By Tom Garry
I doubt that you have a job description or slot on your org chart for an “SME,” but you have plenty of them on your payroll.
Back in the days before paradigm shifts, synergy, and other consultant-speak came to dominate the workplace lexicon, an SME – or subject matter expert – was the person who “really knew her stuff” or was the “go-to guy” or “wrote the book” on a particular issue.
These are the colleagues who have been there, done that, and seen it all. Their hard-won knowledge enables them to guide a client through the most perplexing challenge or untangle a complicated problem with the efficiency born of experience. They are invaluable to your efforts to meet the needs of existing customers, but are you making the most of their expertise to attract new customers?
Positioning your experts as, well, experts
Present these colleagues as authoritative sources in your communications to your target audience. Provide a profile of the person, including the credentials – whether from academic institutions, professional associations, or the “school of hard knocks” – that make him a reliable source. Your audience members are individuals, no matter how large an organization they may work for or represent, and there’s a lot to be said for one person talking with another, so long as the person dispensing advice is credible.
One way to build that credibility is to have your expert focus on ways people can avoid or defer the need to buy your product or service. I know what you’re thinking: “So I should spend my time, effort, and money telling people how not to purchase what I have to offer? It’s counter-intuitive, but consider this: How often have you awaited a repair person’s arrival at your home with a mounting sense of anger, expecting that the “little problem” that prompted your call will be diagnosed as a major problem requiring a major expenditure? And then how do you feel when an honest repair person confirms that it is, indeed, a minor problem, and not only fixes it at modest cost but shows you how to avoid the problem in the future? When you do, eventually, have a major problem, who are you going to call?
Tap into that same psychology by having your experts, where appropriate, tell people how to handle those situations or challenges that are within the competence of the average person. And then, of course, follow that advice or instruction by noting that the expert and your organization are always available to answer questions, and to bring your capabilities to bear when the challenge at hand requires a professional.
Four points on execution
Highlighting the expertise of staff members can be a great way to gain the attention of your target audience, but to ensure that your organization receives maximum benefit from this approach, follow these steps.
- Put a face to the name. If you’re sending out a press release quoting one of your staff members, include his or her photo. Ideally, this isn’t just a head shot, but a photo of the person “in action” – a craftsman at his bench or a saleswoman consulting with one of her clients. Blog posts and other communications also should include a photo of the person.
- Use direct quotes and anecdotes. To convey a conversational tone and demonstrate relevance, use a lot of direct quotes (keeping them short and instructive) and share anecdotes in which the expert relates how she and your team developed an innovative approach, fashioned an efficient solution, or otherwise handled a challenge commonly encountered by your audience.
- Tie the expert’s credentials directly to your organization’s capabilities. Touting your colleague’s expertise is, after all, a means to the end of promoting your organization’s ability to serve your target audience. So stress the number of years the person has worked for you, and all that he or she has learned under the tutelage of your leadership. Similarly, if the person holds a certification from a professional organization, emphasize your company’s long membership and active participation in that group. Finally, note that the person featured is just one of many experts working with you, and that your staff’s knowledge extends across a broad range of areas (which you should specify).
- Close with an invitation. End your article, blog post, video or other communication by urging audience members to respond with their comments, call with their questions, or otherwise contact you for any help they may need related to your products and services.
You have plenty of experts around you. Let their expertise help those who can benefit from it – and from all that your organization has to offer.
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