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A B2B Marketer's Guide to Interviewing Subject Matter Experts

October 8, 2021 6 min read

A B2B Marketer's Guide to Interviewing Subject Matter Experts How to Interview Subject Matter Experts as a B2B Marketer

The number one reason content marketing strategies fail? Time. 

If you're a B2B marketer, you’ve probably heard the phrase, “content is king.” And you probably know that valuable content increases brand authority, influence, social reach, traffic… the list goes on and on. 

But if you're reading this, you might be feeling a bit frustrated. Your content strategy doesn’t have the effects everyone says it should have. You're missing out on an opportunity, and quite honestly, you just don’t have the time to invest in something that’s not working. 

Want to know the secret to creating great content that converts? No, it’s not investing more time and energy. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. It involves leaning on subject matter experts to tell the story for you. 

Powerful interviews can help you create timeless content. And evergreen content will give you the results you want without consuming all your time. In this post, we’ll walk you through how to interview subject matter experts as a B2B marketer and use them to level up your content strategy.

What are Subject Matter Experts?  

Subject matter experts (SME) are experts in your industry, or the industry you’re writing for, that have in-depth knowledge on a specific process, function, or technology. They are considered an authority on a topic, and their knowledge can help make your content exclusive, insightful and unique. It helps your content stand out.

8 Tips for an Effective Subject Matter Expert Interview

Getting the most out of your SMEs requires strategy. They have a depth of knowledge, but it’s not always easy to access. Some SMEs are easier to work with than others. That’s why it’s important to come up with an interview process that is purposeful, efficient, and designed to get the most out of your SMEs, no matter their personality. 

These 8 tips will help you have an effective subject matter expert interview. 

Before The Interview:

1. Always Do Keyword Research

Keyword research is a critical part of any content marketing strategy. And you should always do your keyword research before your SME interviews. Your interviewees’ time is valuable. By going into the interview educated with what you should be talking about, you can ask more insightful questions and reduce the likelihood of having to double back and ask questions you might have missed. Keyword research prior to the interview is also a great way to immerse yourself in the industry language, making it easier to converse with the SME and easier to frame the messaging when it's time to write the blog.

Let’s take a look at an example. Say you're a marketer for a lean manufacturing company. You might start by doing some keyword research around the search term lean manufacturing.

how to do b2b keyword research

When doing your keyword research, look for long-tail keywords that give insight into what exactly searchers are looking to find. This gives you some understanding of user intent and can help as you formulate your questions and agenda for your SME interviews. 

In the example above, I might consider writing a post on, “What is Lean Manufacturing”. Included in this post I might include a few different sections, “How can Lean Manufacturing Help a Company”, and “How to Apply Lean Manufacturing.” When I go to do my SME interview with the individual fueled with this knowledge, I already have a pretty good idea of what questions I’ll need to ask. 

2. Prep a List of Questions to Send Ahead of Time

Now it’s time to prep a list of questions. Preparing your questions ahead of time will help you feel educated going into the interview. It will also help ensure each question is purposeful and ties into the content your writing and keywords you’re trying to rank for. 

It’s also a good idea to send these questions to your SME ahead of time. This sets the expectation of the interview and helps your SME feel prepared. Sometimes people can get a bit edgy when being interviewed. But if they have an idea of what to expect going into the interview, they can do their own research and feel empowered and educated going into it. This will ensure your SME interview goes smoothly and you receive more insightful answers to fuel your content strategy.

During the Interview:

3. Come Open-Minded 

Yes, it’s important to do research, but don’t lose sight of why you're doing the interview in the first place. Sometimes content writers get a bit caught up in their own findings and take too much control of the interview. Having a rough structure of the questions you want to ask will be helpful, but the most insightful information comes by allowing the interview to unfold on its own.

Treat your interview like a conversation. Build off of what your SME has to say, and ask follow-up questions to their answers. Through the interview, you (hopefully) will discover something completely new about the topic. This will fuel a new line of questioning that you didn’t consider. 

It’s all about finding balance.

4. Set a Time Limit

Your SME is busy. Most of the time, it’s hard even to convince an SME to give you the time that you need. By valuing their schedule, you’ll set the expectation for future interviews. If they know they can expect a short, sweet, and to-the-point interview, they’ll be much more likely to give you the time that you need - now and in the future. 

Long-winded SME? If your interviewee goes past your allotted time during the interview, don’t cut them off. Your time limit should be used as more of a guide than a strict deadline. But keep them on task. Sometimes SMEs are passionate about certain topics and can veer off on tangents. By taking the lead and steering them back in the proper direction, you’ll show that you value their time while ensuring you get the answers you need.

5. Record Your Interview

Your SME expert interview is probably centered around a pretty complicated topic. After all, that’s why you have to tap into an SME in the first place. Make things easier on yourself by recording your interview. Not only will this help save you time, but it helps avoid having to double back to your SME for clarification on particular points. 

Always make sure you ask your SME for permission to record. As long as they’re comfortable with it, this is an excellent strategy to ensure you're getting the most out of your SME interviews. 

Here are some helpful tools for call recordings: 

Conference Calls:

Phone Calls: 

6. Ask Open-Ended Questions

Ah yes, the questions. One of the most critical pieces of your SME interview. The questions you ask will vary based on your subject matter. But the key here is to ensure your asking open-ended questions that get your SME talking. Think about using the five W’s and H: who, what, when, where, why, and how. This will help nudge those quieter SMEs to open up a bit more and give you what you need. 

Here are some general ideas to get you started: 

  • Ask for examples - “Tell me about a time that (your product or service) helped someone?”
  • Ask for additional information - “Why does that incident stick out in your mind?”
  • Ask for opinions - “A lot of people in your industry are talking about (trending topic or keyword). What is your take on this?”
  • Ask for negatives - “What might a competitor say about your product or service?” or “What are some of the challenges or issues you’ve had with this product or service?”
  • Ask for advice for the customer - “How will your product or service help (target persona)?” or “What challenges will this product or service help your (target persona) overcome? 

This is just the start. When you prepare your own list of questions, think about prompts that will get your SME talking. Also consider your audience, and why they are reading the piece of content your writing. What is it that they would want to know from your SME. 

7. Start Broad and End Narrow

We recommend following what’s known as the “funnel” interview approach. This means starting with broad, easy questions first, before moving to the more specific and tougher questions. 

Why? It’s important to keep in mind that your SME is an expert on the topic at hand, but they might not necessarily be an expert on talking about the subject. If you start with tough questions, not only will they be more prone to clamming up, you might even stump them. 

funnel interview approachThe funnel approach helps you as the interviewer learn more about a specific point. It’s easy to ask your interviewee to build upon an answer. It also helps gradually warm up your SME. As they build confidence among your line of questioning, it will be easier for them to open up about specific points. Your line of questioning will also help serve as a guide, prompting them to remember certain points about a product, service, or particular subject matter. 

8. Ask If There’s Anything You Missed 

The best question you can ask? “Is there anything else you’d like to add?”

This is what I like to call the golden question of SME interviews. Not only does this single question ensure you’ve covered everything you need, but it also puts the interview back in your SME’s court and often leads to valuable insight that you wouldn’t have captured otherwise. 

Often, this is the point of the interview where you’ve already covered most of the facts and base questions about your core topic. It’s here that your SME might feel comfortable delving into some of their own opinions about the topic at hand. And sometimes, this can be the most fruitful part of the entire interview. Be sure to capitalize on it.  

Become a Better B2B Marketer with SME Interviews

Incorporating SME interviews into your content strategy will make you a better B2B marketer while taking your content to a new level. The point of any content strategy is to educate your prospects and customers. But, as hard as it might be to admit - you don’t always know best. Especially when you're talking about complex subjects. 

SME interviews can take the guesswork out of your content and establish yourself as a trusted source. Tapping into outside knowledge will dramatically increase the quality of your content. Start here, and you’ll notice more traffic, leads, and conversions will follow.  

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This post was originally published May 18, 2021