I am full hot on this idea right now. If you are a salesperson, this is what you should spend your time working on now. If you are a sales manager, this is what you should be building. If you are a sales leader, this is what separates you from the results you want.
More and more, salespeople work with overlay teams. They have technical subject matter experts to help them do discovery and solution deals, leveraging their expertise to create value for the client. They have subject matter experts that specialize in products, bringing their knowledge and experience to bear on the client’s challenges. The salesperson is left sitting at a conference room table with nothing to say, other than introducing the people who can actually speak to the client. This is a detrimental reliance on a Subject Matter Expert.
The remedy isn’t easy, but it is necessary. You can’t be a trusted advisor without the advice. More still, if the only value you provide is inviting a SME to a meeting, you are going to have a tough time developing a preference to work with you—even though subject matter experts are necessary, and even though there is nothing wrong with this model if you do your part.
You don’t need to know 100 percent of what your technical or product SME knows. You also can’t know 4 percent of what they know, either. There is some amount of knowledge that you must possess that is somewhere between these two poles. I am using the number 52 percent because it is just over half of what a SME knows. That means you know what discovery questions to ask and what the likely answers might be. You know what your client is going ask in their preliminary questions, and you know the answers to those questions. The objective here is an asymmetry in information in your favor, a lack of parity on the client’s part, with you still occupying the space of trusted advisor.
To do this, you need to start with the intention of learning a good bit of what your SME knows, a notebook in which to write down the questions they ask and the questions that are asked of them, as well as the responses to each. You also need a few minutes after a sales call to ask your SME to bring you up to speed on the first couple levels deep on the common questions.
Maybe you need to be a 36 percent SME. Or maybe, with a little work, you can be a 47 percent SME. Whatever that number is, you can’t be a 3 percent SME and create value for your client when they know more than you.