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3 Key Characteristics of a Successful Subject Matter Expert

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Most people don’t purposely set out to become a Subject Matter Expert. Over a period of time a person realizes that they have accumulated more knowledge about a specific subject than any other.  The best use of  this knowledge is to establish and enhance your business’s perception.  By establishing yourself as a Subject Matter Expert you lay a perfect foundation for building your Business or Personal Brand. The benefits of being an SME vary by industry, but the universal benefits could be very lucrative and self satisfying for you.  Your knowledge is valuable to your customers and it’s your knowledge that sets you apart from the rest, but just knowing about a subject is only the beginning of becoming an expert.

To obtain the label Subject Matter Expert, you must be consistent and  invest a lot of time in developing your expertise. Being up to date or even one step ahead in a particular field allows you to go beyond just providing information.  Bypassing unseen errors and offering actionable solutions to current ones are the sweet spot for most SMEs.  What are the key characteristics of a successful Subject Matter Expert?

1.   Stays Within Area of Expertise

A successful Subject Matter Expert knows his/her area of expertise.  It’s important not to generalize or you may find yourself grasping at straws and coming up short. Be specific. Businesses come in all shapes and sizes and so do their products or services. Expert fields are made up of a core body of knowledge, and then broken down to even more specialized fields. Accounting is a base field, corporate or small business is more specialized. The more specific you are about your area of expertise the better you will be able to serve the customer. Staying within your area of expertise allows you to respond quickly and more important accurately to the customer’s needs.

  • Anticipates the customer’s needs and actions
  • Self-corrects without disrupting customer’s business goal
  • Coordinates processes unique to each customer’s need
  • Maintains clarity of their role

2.  Able To Simplify Communication

It’s not what you know it’s what you do. What customers care about is can you solve th problem and help them meet their goals.  What knowledge you bring to the table is good, but to the customer it’s just information.  What you know has value, but what you do is what matters to them. Most SMEs have a hard time taking the shortcut in communication. What you know is the sum of many years of education and work experience, it’s important that you be able to only stick to what pertains to your customer’s concerns. Instead of focusing on the information, focus on how the customer will use the information.  A key trait of the SME is the ability to compact detailed processes into a well communicated package that customers can quickly digest.

  • Understand the keywords and natural language your customers
  • Ask questions to be sure of the customer’s comprehension
  • Communicate ONLY what pertains to the customer’s problem
  • Keep the customer engaged with emails, telephone calls or regular face to face meetings

3.   Stays Passionate About Your Expertise

Successful SMEs know the value in creating great relationships and strive to sustain engagement long-term.  They understand that it takes time to build credibility, trust and influence in the business community.  Credibility result from a long-term strategy of growing and evolving by participating over time in activities that will achieve personal and business objectives.  Reading publications and web sites dedicated to your expertise helps develop the theoretical side of the area of your expertise as well as understanding the trends for your area.  Take on the daily challenge to educate yourself on how others in your field think and do their work. You will be surprised how being on the outside looking in gives you an advantage.  Join professional organizations and associations.  Let others in your field know your out there and what you have to offer. Be available to answer questions and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

  • Study your target audience’s wants and needs
  • Research what questions are they most commonly asking?
  • What issues/problems are they looking to solve?
  • Know what new innovative trends are being introduced

Being good at what you do doesn’t make you a great source unless you provide an awesome experience customers will remember. Subject Matter Experts that only focus on the problem, solve the problem but fail to create a memorable working experience for the customer. Staying within your expertise, communicating well and showing sincere passion are all important characteristics that solve the customer’s problem and makes the process a great experience as well. The more great customer experiences you create, the more success you will have.

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Written by Beverly S. Davis

August 24, 2012 at 9:49 am

One Response

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  1. […] Specialists Experts (herein “Specialist”) is the mastery of a body of knowledge and use of that knowledge in practical ways. A Specialist can be defined as one who has much training in and knowledge of a particular subject. Handling an axe well is a skill, not a subject suitable for Specialists. Understanding how to manage a lumber company or analysing how the paper industry operates are areas of Specialists.1 […]


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