Imagine that you are in your second meeting with a large potential customer. You’ve explained your products. You’ve shared the value-added support the customer would receive. Now the customer wants to talk specifics about technology behind your company’s offerings. Yikes! What do you do? Typically, you bring in your subject matter expert (SME).

SMEs span a wide range of roles in various sectors. Examples in technology can include a systems engineer, solutions architect or applications specialist; in professional services, the SME might be a practice leader or specialist. Their presence and contributions—which are no different from any other member of your sales team—could prove to be an asset or liability.

In this issue of Promotional Consultant Today, we’ll share some common mistakes and key strategies for using SMEs to seal the deal, from executive sales coach, Michael Dalis.

Here are common mistakes salespeople make when including an SME in a sales pitch or client meeting:

  • Believing that the SME’s mere presence can magically transform a poorly qualified opportunity or an unprepared team
  • Banking on the fact that they know “what to do”
  • Assuming your deal carries the same importance to them as it does to you
  • Not preparing them properly for pivotal meetings

Without guidance, experts are likely to do what they do—demonstrate their subject matter expertise. They may take control of the discussion, go deep on an issue that takes you away from an otherwise winning game plan and hurt your credibility with the client. But when coached properly, SMEs can be game-changers in winning the sale. Here are five tips for leveraging an SME.

  1. Choose carefully. How will your SME’s delivery style mesh with those of your client stakeholders? What will they be like as a collaborator in your preparation and presentation? Decide and convey to the SME why participating in this effort aligns with her goals, how it will help the client, and what is the expected impact on the sales effort.
  2. Define and communicate your expectations. Explain the SME’s role in the meeting, who the team leader is and your expectations for her participation in preparing for and de-briefing the meeting with you.
  3. Prepare together. Include your SME in prep sessions. Be sure to transfer essential knowledge (client organization, stakeholder roles, current situation, opportunity, status, etc.) given her role in the sales meeting. Run through the opening, including her introduction. Preview whatever additional topics she will be expected to address in the meeting. Clearly define team roles, from open to close.
  4. Set intra-meeting ground rules. Make sure your SME takes a seat that appropriately conveys her role in your organization and aligns with her likely counterpart representing the client organization. Once the meeting gets started, she should take her cues from you, keeping improvisation to a minimum. It can be tough for a SME (especially those with no direct sales experience) to pivot from internal meetings where she is the expert and center of attention to external meetings where the authority, pace, and scope is set by others.
  5. De-brief together. She can also play an important role in reviewing the team’s high and low points during the meeting. Receiving feedback from you can strengthen future meetings and pitches. Be sure to acknowledge her time in preparing for and participating in the meeting, her contributions, and ask how she would like to stay apprised of future developments.

Given the right opportunity, setting, and timing, SMEs can play a significant role in winning a new client or retaining an existing one.

Source: Michael Dalis facilitates highly interactive workshops for sales and sales management professionals in a variety of industries. He is also a highly skilled executive sales coach who utilizes the practical insights and strategies that he has gained throughout his career to help sales teams strengthen customer relationships, increase qualified opportunities, and grow revenue.