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The Marketer and the Subject Matter Expert: Who’s more important?

For years I marketed for startups with awesome technologies and wicked smart people. You know, the MIT-types who could go Death Valley-deep on topics like keeping mission-critical telecom and defense systems highly available or bleeding edge DevOps that was a precursor to what we all know today as platform-as-a-service (PaaS) or FinTech pioneers who made the complex world of payment processors simple for online merchants. While my context was always technology, my background wasn't, and I always felt like I was playing catch up. I had little ways of managing around it like a daily vocab list in my journal for which I'd look up the definitions, write them down, quiz myself, and feverishly take notes at technical sessions that had the answers. I'd spend time with the CTOs, product strategists, and architects to visualize this world that I was not from and try to remember it.

Marketing that walks the walk

The reason I did all of this was because I wanted the marketing I produced to be accurate. I wanted to speak in the language of the person I was targeting and deliver something of value. As you can imagine (or know first-hand), if the person or team in charge of evangelizing your cause isn't a native to the context, there's a gap. And this gap can affect impact.

Now factor in the pressure for marketing to determine the best route to get you where you’re going. We are the top and the middle of the funnel (TOFU and MOFU, respectively), setting the tone for the entire pipeline. Eyes are constantly on us to prove value (as all functions should!). Whether it’s the traffic you drive to the website, the next piece of digital content you optimize, the next campaign (comprising landing pages, emails, social posts, LinkedIn outreach, webinars, partner collaborations), all are aimed to hit goals around awareness, qualification, and engagement. Navigating the twists and turns in a land you’re not from can get tricky. Even with the hard work you do on your own and with your fellow teammates, marketers aren't always set up to bridge the gap between deep understanding of the problem your organization solves and shaping a marketing strategy and tactics that will cause someone to act.

You have something the SMEs don’t

So how do you bridge the gap? You might be thinking I'm making a case for only hiring marketers who are native to your context. Not at all. The fresh perspective of a marketer who isn't a native of your context is an invaluable asset. Here's why...

What I learned much later was that I, and most marketers, had something the technology wizards (replace that with whomever is the subject matter expert or SME within your organization) did not. I had an inherent understanding of what makes a story complete. A desire to understand the audience we were targeting, a sensitivity to the meat of the story that would make it compelling, and an eye for bringing that story to life. And because I was not a native to this world, I could look at each of these elements objectively. By no means did I hit it out of the park every time, but the way I and a lot of marketers are wired is essential to having impact. A brilliant solution without the ability to capture it in a story you can tell at scale in a captivating way is a boat missed. Let's make it a yacht off the Amalfi coast...missed.

So who is more important – the marketer or the SME? The answer is both. The real question is how do you connect the dots between the two in time to get results?

A story that drives someone to act

While marketers know how to define and tell a story, how do we make sure the story itself has enough depth to drive someone to open or click or ask for more information or ask for help? Being engaging is one thing, but what comes next? How do we stay away from sounding too marketing-y and add enough meat that the person consuming our story believes we know what the heck we're talking about? While marketers can certainly work hard to understand our context, we can't overnight—or even over months—have the depth of understanding the SME has.

So how do you connect the dots between the problem your organization solves—known deeply by your SME—and the people who can tell it to the right part of the world in the right way?

If you could bottle the effectiveness of the solutions architect types you bring in to your very important prospect to close the deal, and blast that effectiveness out at scale, wouldn’t you? I'm convinced that if marketers can add depth right from the beginning of your dialogue with a prospect, the quality of the people you attract and the speed to which you can move them through the sales cycle will be exponentially better.

In the next article I’m planning to share a strategy for how to do just that. It’s called co-creation.

I'm always learning, so if you have another perspective or more to add on what I've presented here, I'd love to hear it!

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