How To Be a Great Subject Matter Expert for Your Content Team
To see the best results, your whole company should be willing to contribute to your content marketing initiative.
By John Becker
Every person in your company is a part of marketing and a part of sales.
Let me explain. While traditional sales and marketing activities are handled by the marketing and sales teams, of course, it doesn’t stop there. The employee who is providing a service or manufacturing a product or sending out an invoice — each is interacting (either directly or indirectly) with a customer or potential customer.
In this way, they are a part of your marketing and sales efforts. Good customer experiences create happy customers, which, in turn, create enthusiastic promoters and more prospective customers.
This is happening every second of every day. The marketplace is constantly forming and refining its impression of your brand, and a positive experience makes all the difference.
Everyone is part of marketing. Everyone is part of sales.
Gone are the days when we could think of marketing, sales, and service operating in isolation from each other. Rather, they need to work together to ensure a seamless and consistent customer experience all the way from the first interaction to after the sale.
Nowhere is this more important than with your company’s inbound marketing initiative. At its core, the inbound philosophy proposes that the old-school line between marketing and sales is more blurry than ever. In the past, sales reps spent a great deal of time educating customers. Today, much of that falls on the marketing team that produces educational content for customers to consume on-demand.
But the marketing team can’t do it alone.
For inbound marketing to succeed at your company, you need top-to-bottom buy-in — and a willingness for your many subject matter experts (SMEs) to offer their knowledge and insight. Otherwise, the content your team produces will feel thin and unconvincing.
So, how can the SMEs at your company help with the content effort?
Below, we’ll cover:
- Who are SMEs at your company?
- What does helping out with content actually look like?
- 6 ways you, as an SME, can help your content team
Let’s dive in.
First off, when we say SME, who do we mean?
At IMPACT, we lead clients to implement our They Ask, You Answer framework, which requires them to obsess over the questions their customers are asking. We believe that the goal of any content marketing strategy should be this: educating your potential customers so they are more prepared to buy from you.
To this end, the marketing team needs first-hand, expert knowledge that can thoroughly address the questions and concerns of your buyers.
Right now, your potential buyers are typing questions into search engines as they begin to research their purchase.
They likely start with general, problem-focused questions, like:
- How much does it cost to do X?
- What are the drawbacks of choosing Y?
- How have other people solved problems like mine?
- What are the best options for improving Z?
Or, they could be asking questions specific to you and your business, like:
- What are the specifications for product X?
- Why should I choose your service over your competitors?
- What happens after I sign my contract?
- How can I make sure I’m not spending too much when I buy Z?
Whatever your prospects want to know, your content should address. In order for those answers to be complete and convincing, they should come from your subject matter experts. In order for your company to produce the best content it can, SMEs need to contribute.
These SMEs could be sales professionals, product designers, customer service experts, or company leaders — anyone with knowledge and authority for the issue at hand.
When an SME becomes part of the content production process, the results are much stronger.
However, these SMEs are busy people. How can they help in a way that’s not going to burden them? By sitting for interviews with content managers.
What does it mean to help with content production?
The way most subject matter experts help with content production is by being interviewed by content managers.
You can think of your content manager as a reporter for your company. They need to write the content that will drive traffic and capture leads, but they don’t have the first-hand knowledge to do so. Therefore, they interview SMEs to get the information they need, which they can then spin into a full-fledged piece of content.
An interview for a single piece of content should last no more than 20 minutes — so it shouldn’t be a huge burden on the SME.
From the interview, your content manager will produce one of three styles of content:
- An article that includes SME input. About 80% of the time, the result will be an article that quotes the SME as the expert and uses information from the interview to specifically address the topic at hand.
- A published Q&A-type article. About 10% of the time, the result will be a published interview that includes the content manager’s questions and the SME’s answers. This works best for questions with short answers.
- A ghostwritten article. Depending on your company’s needs, your content manager may write and publish as the SME, particularly if they are a C-level executive. Ghostwritten content can help build the brand and establish the voice of busy executives.
I cover these three styles of content in much greater depth in this article. You can check there for more information, or speak to your content manager about their vision for any given piece of content.
If you’re serving as an SME, know that helping with content won’t gum up your schedule. But you still need to be fully invested in the process for it to bear fruit. Here’s how.
6 ways you can help with content production
Content managers can’t do it all on their own. They need team members from other departments to step up and share their expertise — so the content manager can share that expertise with your audience.
The more team members who share, the more effective your content marketing will be. If no one is willing to help, it will die on the vine.
So, how can you be the best SME possible? Here are six ways to contribute to content marketing as an SME.
1. Be willing
First off, you need to be willing. If your content manager approaches you or sends a message asking for an interview, respond in kind.
Even better, you can volunteer to help out with a particular piece of content. If they’re writing something bigger, like a buyers’ guide or pillar page, they might need a good deal of help. Be willing to serve as their go-to expert when they have questions.
If you’re a company leader, your willingness will encourage others to do the same. Or, by contrast, your hesitancy will show others that content marketing is not really a priority.
2. Be available
Time is precious, but we always seem to make room for the things that really matter to us.
Choose to make content marketing a priority. If your calendar is filled with “Do Not Book” blocks and you don’t accept calendar invites that a content manager has tried to squeeze in, you’re sending a clear message: This is not a priority for me.
Instead, work with your content team to find a time that works. Make it clear that you can make it work if you’re given enough advance warning.
3. Be invested
This sounds similar to “be willing,” but it’s more than that. We all know the expression “I was there in body but not in spirit.” You can be willing to do something without actually enjoying it.
To be a great SME for your content team, challenge yourself to actually enjoy the process.
Your content manager might be a newer employee, maybe even a young professional who’s eager but coltish. Help put them at ease by being invested in the project. Even a small gesture of boredom — letting out a sigh, checking your watch, glancing at your email — can destroy their confidence and make them feel like they’re deeply inconveniencing you.
Not only will this damage the employee’s morale, it will also hurt your organization’s content marketing initiative.
4. Offer specific feedback
After the interview, your content manager will write a draft, which they’ll send to you for feedback.
Take some time to offer thorough, specific feedback. Use suggestion mode on Google Docs to add any changes you're proposing, and leave comments that help your content manager make the piece better.
Remember that the editing process should feel collaborative. Posting a comment that says “I don’t like this part” does little to actually improve the content or your relationship with the content manager. Instead, say “I’m not sure about this part. The phrasing feels too biased. What do you think?” The result is dialogue, not confusion.
Also, don’t say “this all looks great” unless you really mean it. To a content manager, that sounds like approval.
5. Follow up
Once you’ve approved the piece, the content manager will get it ready to go live. Make a point to check up on the content you’ve helped out on. You can check yourself or follow up with your content manager.
Ask how the piece is doing driving traffic or when used in the sales process.
This is also a great opportunity to offer other content ideas. Send a quick note like this:
Hi! I really enjoyed working with you on the article about X. Do you know if we’ve written any content about Y? I’ve been hearing a lot of questions about it from prospects in the sales process. It could be good to cover. Let me know if you’d like to interview me again!
Following up shows you’re invested in the long-term success of content marketing at your company.
6. Encourage others
When you serve as an SME for your content manager, you’re giving the most noteworthy support you can for your content marketing initiative. This is leading by example, and the effect is enormous.
Next, make sure others at your company know that you took part and that you enjoyed the process:
- Tell other people on your team how easy it was.
- Talk to leadership and compliment the content manager.
- Share the post on LinkedIn.
- Celebrate content wins, however small.
Every action you take further normalizes the process and builds momentum for future content marketing plans.
Inbound marketing success is a team effort
Inbound marketing is a principle-based methodology, and in order to truly live those principles, you must put the right structures in place.
This means creating a culture that embraces the vision — and then establishing the logistical scaffolding to build it. Content creation will not happen smoothly if your employees aren’t encouraged to make time for it. If you don’t celebrate content wins, you’ll struggle to establish momentum.
If you are ready to put content production at the center of your marketing strategy, make sure the whole company is ready for such a change. If not, the greatest content manager in the world will struggle.
If you need help to align around these shared goals, talk to a They Ask, You Answer advisor at IMPACT. We help companies of all kinds establish the conditions for growth.
Wondering where to begin?