This article comes from Sonia Pupaza’s talk, ‘Maximize enablement programs' effectiveness by leveraging subject-matter experts’, at our Amsterdam 2023 Sales Enablement Summit, check out the full version here

Enablement programs live and die by their subject-matter experts. 

Like it or not, wrangling SMEs is a core part of the job. The good news? With the right approach, SME collaboration can be incredibly rewarding.

In this article, I’ll draw from my experiences enabling sales teams at companies like Oracle and Camunda to provide an insider’s guide to maximizing your SME relationships.

I’ve learned the hard way that SMEs are the secret sauce for impactful enablement. At one company, I was just a tiny cog in a 300+ person global enablement machine. Now I fly solo at Camunda, but regardless of team size, SMEs bring invaluable expertise.

The key is tapping into specific SME knowledge. Product experts can demystify capabilities, engineers share real-world implementations, and  customer-facing roles provide user perspectives.

In short, SMEs have the insider insights learners need. Let’s explore how to collaborate effectively! 👇

  • Why collaborate with SMEs?
  • Who can be an SME?
  • Planning a program with SMEs
  • SME collaboration challenges
  • Best practices for SME collaboration
  • Top tips
  • Final thoughts

Why collaborate with SMEs?

Simply put, SMEs have the greatest impact on enablement program success. After all, they are the actual experts in their domains, so it just makes sense to fully leverage their knowledge and expertise, right?

In some companies, enablement teams may hire external specialists who are knowledgeable about certain topics to develop content. That can work, but I've found that collaborating with your own internal SMEs is even more powerful for a few key reasons:

  • It helps simplify and align all the content and messaging across the program because it comes directly from the experts themselves.
  • With short recorded presentations or interviews with SMEs, you can break down and reuse that content in a variety of flexible ways across the enablement program - from 5 minute microlearning videos to podcast clips to assessments and more. It's getting way more mileage out of your content!
  • Learners get to see and hear directly from people they know, respect, and consider experts at their own company. That direct connection can really increase engagement and impact.

So in summary, leveraging internal SMEs enables you to do more with less by tapping into their expertise in focused ways that maximize relevance, alignment, and engagement.

Who can be an SME?

From my perspective, anyone can be an SME! But let's dig deeper...

When I'm developing an enablement program, I like to think about the key learner personas and where they can get the knowledge they need. 

Like when young children look up to their parents as SMEs - answering endless questions about how the world works until they learn how to read, write, (and Google things) for themselves!

Here are a few common enablement personas I typically engage as SMEs:

  • 📈 Product experts

Since they are designing and developing our solutions, product teams know the intricate details of features and functionality. They are great SMEs for "how it works" content.

  • 💬 Product marketing

These folks can translate product capabilities into benefits and value for customers. I tap them for messaging and positioning.

  • ⚙️ Solutions engineers

In my company, solutions engineers handle pre-sales demos and post-sales implementation. They make great SMEs to explain how our solutions are applied.

  • 🤝 Customer-facing roles

Client-facing teams like sales, services, and customer success interact with users daily. I leverage them for real-world perspectives and examples.

The key is to first understand your core learner personas and then identify which SMEs can provide the knowledge those learners need. 

Of course, you can also take what you learn from SMEs and adapt it for other audiences too. The insights often translate broadly.

Planning a program with SMEs

When planning a new enablement program, I always start by:

  1. Working with stakeholders to align on the overall learning objectives. Clarifying desired outcomes upfront is key!
  2. Meeting with potential SMEs to discuss the program vision, solicit their input, and get buy-in. I also validate with stakeholders that the SMEs I'm engaging in align to the program goals.