Hands down, every marketer or business owner would say the person who knows – the subject matter expert – is the best person to talk to.
However, for many organisations, especially larger ones, these can be the hardest people to talk to. There are a number of reasons for this:
- They are busy people and marketing is probably not a priority
- Even if it was there will be day to day operational tasks that will trump any request to support the marketing team
- They might not understand the importance to the organisation and why you need to speak to them
- They probably don’t understand what’s in it for them
- There might not be an organisational culture the values this kind of communication
These challenges are not insurmountable but they might well become so if you make your approaches to subject matter experts in such a way that will put their backs up. For example, not introducing yourself properly and providing little context around what you want and why. Follow this by an urgent request for help (as is often the way) and you have got yourself off to a bad start. You have become someone else in the business he just wants something.
Now step back and consider the elements that will help build a useful and fruitful relationship with a subject matter expert.
Take time to get to know the person – to find about who they are, what they do and the pressures on them in their work. Find out how they work – they might spend all day in a lab or lecture theatre or they might be desk based or travelling a lot. This information will help shape how best you can work together.
Explain yourself and what you do, why and how it helps the business. You might be speaking with colleagues who have no idea of what you and your team does so you will need to educate them.
Explain what your team is trying to achieve and why and show examples of successful campaigns and where the subject matter expert’s insights will fit.
Finally, show them what’s in it for them. Their insights will look good for the company and they will look good for them. This final point is really important. Demonstrate how their insights will be good for their professional development and personal brand (internal recognition and external).
Once you have some buy-in, make the content research and creation process as easy as possible. Provide plenty of notice of what you need and offer to do the heavy lifting i.e. do phone interviews so that the process is quick for them. You’d be amazed at how much information you can get out of someone in a 30 minute call. But make sure they know what you want to talk about so send them questions in advance so they have time to think about them. And ask good questions – really think about the answers you need. This will save you having to repeatedly go back and ask further questions.
And be prepared to be surprised. What if you if you get unexpected answers that might be of value or more valuable than the answers you expected? Be ready to shift the focus of your content.
Include your subject expert in the edits too so they understand the process and aren’t surprised when they see the final piece of content. If you have to make substantial changes then talk them through these as you may well want to go back to them in the future.
For many organisations, the process outlined above is simply too much which sees them bring in external copywriters to do the work. That’s understandable as marketing teams need to balance the need for authenticity and insight with the ability to produce timely and relevant content. They also need to look at the long game, which his what content marketing is.
A final point about culture. Organisations that encourage and support open communications and knowledge sharing will find content marketing a far easier sell. Culture is not something a marketing team can change on its own but it can play its part by role modelling the types of behaviours it would like to see from others.