The Art of Collaborating with SMEs: 8 Essential Tips for Content Marketers
Few content marketers can develop great material without input from one or more subject matter experts (SMEs). Count me in that group. Even when I have domain experience, I still want to verify with experts, get their unique insights, and dig into nuances I may have missed. Product managers, salespeople, customer success managers, and solution engineers, among others, are critical resources for B2B writers.
The rub is that the best SMEs are also usually the busiest people in your company, with many demands on their time. Not only do they have a defined day job, but they also get pulled into strategic projects and important deals. Even if an expert has time to help you, they might not be motivated to do so. They can be very picky about how they spend their valuable time.
As some of the smartest people in your company, SMEs want to understand how their participation will impact sales or advance their careers. Here are some tips on how to get your best experts to help you create stand-out content:
- Explain how the finished product will contribute to a specific company goal, such as generating upsell revenue for a product line. Tell them where you will publish the content, the campaign it supports, and the expected marketing outcomes. Then, close the loop by sharing performance metrics with the SME to reinforce the value of their participation.
- Show how the content will enhance his or her brand. Some experts are keen to build an audience on social media and promote their knowledge of a particular domain. It helps to show them where and how their name, title, photo, and bio will appear in the piece and how the company will invest in driving eyeballs to it. If the company amplifies the content through organic or paid means, your SME may be able to reach a wider audience.
- Be upfront about the amount of time required and length of the project. An SME may assume you’ll need hours or days of meetings when you can get the job done in 30 minutes. Also, give them an idea of the timeline: can you wrap it up in a week or two, or should they expect to engage over a month or more? Estimating is fine if you set the expectation that it could change (which it inevitably will). Communicate right away if there are any delays or obstacles that impact the timeline.
- Come prepared by doing your homework on the topic. Many sourcing calls are only 30 minutes long. You don’t want to waste that having the expert go over the basics before you can even get to the good part. Educating yourself will help you ask more effective, probing questions and proves you’re invested in the project. It will give you and the SME common ground to start.
- Don’t go to an expert with a blank page expecting them to fill it. It’s difficult to comment or provide direction with no starting point. Give the SME something to respond to – a few bullets, an outline, a short abstract. Even if you get it totally wrong (okay, try not to do that), it will usually prompt engagement, if for no other reason than to set you straight. Take that as a win and build on it with your SME.
- Be flexible to the way they prefer to collaborate. Just because you like to record a live interview doesn’t mean that style suits your expert. I’ve worked with SMEs who wanted to answer questions in an email or record a short video. Others like to outline or even write the piece themselves and let you take it over the finish line. This tip goes for review cycles as well. Can they give feedback during a live call, or need time to digest the draft privately? If you need the input of a busy SME, don’t insist on doing it your way.
- Promise to let them review your work before it’s published. Maintaining credibility is paramount to most SMEs, and they may question the ability of a non-expert to write about their domain. That is not an unreasonable assumption, given the rash of mediocre content out there. Allow them to provide feedback at the right time in the process and importantly: accept some of it. Or, at a minimum, explain to them why you rejected their input. When someone asks for your feedback only to disregard it, it’s demotivating. The opposite is true. When an expert knows you carefully considered his or her input, it enhances your credibility as a content partner.
- Always thank them for their time. I hope this doesn’t come as a shock, but many SMEs don’t feel obligated to support colleagues if it doesn’t directly relate to their jobs. Small professional courtesies like saying “thank you” can go a long way to building trust and increase the odds SMEs will continue to share their time. Acknowledge that they’ve carved time out of the day to help you and the company. People like to be recognized and appreciated.
Content marketers that put in the extra effort can become trusted go-to partners for SMEs, resulting in the best content. Take time to convey the outcome of your collaboration and how it will help the SME. Communicate clearly what you need and set expectations for their participation. Come to every meeting prepared and collaborate the way your expert prefers. Don’t continually disregard their feedback. Lastly, say thank you. By following these tips, you can establish yourself as a respected content collaborator who always creates quality work and is worthy of experts’ time.