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Inbound Marketing Success: A How-To Guide to Conducting Content Interviews

The expertise of an internal subject matter expert (SME) is critical to producing content that answers your customers' questions. Here's what your SMEs should expect in a content interview. 

Inbound Marketing Success: A How-To Guide to Conducting Content Interviews Blog Feature

John Becker

Revenue and Features Editor, Co-host of Content Lab, 15+ Years of Writing and Teaching Experience

September 15th, 2021 min read

You, as an employee of your company, are an expert. 

No, no, no, don’t protest — you have expertise and experience that no one else does, and your organization should share it with the world. 

Your marketing team needs to use your expertise to demonstrate the abilities and vision of your business.  

So, while you might think of yourself as a sales manager, a product designer, a service lead, or any number of other roles, to your marketing team, you’re an expert. 

And they need your help.

A central tenet of They Ask, You Answer — an inbound marketing framework that drives both traffic and revenue — is that your marketing team provides thorough, candid answers to customer questions. These answers help build trust and move buyers down the sales funnel. 

In order to write more complete, compelling answers to these questions, a content team needs to lean on the expertise that already exists within the business. 

That’s where company subject matter experts come in

In other words, you.

Educating your customers with content

Imagine a customer has a specific question about something you sell. It could be about the specs on a particular piece of equipment, the meeting schedule for your service, or why you differ from your competitors. 

Now imagine that a vetted, comprehensive answer to that question already existed.

If that customer asks that question in a search engine, the answer pops right up. If they ask that question during the sales process, your sales rep can hand over an article or buyer’s guide that answers it completely.

Think about how that would make that customer feel.

Impressed?

Validated?

Thoroughly satisfied?

Yeah, we think so too.  

Company subject matter experts (or SMEs) are critical to producing this type of content with authority and precision. 

And all they need to do is give up a few minutes of their time. 

If someone on your content or marketing team is hoping to interview you for a piece of content, you might be hesitant to get involved with a big undertaking. Not to worry. An interview is the most efficient way to get your voice out there. 

Here’s what to expect, according to Jen Barrell, a content training expert at IMPACT. 

(Note, you can watch a 15-minute discussion between Jen Barrell and me, or you can keep reading below. Or both!)

Why the SME interview is so effective — and so important

Jen works directly with IMPACT clients to help them effectively answer customer questions

To do this, content teams need to source questions from the sales team and keyword research, strategize which questions are the highest priority, and then optimize the resulting content for SEO.

Then, content writers need to interview SMEs to get the best answers possible. 

Jen advises that these SME interviews should be a crucial part of any content marketing strategy. Unfortunately, new content managers sometimes don’t realize this.

“Oftentimes new content managers will feel like it's on them to do all the research for a piece,” she says. Instead, they should utilize the SME “to ask a couple of questions to get a little nugget of information” they need to get the article done. 

An SME lends detail and authority to a piece of content. (This is why journalists cite experts in any article they write.)

Whether a piece of content is addressing a company-specific topic or a broad industry issue, the SME is there to add commentary and explanation. In other words, expertise

Content interviews should require a very low time commitment from SMEs.

Jen advises her content managers to conduct 20-minute interviews, which can be fit into even the busiest of schedules. For a company looking to get its SMEs’ voices out there, this is the most effective way possible. 

Despite requiring minimum time from SMEs, these interviews provide a ton of value. 

When the right piece of content is employed in the sales process, the effect can be enormous. “A really strong piece of content can help a salesperson trim five or 10 minutes off of a sales conversation,” Jen says. If you speed up every sales call by 10 minutes, that’s a huge boon for the company. 

What an SME can expect in a content interview

If we can all agree that the SME brings great value to a piece of content, the next step is to explain the process. 

The steps your content manager will follow

As a content manager at IMPACT, I interview SMEs several times a week, and I always follow the same few steps. Your content manager will likely do the same.

1. Selecting an SME

A piece of content can start in a few different ways:

  • A topic from a brainstorming session.
  • The result of keyword research.
  • A request from someone on the sales team. 

Regardless of the source, I begin by deciding who would be a useful expert for a given topic. Obviously, the SME has to have deep knowledge of the subject matter, but I also take into account bandwidth and frequency. 

In other words, your content writer has chosen a particular SME for a good reason.

2. Reaching out and setting expectations

Once I’ve determined my SME and figured out the questions I’m going to ask, I send these questions to my interviewee along with a personalized one-on-one video talking through the process. I make sure they have access to the document and that they have a few days to prepare. 

Here’s a video I sent to the very same Jen Barrell when I was about to interview her for an earlier piece of content:

Notice how I set expectations and relieve any stress she might feel about the upcoming interview. 

I also cover other questions an SME might have:

  • How we came up with the topic.
  • Who will use it.
  • What the final form might look like. 

3. Conducting the interview

The interview itself should only be 15-20 minutes long. I book the entire 30 minutes, but I rarely use it. 

4. Getting final approval

After I write the article using the information I got from my SME interview, I send a draft for feedback and approval. As we build trust over time, the approval process becomes even quicker.

All in all, the SME should be giving less than an hour of their time to a single piece of content. 

Helping the content team and the organization at the same time

There are real, tangible benefits to having your company’s internal experts share their knowledge in content:

  1. As the right content gets read, viewed, cited, shared, and linked to, the SMEs attached to that content become seen as thought leaders and industry mavens. 
  2. When customers engage with content, they want to know that real people are on the other end of their purchase. By getting answers from real experts with names and faces, those customers are more likely to form a relationship with your business — and with your experts.

If an SME were to write a piece of content themselves, it could have the same benefits, but the time investment is substantially higher. When working with a content writer, you’re looking at 10 minutes of prep, 20 minutes of interviewing, and 15 minutes of approval.

If you, as an SME, are writing the piece yourself, you could spend 10 hours, start to finish.

So, when a content writer asks to interview you, as an SME, be ready to give your time. The benefits far outweigh the small dent in your schedule. 

And for those content managers out there, Jen advises that each interview you do will be easier than the one before it. It’s all about building rapport with your subject.

“The whole process can be intimidating, especially for first-timers,” she says. “So be clear with your SME as to why you’re doing what you’re doing.” The rapport will come when they clearly see the value of the output. 

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