TL;DR: In B2B marketing, you can leverage your Subject Matter Experts (SME) to create blogs, ebooks, and videos that will engage your current audience and attract new customers. Read our ultimate guide to learn how.

So What? Running a SME interview takes skill and attention to detail… all of which starts well before you sit down to chat. Here, we’re covering the basics of what it means to plan, execute, and take control of a SME interview:

  • Planning to accommodate the SME’s time, patience, and knowledge.
  • Researching to get real insights rather than the high-level information you can get from a bio.
  • Using the right tools and tech to eliminate friction around scheduling, recording, transcribing, and taking notes.

What are SME Interviews?

Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) are the brains within your company, the ones highly sought after for their insights–insights that can serve as the foundation for high-quality marketing materials. 

A B2B SME interview can lend credibility to all your marketing assets, including product advertising, long-form thought leadership, blogs, videos, and much more.

It’s usually the marketer’s job to interview the SME. These interviews call for significant preparation, attention to detail, and consideration of the SME’s time and energy. In the following article, we’ll guide you through SME interview tools and techniques so you can create effective discussions that your SME (and your audience) will love. 

The Importance of Investing in SME Interviews

Some of the core benefits you get from building content around SME interviews include:

  • Accuracy and Credibility: SMEs can provide accurate, up-to-date information on developments in their field, which can help you and other members of your marketing team craft content your audience will trust.
  • Product Insights: Often your SMEs know the product inside and out, and can provide protips or explain advanced features in a way that you may not understand (but your customers will).
  • Thought Leadership: A SME’s affiliation with your brand can help position it and your offerings as industry leaders.
  • Insider Wisdom: By sharing their opinions on industry trends and best practices, SMEs can help you stay ahead of the curve and create relevant, interesting content.
  • A Bigger Audience: Because SMEs are often too busy to create their content, well-produced content that uses expert insight is a win-win, linking your offering to an industry-respected professional while offering the SME high-quality publicity without the required time and effort.

Preparation: Setting Objectives for the Interview 

As a rule, SMEs are in high demand and have precious few hours to spare, so the more efficient you are with their time, the better.  

Interviewers should do their homework well before they enter their SME interview. Additionally, a briefer, more productive interview means you’re more likely to get the information you need to craft a good product for your audience.

At a bare minimum, you should walk into a SME interview following these steps:

  • Identifying Project Objectives: Ask yourself what you hope to achieve by conducting the interview. A concise response to this question can help you figure out the role you see the expert’s answers playing in your campaign, project, or article.
  • Determining Topics & Drafting Questions: Once you know the main aim of sitting down with your SME, you can develop some “must-discuss” topics and put together some questions to guide your conversation. Keep your questions open-ended so that you don’t elicit simple yeses or nos.
  • Doing Your Homework: Before the interview, be sure you research the SME on LinkedIn and understand their general role within the company. Do light research on their background and skim anything they’ve published. Often you can work these details into the interview.

Marketer’s Takeaway: When writing your interview questions, remember to strike a good balance between specificity and generality. For example, rather than ask, “Does this trend concern you?” try “What are your thoughts on this trend?” For a half-hour interview, have about 10 questions ready to go. Be sure to get your SME a polished version of your planned questions at least a day before the interview. 

Structuring the Interview

Some things to consider when structuring your interview:

  • In-Person vs. Remote: What’s the most convenient way for your SME to talk to you? Will anyone else be present during the interview? For most SMEs, an online video call is easiest – and keep it to half an hour.
  • Setting it Up: Instead of going back and forth on available time slots, just pick a time that works for you, and send them the invite and dial-in. Let them know you’re happy to move it if they want to suggest an alternate time.
  • Recording: Most video-call software has recording options, so let them know at the outset that you’ll be recording the call for your private use, if that’s OK. Protip: if you’re not in charge of the recording, start a backup recording device as well (your phone’s audio recorder works well).
  • Length: Try to keep your interview to around half an hour. This is short enough that most people can fit it into their schedules if given enough time to plan. Make sure to end on time; this also forces longwinded SMEs to focus their thoughts.
  • Tools and Technology: A wide variety of tools are at your disposal for conducting and recording interviews. They include:
    • Zoom: The standard for video calls, Zoom is free and easy to pick up for anyone inside and outside an organization. (Be sure to record on your local device; cloud recording has been known to fail.)
    • Google Meet: Meet is Google’s version of Teams: a video chat plugged into the Google Cloud ecosystem, with the added benefit of being entirely browser-based.
    • Microsoft Teams: Microsoft’s communication platform includes video and text chat, file sharing, and integration with the Office suite of tools.
    • Rev: A transcription service staffed by experts for accurate interview transcripts.
    • TranscribeMe is an affordable option with human and AI transcription services that can scale your needs.
    • An automated AI-powered transcription service that integrates with platforms like Zoom to support options like automatic video transcription and scheduling.

Marketer’s Takeaway: To respect the SME’s time, aim for half-hour interviews. Take the lead on scheduling, but be flexible if the time does’t work. Leverage new technology to streamline processes like scheduling and note-taking to reduce friction between stakeholders.

Background Research

young man sitting at his work desk ready for an SME interview

Generally, your SME interview should be about a specific topic or theme. Do your research ahead of time. Here are some tips:

  • Study the SME: Conduct a basic backgrounder on your SME so you know the essentials, and can ask more meaningful follow-ups during your discussion. (On the other hand, don’t go overboard–you don’t need to deep dive on their Facebook account.)
  • Pre-interview Questions: Email your SME a simple list of tailored questions before the call. This will help the SME prepare, keep the interview on track within the allotted time, and provide the basis for further discussions. 

Marketer’s Takeaway: A little preparation will make for a lot better interview. For a half-hour interview, have about 10 questions prepared (you may not get to them all). You can go off-script to make it more conversational.

Conducting the Interview 

young professional woman sitting and ready for an SME interview

Conducting SME interviews is less science and more art, where paying attention to the flow of conversation and social cues can help keep the discussion enjoyable. Knowing how to direct the conversation naturally once the interview begins will help you get the necessary information.

Here are some of the best ways to do it:

  • Be A Good Listener: After you ask a question, pay attention to the response, keeping an ear out for key points, especially those involving dates, names, and figures. Repeat these to your SME and ask for confirmation that you have them right. Be an active listener, ready to respond with follow-ups you may not have in your pre-written list.
  • Open-Ended Questions: As mentioned before, resist the urge to ask anything that will get you a simple yes or no. Allowing an interview subject some movement in their answers often brings you the good stuff.
  • Adjust As Needed: Be willing to pivot and adapt. If the interview goes in a different direction from your planned one, that’s OK – as long as it’s beneficial. If the discussion is veering into time-wasting territory, do your bes tto redirect with a question from your list. 

Marketer’s Takeaway: During the interview, repeat critical points made by your SME and use them to form new questions. Let your SME veer off-track if you’re getting good content, but feel free to pull them back in they’re meandering. Listen actively!

Post-interview: How to Harness Interview Insights

Your work isn’t over when the interview wraps. Now, it’s time to formulate a plan to turn the SME’s responses into content your audience will want to consume. This means organizing and synthesizing what you’ve got with your own research and analysis.

  • Transcribing and Organizing the Interview: Use shorthand to take notes during the interview, then transcribe the interview afterward (or use AI tools to do it for you). This will allow you to pull accurate quotes and re-familiarize yourself with information given during the interview.
  • Validating Information: If your SME gives you any specific information–such as dates, names, or events–that should be looked into further, having a recording and transcription will help you verify accuracy.
  • Outlining the Content: Consider putting together an outline with key points and quotes. Then use the outline to write up a Q&A, long-form narrative, or case study for your website.
  • Thanking Your SME: Don’t forget to send your SME a thank-you email (and a link to the draft piece when it’s ready).

Marketer’s Takeaway: Take notes and get a transcript. Blend responses, research, and analysis. And remember to thank your SME, and share the final piece. 

How to Use Your SME Interviews

  • Customer Experiences: Given their industry experience, SMEs can be excellent storytellers. Customer experiences and case studies make great content, and are often well-told by SMEs.
  • Blog Posts: Interesting points made by a SME during an interview can be turned into blog posts, whether in Q&A format, or a narrative with quotes sprinkled in. 
  • Social Media Campaigns: You can use direct quotes from your expert in social media ads, such as those promoting use cases, stories, or blogs.
  • Videos: Short- and long-form videos on social media are highly popular with internet users. Consider producing engaging videos that share portions of your SME interview with your audience.

Marketer’s Takeaway: After the interview, review your material with a view toward how it might fit into all your marketing channels. Depending on the SME’s camera-friendliness and quotability, you could get multiple marketing materials out of a single SME interview.

Nail Your Next SME Interview with Media Shower

Are you looking for SMEs who can lend authority to your online content? Media Shower’s got you covered. Our award-winning content marketing team has been working with subject matter experts for nearly three decades–and we know how to leverage their knowledge to create content that gets you noticed. Take Media Shower for a test drive today.

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