4 Tips for Leveraging Subject Matter Experts
Guest Faculty Post by Jennifer Palus
Including a SME (subject matter expert) in your sales process is a very smart move. The SME has additional expertise and can often explain ideas with more depth and clarity than you can. The SME can help interpret your prospect’s business challenges and concern. You can often enable your expert to talk directly to the prospect’s expert in their own language.
Because a SME can relieve prospect fears and confirm client purchase decisions, they add to your credibility and are a valuable resource, if you prepare and use them correctly.
Tip #1. Give your SME context and a goal.
Preparing the SME is the salesperson’s responsibility. Don’t just hop in the car and assume they know what you need. A SME is an expert – but not in sales! – she needs to understand the players on the prospect’s side of the table and the role you want her to play. Explain the personalities and opinions, not just the org chart. For example, if you are hoping use your CFO to convert a resistant VP of Finance, make sure you provide context and the VP’s past objections. Most importantly, explain what “success” looks like for the SME, e.g., “If you can help Linda decide to sign off on the pilot program, that’s a win.”
Tip #2. Set guardrails for interaction with the prospect.
Sometimes a SME gets so excited to be part of a sales process that they talk a little too much or even try to negotiate the sale. Make sure your SME knows when and how to interact. For example, overtly explain how you will invite him to participate in the conversation during the sales call. (e.g., “Bob, can you speak to that question?”). Some salespeople use a subtle hand gesture or keyword to let the SME know when they need expert support. Or let him know it’s OK to jump in at any time, if that’s appropriate. One of the best ways to help your SME understand their role is to rehearse and role play ahead of time.
Tip #3. Listen to SME concerns.
Speaking of rehearsal, your SMEs may raise objections to sales pitch language. The SME may spot esoteric details that don’t really impact the sale (“The case study says we used the X4RT2 component, but it was the X4RS3.”). Or he may point out potentially damaging claims that should be corrected (“Your slide says 25% improvement but it was 21.7%”). You can get frustrated with their objections, or you can use them to your advantage to tighten your pitch. If a SME is uncomfortable with your “sales spin” that is usually a sign your prospect (or their experts) might be as well. Use the SME as your canary in a coal mine, and learn from their reactions and concerns.
Tip #4. Never trap your SME.
When you bring an expert with you, it’s a bad idea to place the SME in a position where she has to contradict you in front of the prospect. You may have heard the sales advice: Never ask a question if you don’t know the answer. That is especially true with SMEs. Subject matter experts are more interested in being accurate than in closing the sale. Don’t assume they will follow allow with your pitch improve on topics you haven’t discussed in advance.
Including SMEs in your sales process can often allow you to reach further and higher inside your prospect’s company. SMEs are valuable resources, but always remember it is your responsibility to prepare them and apply their expertise where you need it.