Tips for Selecting and Working with Subject Matter Experts

Be ready for big answers when interviewing your SME.

Be ready for big answers when interviewing your SME.

It’s time to attract leads with another top-of-the-funnel gem. You need a compelling, thought-leadership-filled B2B ebook or white paper that people will leap to download. And that asset must enhance your brand and further your core message—which calls for more than a pretty cover, good landing page, and clickbait title. So, you look to your organization’s subject matter experts (SMEs) for help.

The best SMEs are mind-bogglingly busy. If you’re lucky, an SME will generate a great idea and ask you to help make it happen. But what if you’re the one driving the process and generating the topic? How do you find the right SME and make the best use of her time? Let’s face it. We (your creative team) and you (experienced marketing managers) know that working with SMEs can be awesome—or awful. Here are some simple ways to work with SMEs that can tip the scale toward the former.

  • Pick the right topic: Think about ways to link your core message to topics that will interest potential leads. Industry-specific trade journal sites can help you learn what’s hot. Make a quick list of potential topics, then zero in on one that you can readily address in-house. Gather as much source info as you can—don’t expect the SME to do that on a project she’s supporting but not driving.
  • Find the right SME or SMEs: Ask your colleagues which SMEs in your organization can probably help. Your best option may be the person with the least bandwidth. When you check to make sure he or she can help—emphasize that the process will take very little time.
  • Prep the SME: Explain what you’re trying to achieve with a one-paragraph description of the topic, and a short list of questions you and your creative team will ask. Don’t waste a significant portion of allotted interview time explaining your goals. Ask the SME to share any interesting source material he or she has, keeping in mind that a busy SME is unlikely to spend much time gathering new material.
  • Tag team: For efficiency and focus, you definitely want a lead SME—not bunch of contributors. But if your preferred SME has only a short amount of time available, consider engaging another person, such as a savvy salesperson or someone from the product team, to give a brief background interview on the topic. This “mini-SME” can supplement the big ideas you’re hoping to get from your in-demand thought leader.
  • Minimize reviews: When you’re ready to review your thought-leadership piece, the SME will probably still be crazy busy. Nailing the first-to-second draft portion of the process keeps things moving. When you provide the draft to the SME for review, give a time limit. Suggest that he or she comment through tracked changes and comments instead of a phone call or email. This encourages specificity, reducing the likelihood of slowing the project with back and forths.
  • Stay focused: Keep the draft and reviews aligned with the project’s original goals. If your SME wants to go in too many new directions after seeing the draft, suggest that the topic could be expanded in a future asset—like a blog post. Remind him or her that readers are more likely to absorb shorter, more focused pieces.

At the Content Bureau, we work with SMEs and people like you every day. And we love it—interviewing rock star SMEs is a great privilege. Talk to us about how we can help you capture and convey the insights of the thought leaders in your organization.

By Lauren Gudath