When I started my career, I’d never heard the term ‘subject matter expert’ before. I guess it’s one of those lovely business jargon phrases that means everything and nothing.
And then working for a marketing communications agency I was suddenly exposed to plethora of specialists who had crazy in-depth knowledge in a particular area…
Imagine the person sat in the big black chair on University Challenge being asked what their specialist subject was – those are the guys.
They weren’t the natural leaders. They were the ones sitting behind the scenes to make the whole machine keep ticking and churning out happy customers.
And I’m not even sure they spoke the same language as me. I mean, we were both talking English, but nothing they said made any sense. So I learned to ask ‘why?‘ again, and again, and again…and again. In fact, I kept asking ‘why?‘ until I understood what they were saying and why it mattered. I guess it’s why I’m able to write copy for IT companies when I’m not a techie myself.
It was this experience that taught me what a subject matter expert ‘looks’ like…
And I mean crazy clever. They’re obsessed with the tiniest details that ‘normal’ people don’t even see. They’re reading about their specialist subject everyday. They’re reading around their specialist subject everyday. They’re asking questions to further their knowledge and understanding. They live and breathe their work.
When you talk to a proper subject matter expert (as opposed to someone who wishes they were) it’s a perfectly natural conversation. There’s no selling involved, and they’re not trying to show off or force you to do something. All they want to do is answer your questions and share their skills, knowledge and experience to benefit you.
There’s no hidden agenda
These are the guys who will tell you straight. If they don’t think something’s a good idea, they’ll tell you, which is why you know the tech their company sells is good because they’ve done their due diligence before accepting the job.
It’s rare to find a subject matter expert with an ego. Working in marketing, you’re usually tearing your hair out knowing you have these amazing people in your business who have no desire to go up on stage or step into the limelight. They’re far more at home behind the scenes…
And that’s ok – there’s plenty of ways to shine a spotlight on them without them ever needing to speak publicly or doing anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.
They’re the reason your customers buy from you
It’s cliché, but people really do buy from people. You can have the best tech in the world, but a lot of the time you don’t secure the technical win until you wheel out your subject matter experts into those pre-sales conversations.
Sales may have an unfair reputation for being slippery, but subject matter experts are known for their no BS approach, which is why you need to by-line your content to them and build the bonds of trust with your audience from that initial point of contact.