Improve your marketing: Questions to ask subject matter experts

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Interviewing subject matter experts (SMEs) is a key way to create business marketing content that provides true value. By asking thoughtful questions, you gain insider perspectives and details you simply can’t get elsewhere. But what makes effective questions to ask subject matter experts?

And what are examples of good questions for different types of SMEs? This guide covers why SMEs matter, how to ask good questions, and sample questions tailored to specific experts at a company.

The Power of Connecting with SMEs

While subject matter experts provide immense value, how much should writers rely on them for content development? According to content marketing consultant Ron Watt Jr. on “The Business Storytelling Show,” many creators underutilize SMEs, failing to connect with true topic insiders as part of their process.

In Ron’s view, lack of expert input ranks as the No. 1 reason “most content sucks.” He emphasizes that actually interviewing knowledgeable specialists gives access to “more rich” material that “the consumer or reader” will benefit from.

At the same time, creators should blend SME insights with hard data points – whether statistics or credible facts “that support their key messages.” The trick is striking an effective balance between leveraging subject matter expertise and creating well-rounded content that resonates. But in Ron’s experience, most writers tilt far too little towards tapping genuine topic authorities compared to focusing narrowly on machines and isolated data. Seeking SME perspectives more actively offers a prime untapped opportunity.

Subject matter experts offer immense benefits for content creation and marketing. As the author of “Writing for Humans and Robots,” Maddy Osman, notes, SMEs provide “niche knowledge and perspectives” critical for crafting relatable, compelling content.

More specifically, SMEs deliver:

  • Expert Insights – Details beyond independent research based on years of specialized experience
  • Reader Relevance – An insider view into what content will best engage target audiences right now
  • Compelling Stories – Impactful anecdotes and real examples that humanize content
  • Quote Goldmines – Commentary adds credibility and flavor when directly included

Despite this immense value, actually connecting with busy SMEs poses challenges. Building relationships and asking thoughtful questions are key.

Read next: Are Email Subject Line Generators Worth It?

Good questions and a partnership matter because neither the SME nor the writer can produce great content alone – they need each other.

The SME brings deep knowledge and expertise in their field but often lacks strong writing skills – especially for the web. The writer has writing talent but needs the SME to provide technical details and fact-check the accuracy of the content.

Crafting Good Questions  to Ask Subject Matter Experts

A “good” question is one that elicits an insightful, genuine response from the expert. Good questions signal your interest in deeply understanding their knowledge. Bad questions assume, limit possibilities, or make the expert uncomfortable.

For example:

Bad question:

“Don’t you agree that this product already has all the features it needs?”

Good question:

“What future capabilities do you envision for this product and customers?”

The bad question assumes and confines thinking. The good question invites open, forward-thinking answers.

So, what makes a “good” question?

  • Open-ended starting with who, what, where, when, why or how
  • Focused on understanding rather than assumptions
  • Tailored very specifically to the expert and specialty
  • Designed to uncover meaningful responses that can then be used in content

Questions to Ask Subject Matter Expert that Align with a Storyline

While asking open-ended, thoughtful questions matters when engaging experts; it’s equally important to keep the questioning aligned with your overall content goals and storyline. The specifics of what you ask should map directly to supporting or expanding on the intended topic that will ultimately engage readers.

For example, if creating content on “How to Pick the Right Road Bicycle,” tailor expert questions to useful insights or anecdotes for that focus:

  • What key mistakes do beginners typically make when selecting their first road bike? How can they avoid these pitfalls?
  • How important are factors like bike materials, gearing, tire width, and suspension when determining general ride quality for a casual rider vs a hardcore cyclist?
  • When considering brands carried in our shop, how do models from Brand A generally compare and contrast with those from Brand C in your experience? What matters most?
  • What specific questions would you advise new buyers to ask our sales team during the process of getting properly fitted for a road bicycle?
  • In your view, under what circumstances might you suggest a buyer spend more for a higher-end bike if budget is a consideration? What functional differences justify the added expense?

Of course, the specific questions will vary for other topics, so think about what questions can give you the best chance to get good stories from the SME. And don’t forget about asking follow-up questions.

The objective is uncovering nuggets of wisdom tied specifically to the chosen content theme from those in the know.

Basic questions

Now let’s explore helpful questions tailored for three common types of SMEs.

Questions for Company Founders

As the person initiating an enterprise, founders possess unique history, values, and vision expertise. Good questions might include:

  • What originally inspired you to start this company? What underlying problem, customer need or opportunity did you aim to address?
  • What early decisions or pivots were most crucial in shaping your business model and approach?
  • What key aspects of your company’s culture fuel success? Why are these so important to protect?
  • If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger founder self? What lessons do you wish you knew earlier?
  • Where do you envision your company in 5 years? What emerging trends or market forces excite or concern you about achieving this vision?

Those are good starter questions for the first discussions. More stories with additional questions likely will arise.

Questions for Product Managers

Product leads guide offerings from ideation to delivery with customer needs in mind. Ask them:

  • How exactly do you gather product feedback from different customer segments? What key lessons have you learned from them?
  • When you map the product vision and roadmap, how do you balance customer requests, business goals, developer workload, and your own perspectives?
  • Can you walk me through the full process of envisioning and delivering one of your most successful product features or updates?
  • If you could instantly change one element of your product delivery process, what would it be and why?

Questions for Company Experts

Individual employees often serve as “go-to” experts regarding different thought leadership topics a company might want to be known for publicly. Tailor questions to their niche:

  • What initially sparked your interest in this specialty? How has your view of the field evolved over your career?
  • In your experience, what is the biggest or most dangerous misconception others have about your area of expertise?
  • Imagine you could instantly solve one persistent issue or frustration within your specialty area. What would it be and why?
  • What emerging innovation or trend related to your expertise are you most enthusiastic about now? How specifically could it impact business performance or customers?
  • What specific advice or warning do you offer newcomers or aspiring experts regarding this field? What do you wish you knew when starting out?

Questions for a Customer Support Expert

As someone handling customer issues daily, support experts offer insights into user challenges. Common questions can often be answered publicly as well. Good questions might include:

  • What first sparked your interest in pursuing a career in customer support? How has that view evolved based on frontline experience
  • What is the most common service-related request or complaint you receive from customers? What underlying user friction or confusion tends to drive this?
  • From your unique vantage point, what 1-2 user experience irritations would you instantly remove if you could wave a magic wand? Why are those so problematic?
  • What emerging technology or market shift are you most enthusiastic about right now? How will it empower support agents?

Questions for an Industry Analyst

Experts continuously tracking the external landscape provide strategic overviews of trends and competition. Ask them:

  • Within our market, what notable industry disruptions or technological innovations do you anticipate emerging within the next 3 years? Why will these be game-changers?
  • What recent competitor moves or offerings trouble you most in terms of matching their capabilities? Why and where do they have an edge currently?
  • Regarding our target buyer personas and market segments, what 1-2 evolving consumer expectations concern you most over the next decade in terms of our ability to cater to them?
  • What “weak signals” are you noticing — tiny changes barely on the radar that you feel represent threats or opportunities if they gain momentum? What specifically makes these worth paying attention to now?
  • If our executive leadership team sought your advice on gaps within their collective knowledge, what would you identify as crucial for them to understand about the external environment? What data or lens matters most?

The Bottom Line

Interviewing relevant company experts with thoughtful questions yields crucial insights unattainable elsewhere. These niche perspectives directly make content more credible, engaging, and actionable, offering creators a path to even better content.

By avoiding assumptions, focusing on understanding, and respectfully making the most of SMEs’ time, writers gain access to inside intel that resonates because informed expert viewpoints lend content undeniable authority and authenticity.

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