Overcome the SME Availability Objection

Six ways to entice busy subject matter experts (SMEs) to fully engage and provide you with the information you need to develop quality training.

When working with subject matter experts (SMEs), the No. 1 objection trainers encounter is availability. SMEs have a real job and assisting with training development generally isn’t part of that job, or if it is, it’s only a minor part. SMEs have little time to devote when trainers ask for their assistance.

This challenge causes no end of frustration as you attempt to meet development deadlines without the critical information you need. Your training comes off as incomplete, theoretical, or ineffectual.

So how do you entice SMEs to fully engage and provide you the information you need to develop quality training? When engaging SMEs:

1. Set expectations upfront. Advise your SMEs what role you need them to play and get their agreement that they can meet your expectations. If SMEs have concerns, it’s better to address them at the start of a project than midway through. Now is the time to carve the strategy to work together, or determine if you need to work with a different SME.

2. Schedule regular 20-minute meetings. While nobody likes more meetings, and SMEs are already unavailable, if you have consistent meetings on the calendar that SMEs can schedule around, frequently they’ll do that. Limiting the meeting length to 20 minutes and adhering to that time shows respect for the SME’s schedule. As your SMEs see that you’re truly only going to use 20 minutes, they’ll show up and engage more.

3. Communicate consistently. Keep SMEs updated on your progress throughout the development process. Send brief e-mails or voicemails with two- or three-sentence updates on how the project is progressing. Don’t underestimate the power of voicemail to help SMEs connect with you as a peer as they hear your energy and enthusiasm. Think of it as building the relationship. On the plus side, they’ll also remember that they owe you the next piece of the project, even without you asking!

4. Ask quick questions. Rather than save up all your questions for a meeting, call or e-mail quick questions between meetings. Yes, you may need a lot more information, but perhaps gathering it a little at a time will help keep you moving forward. Use meetings to delve in and get clarification or the next layer of information.

5. Contain the complaints. Nobody wants to work with someone who is complaining about them, and complaints have a way of getting back to the target. While SMEs are frequently difficult to work with, don’t unwittingly sabotage yourself by complaining to co-workers. Instead, bring your concerns about their availability directly to the SMEs and brainstorm alternative communication methods that will work for both of you.

6. Give praise freely. Too frequently, SMEs are forgotten once the training is delivered. Their hard work goes unrecognized. Throughout the process, praise SMEs for their efforts and the successes you’ve received as a result of them. After delivery, share the accomplishments. Acknowledge and give them credit as part of the team. They’ll be eager to work with you the next time.

KLA Group President Kendra Lee is a top IT seller; prospect attraction expert; and author of the book, “The Sales Magnet.” KLA Group develops custom sales training programs to help clients break in and exceed revenue objectives in the small and midmarket business (SMB) segment. Lee is a frequent speaker at training conferences, national sales meetings, and association events. To find out more or to subscribe to Lee’s newsletter, visit www.klagroup.com or call 303.741.6636.