As the solutions we sell become more and more complex, serving your prospective clients can require that you bring a subject matter expert into the mix. The subject matter expert (SME) has deep knowledge in some area around your solution, something domain specific, like information technology or risk management.
The subject matter expert answers questions that are beyond the capabilities of the salesperson. In many cases, however, salespeople have become dependent on subject matter experts and in doing so have become irrelevant. They’ve absolved themselves of their responsibility to become the advisor part of “trusted advisor.”
If you are in business-to-business sales and the sale is complex, strategic, and potentially full of risk, you must be a subject matter expert in your own right. If you are not, you are irrelevant.
Do You Know as Much or More Than Me?
It may not be necessary for you to have the same depth of knowledge or experience as a subject matter expert inside your company, but you can’t be too far off either. You can’t be a trusted advisor and a consultative salesperson and also an “know nothing.” You have to bring more value than simply knowing who to call to get questions answered.
Your prospective client has questions. They expect that you have the depth of knowledge necessary to answer their questions. If you don’t know as much or more than your prospective client knows, it is difficult for you to create value for them.
Your goal should be to know as much or more about the areas where you help your clients than any of your prospective clients—and far more than any of your competitors.
Are You Relevant? Do You Have a Point of View?
It’s also important that you know enough to be relevant. Relevance requires that you have a point of view. That you have ideas about what is right, what is wrong, what is possible, what is now, and what is next.
The more senior the person you are working with, the more important it is that you have a point of view that creates value for them. It’s important that you have an arsenal of ideas and experiences that allow you to disrupt their current thinking and provide them with the new lens through which to see their future.
Your goal should be to become the person that your clients and prospective clients call to help understand what they should be doing to drive their business forward and create greater results. What do you need to know to be able to deliver that level of value?
Product knowledge is not enough by itself. You need to be world-class in your space if you are going to be relevant, credible, and irreplaceable. You are going to need to be a subject matter expert.