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This one goes out to all the B2B marketers struggling to get their nonmarketing colleagues to help with content.

Marketers already have to get budget approval to create content. Then organize and oversee the content creation process. Then figure out how to distribute the content once it's created. Then track buyer engagements with the content. Then help your sales team follow up on those engagements. Then repeat that cycle over, and over, and over again.

In addition to that already-full plate, there is a critically important part of the content process that many marketers struggle to control: Someone has to provide the expertise needed to create the content. That someone can derail your content hopes and dreams before the train even leaves the station. And this can quickly happen since most subject matter experts (SMEs) are not marketers. Getting cooperation and buy-in from SMEs can be tough.

We've seen the good, the bad, and the ugly from SMEs when helping hundreds of B2B marketing teams create and distribute content. So, B2B marketers, here's how to get your subject matter experts excited about helping with content. This can't be done in an email or a meeting, or even in a series of emails and meetings. It takes a cultural and attitudinal change, and that starts with the six tips below.

1 – Develop a persona for subject matter experts.

Put yourselves in an SME's shoes. They are busy. Maybe they are working on a product or service to improve or save lives. Maybe they are leading a business. They are not marketers. Being interviewed for a white paper simply is not high on their priority list. Plus, the way they see it, marketing is your job.

So marketers will need to develop a “content marketing is awesome” campaign to help SMEs understand their role in the process. This is what happens in the "identify" stage of Follow Your Buyer: you are identifying SMEs as someone you want to buy into the content marketing strategy you are selling them. That starts with developing a persona for your SMEs (more on that here). Ask yourself questions like:

  • What is a subject matter expert's biggest problem? (Maybe it's that marketing keeps pestering them to help develop content, and they don't have time for that.)

  • What are a subject matter expert's challenges to solving those problems? (Maybe it's that they don't understand why helping with content marketing should matter to them.)

  • Are there problems that subject matter experts don’t realize they have? (Maybe they don't realize the opportunity that will be lost if they don't cooperate with content creation because they don’t realize outdated marketing tactics are no longer an effective way to reach buyers.)

2 – Spell out the WIIFT (what’s in it for them).

You don't want your SMEs to view content as just another thing on a long to-do list. A good first step is sharing your vision for the content marketing strategy. Demonstrate how content can truly help your current and future customers in a way traditional marketing tactics like banner ads and trade shows can't. Pitch content as an exciting new opportunity for an SME to help the company meet its growth goals. Show SMEs the distribution plan you have for content once it's created. Explain how getting the SME's name and expertise on this content will have a personal benefit, too.

3 – Involve your SMEs in the entire content process from the start.

After you get the budget approval to create content, that's when you should start collaborating with SMEs. Time and time again, we see marketers come up with a list of content topics in a vacuum. Then when SMEs are asked to speak on those topics, there is disagreement about whether those are the best topics in the first place. That tension is absolutely avoidable. Don't wait until you need to schedule an interview to involve an SME. Share other Follow Your Buyer articles with SMEs like "Advice For Choosing The Best Content Marketing Topics" and "What Not To Write About: 4 Content Marketing Traps To Avoid” so they understand how you’ll develop a content roadmap.

4 – Invest in up-front planning.

The planning process extends beyond working with SMEs to choose content topics. Make sure your SMEs understand what, exactly, will be covered in each piece of content. It’s especially important for your SMEs to know they aren’t expected to be salespeople, especially if they are working on content for the early or middle stages of the buyer’s journey.  Make sure your SMEs can speak to the topic on a level that your buyers can understand (and in a way that doesn’t overly promote your products/services). Have your SMEs read, “The Risk Of Confusing Thought Leadership With Selling.” Before the interview, make sure they see the prepared list of questions. Then, verify they’ve actually looked at those questions by asking them to jot down a bullet point or two for each and sending you their notes.

5 – Set clear expectations.

Have someone who is not familiar with content marketing take an objective look at how you plan to explain the content creation process to an SME (a good media and/or content creation partner can help you with this, too). Ask them to pick apart your instructions so you can smooth over anything vague. This will ensure that you are communicating expectations in a way that is 100 percent crystal clear. Make sure your SME knows the timeline, especially for the editing and approval process. Have the SME run all questions through a single point person so that a piece of content doesn’t get delayed by having too many cooks in the kitchen.

6 – Overcommunicate.

Have a kickoff meeting. Have a follow-up meeting. Send calendar invites and reminders leading up to the interview. Send calendar invites and reminders about when revisions are due. Ask SMEs what organization system they use and then adapt your reminders to fit that system. If you can, walk over to your subject matter expert's desk or office and talk face-to-face about the upcoming content project. If you don’t work in the same office, pick up the phone and call the SMEs to check in. Copy your SMEs on every email between the marketing team, freelance writer, agency, etc., which will help the SME understand how much effort is involved in creating good content. Make sure the SME is aware of anything the marketing team sends to content writers for background (reference materials, for example) and has the chance to provide additional information. The point is, you’ll want to overcommunicate until your SMEs get the hang of being involved in content.

Content Collaboration Doesn’t Happen Overnight

Remember when we said getting SMEs excited about helping with content can’t be done in a single email or in one meeting? Well, your “content marketing is awesome” campaign still has to start somewhere, and once it starts, it will never end. You’ll need to continuously work to communicate the importance of content. And once your content is out there in the world, don’t just share engagement metrics and wins with the sales team – make sure the SMEs responsible for helping create it can see the fruits of their labor.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, just as your first white paper won’t be perfected and published in a week. Have realistic expectations for how long it will take to get everyone playing for the same content marketing team. Remember, with just a little planning and proactive communication, marketers can steer the content creation process in a way that is less stressful for everyone involved.

About the author

Chief Editor, Follow Your Buyer

You might know me as a writer, coach, content marketer, dog lover, editor, golfer, sales strategist, Diet Coke enthusiast, speaker, Allegheny alum, project manager, feminist, networker, or St. Louis Cardinals fan. 

We will not be great by what we accomplish, but by what we help others accomplish.

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Learning to follow your buyer is a change in mindset

A transition from selling buyers on what you do to helping them accomplish what they do.