Are Subject Matter Experts the New Salespeople?

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Illustration of woman inside a smart phone using a megaphone with various people looking at their phones.

If you were looking to buy a new camera, who would you trust: a salesperson at a big-box store, or a professional photographer you follow on Instagram?

While the salesperson in this scenario may very likely be a photographer themselves, you’d probably give more weight to the opinion of the professional photographer. Why is that? Because they’re an expert. They make a living as a photographer using the exact tools that you’re interested in buying, and it doesn’t hurt that they have a few hundred thousand followers. All these things play into their credibility, building trust in them as an expert and making it more likely that they will impact your buying decision. 

Businesses have taken note of this. Since 2017, influencer marketing has exploded, and is predicted to have continued massive growth in 2019. Marketing and sales departments are wising to the fact that people are more likely to listen to someone they’ve chosen to let into their lives through social media than they are to someone they know is trying to sell them a product. Why? Because they feel connected to those people, and because, a lot of the time, they view them as subject matter experts (SMEs). 

What Is A Subject Matter Expert?

In an article for Inc., business writer and expert Ian Altman defined a subject matter expert as a professional with in-depth knowledge and training in a particular subject. In his piece, he used the example of a computer engineer named Marylou. She worked at a tech start-up, and because of her expertise in software, she could communicate the benefits of her company’s technology to potential investors in a way nobody on the sales team could. Her knowledge and expertise gave her the credibility customers needed to see in order to be convinced to buy into her startup. 

“It’s no surprise to me really that someone like Marylou, who possesses both technical skills and an ability to communicate with customers, would be tapped to a sales role,” Altman wrote. “Why? Because clients today want to interact with specialists who will help them make informed decisions, not salespeople who simply want to sell them something.”

If you worked in the marketing department of an IT company and got someone from Apple to tweet about your new product, or post about it on Instagram, you may have a higher chance of generating interest that could turn into leads. When someone posts about a product on a personal social media account, there’s an assumption of authenticity. It’s easier to believe that person actually uses the product if it’s being endorsed. In fact, many people who take payment for posts will only endorse products they believe in and use themselves. If you brought that person to a meeting with potential investors, it’s possible the same influence could hold weight and sway an otherwise unimpressed audience. This is the power of subject matter experts as marketers.

SMEs can be proficient in anything relevant to the sales and marketing efforts of a company. Marylou’s knowledge and skill in software made her an excellent choice to speak with investors for her tech start-up, and other companies have tapped experts in fields like fashion, photography and design to market to their own audiences. Influencer marketing fills this niche perfectly. 

According to Influencer Marketing Hub’s 2019 benchmark report, searches for the term “influencer marketing” have jumped 1,500 percent just on Google since 2015.

Since 2017, the number of influencer marketing campaigns and the marketing dollars spent on them have grown exponentially. According to Influencer Marketing Hub’s 2019 benchmark report, searches for the term “influencer marketing” have jumped 1,500 percent just on Google since 2015. Over 300 new agencies centered around influencer marketing have popped up in 2018 alone, and the influencer marketing industry raised $172 million in start-up funding. That’s $53 million more the previous year.

All of this is because, when done correctly, influencer marketing brings SMEs right into people’s pockets. Customers open their phones, scroll through their feeds and see their favorite nutrition blogger talk about a fantastic new service. Instagram seems particularly rife with influencer marketing campaigns; according to the Influencer Marketing Report, 79 percent of campaigns happen on the platform. A subject matter expert salary in the online space can vary widely, but companies usually sign a contract for a set amount of work with an online influencer, or they agree to a retainer. 

The Growing Relationship Between Businesses and SMEs

While SMEs are experts on their particular subject, they may not be a subject matter expert in sales or marketing. That’s why it’s important to support them with training in those areas, and coach them on how they can best sell their ideas to people ethically. In his post on Hubspot, marketing expert Michael Dalis explained the benefits of preparing for a crucial sales meeting in conjunction with the subject matter expert on your team instead of believing they’ll automatically know what to do. Dalis laid out five steps to prepare:

  1. Choose carefully. Not only should you choose the person with the best expertise for your team, it’s important to find someone with the best cultural fit. Someone who shares the company’s values will be able to mesh more easily with the rest of your team
  2. Define and communicate your expectations. What’s the SME’s role in the meeting?
  3. Prepare together. Identify key people who will be in the meeting, and make sure the influencer is comfortable with what he or she will say.
  4. Set intra-meeting ground rules. Let the SME follow your lead and contribute when applicable to ensure the most knowledge is shared.
  5. De-brief together. Let the SME in on feedback after the meeting and be sure to include any critiques he or she may have.

Because SMEs bring such credibility to the table, businesses will likely make them an integral part of their marketing campaigns going forward. By now, we can all recognize when we’re being sold to. SMEs marketing ethically can make it feel like we’re being advised by trusted friends. 

How to Learn More

If marketing fascinates you, and you want to get ahead of the next big wave in business, a degree from Notre Dame College could be for you. Notre Dame offers multiple online A.A. and B.A. programs to help set you on the path to your ideal career.

Our online A.A. in Business Management is designed to teach you the fundamentals of business, such as the principles of marketing and finance, as well as the latest in technology so you’ll be able to develop and enhance business processes.

Advance your education in business with an online B.A. in Business Administration. With our program, you’ll learn to analyze and interpret information to solve problems, act ethically while making business decisions and dive deeper into the fundamentals of marketing.