand, while consultants enjoy the freedom to choose projects that align with their expertise and interests. 

This is a unique approach - Catalant has the ability to democratize access to high-quality consulting services on a flexible timeframe, something you can’t get with traditional consulting firms. They use a mix of a data-driven approach, followed by a white-glove service to match consultants with projects, which ensures that companies are paired with consultants who uniquely fit project requirements.

What does customer experience mean at Catalant?

Part of the customer experience is technology. When a customer comes into the platform, the technology is good enough that you could just walk through the whole thing and do it yourself. There’s an analogy I often use though - just because you can buy a Mercedes online, you don't do it without talking to people and working with people. Catalant is a premium product - you’re shopping for high-end consultants at a higher price point. 

So for every project that comes in generated by sales or that comes in through marketing, you still want a white glove experience. Buyers want the service of someone that helps them scope that project, walks them through the different platform steps, and helps them assess the quality of pitches. Catalant is an open marketplace, so any of Catalant’s vetted consultants can pitch on a project, but a customer doesn't want to go through 50 pitches. Our CX team has a deep understanding of our network of consultants and  helps the customer by going through all the pitches and curating down to just a few people who are a perfect fit for their project.

How do you use data within the customer experience at Catalant?

Catalant is all about making sure our customers get exactly what they need, when they need it. So we use data where possible to improve how we operate. It's not just about filling a slot with a consultant; it's about finding the perfect match that's going to drive a project across the finish line successfully. It’s also about ensuring that every customer gets the same high quality experience, which is impossible without data to scale. Catalant has around 100,000  vetted consultants on its platform, so we need to be smart about how we provide a quality service to both our customers and consultants.

So, on one level, we track KPIs across our CX department like any other company and function, but we also have process playbooks for common situations. It’s a little different from a traditional SaaS business with scorecards and churn prediction. We care a lot about ensuring that a project is successful. This is what really creates happy customers and repeat buyers.

To do this, we dig deep into what makes a consultant stand out—looking at their skills, diving into their past projects, and really getting to the heart of what they've accomplished. This isn't just about ticking boxes for us; it's about understanding the nuances that make a consultant the right fit for a specific project. 

We use data to tweak and refine our process to make our matches super precise. Think of it as a feedback loop where every success story sharpens our ability to predict the next one. We’ve been in business for a decade, so we generate a lot of data on the outcomes and satisfaction of our consultants. This means that with each project, we're applying what we've learned to make smarter, more targeted recommendations.

Once we get information on which consultants would be a good fit for a project, our “white glove” service kicks in - this is a super personalized process. We're not just handing over a list of consultants; we're providing tailored recommendations that consider the unique needs of each project. Our team looks over the results and fine tunes the potential consultants that would be a good fit. It’s not entirely manual, and not entirely up to an algorithm. Rather, we use data to create a list that our team can specify.

How are you using data in marketing at Catalant?

At Catalant, we've created a new offering that we like to call "Consulting 2.0." One way to showcase the talent of our consulting network is by showcasing the thought leadership of the consultants we work with, which inherently makes sense to promote - since these experts are the best in their fields, and it just makes sense to showcase their insights. By sharing their expertise, we're not only highlighting their capabilities but also building a vast repository of knowledge, which is a win-win for everyone involved. 

For companies on the hunt for top-notch consultants, this wealth of information can guide them to figure out what they really need in a consultant. It lets us provide real, tangible insights that businesses can use to make informed decisions. And for our consultants, it's a chance to shine, to show off what they're made of and attract the right kind of projects that match their skill set.

But this isn't just content for content's sake. We're using data to ensure that the stories we share and the insights we publish are related to the current consulting trends in the market. We have thousands of projects from executives at Fortune 500 companies and PE-backed portfolio companies posted to our platform each year. When you harness that data you can start to see some clear trends in the market. . This strategy helps us attract forward-thinking companies looking for the kind of cutting-edge solutions and insights that only Catalant can provide. It's about adding value, fostering a knowledgeable community, and ensuring that when businesses come to us, they're not just getting a consultant—they're getting the perfect resource to tackle their challenges head-on.

How are you thinking of leveraging AI at Catalant?

At Catalant, we're always looking for improvements to better match companies with consultants - that's where AI comes into the picture. We’re building a system that makes it easier to take holistic data into account to better match consultants to companies who need someone that has solved their specific problem before..

The heart of this innovation lies in our matching capabilities. The idea is to go beyond the basics of skill matching. Finding someone with the right expertise is critical, but what about the way they work? Their approach to problem-solving? Their knack for meshing with a company's culture? 

For us the right mix of investment is in both technology and human touch. Right now, we work with 100,000 consultants, so it’s impossible to know them all as well as we’d like to. Technology allows you to scale, but humans and personal relationships create an excellent experience for both our customers and our consultants.

So what did we learn?

Talking to Josh was interesting because it was so different from how a lot of companies think about CX. Catalant has a unique business model, so it makes sense that their approach to making their customers happy is a little different. There are some takeaways that work for anyone here though.

Know your customer

It’s clear that Josh and the team at Catalant know their customers inside and out. They want them to succeed, and they know what success looks like for them. They also know how they want to buy, and they go a long way to provide the kind of service on top of the technology that makes the customers happy.

There’s something here for any business. If you aren’t selling at a high price point the white glove service won’t make sense, but you still need to understand these same details for your customer base and tailor your activity to them.

Care about the customer’s outcome

Josh spoke several times about following up with a customer post-purchase and ensuring that projects run as planned. You could easily argue that this isn’t Catalant’s responsibility. After all, it’s the consultants that deliver the projects. Josh and his team know, however, that if a project doesn’t work out then the customer will not see Catalant as having provided a good service, and they won’t be back.

A lot of companies step out of the arena once the money changes hands, don’t be like that, ensure your customers are successful and they’ll be back for more.

Don’t be afraid to do things that make sense!

It struck me that it’s unlikely that Josh’s CX playbook came off of a shelf somewhere. It’s full of practical and specific practices that make sense for Catalant, but that won’t make sense for many businesses’. As such, it’s unlikely that you’ll find all of the playbook in a run-of-the-mill “guide to CX best practices”.

If your company is different in some way (and many are), then trust yourself and build the practices that make sense and that make your customers happy. This is harder to teach but it’s ultimately what counts.

Your customers see you as an expert

Josh’s team sells to senior folks at serious businesses. They’re smart people, and know what they want. Yet still, they have come to you because they are looking for an expert to help them. They see you as an expert - don’t be afraid to own it. It’s a better experience to have a couple of solid recommendations than to be offered a dozen inconclusive paths.

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