Buyers don’t interact with salespeople because they are salespeople. In fact, they usually want to avoid salespeople, because they are salespeople. But buyers do want to interact with people who are subject matter experts, and this applies irrespective of the price of your product or service, or whether you follow a transactional or more consultative (high brow) sales process.
And even if you are not asked about your subject matter expertise at a sales job interview, you should make it a discussion point, because it will be one of the pillars supporting your success in a new sales role.
Subject Matter Expertise (SME) has four dimensions in a sales role context:
Industry Trends Knowledge: Many people have “industry knowledge”, but in a sales role that has to be translated into trends that prospects and customers want to hear about or need to hear about, because it will eventually affect their business and/or their personal performance. The “trends” approach also assists you to (later on) tell your own backstory and why your company’s role in the sector might matter.
Problems, Challenges and Opportunities: Buyers want to talk to (sales)people whom they can clearly see understand the nature of challenges they face. This includes an ability to diagnose the customer’s situation and practices, without becoming a preacher.
Better Outcomes: It’s well accepted nowadays that salespeople who focus on what they do, are much less attractive to buyers, than those who can envision better outcomes for clients. Sometimes these outcomes can be so significant that they are of strategic value to prospects and customers. You need to able to show that you can help customers produce the results they need.
One of the most powerful ways to communicate that you might be someone who could help a prospect achieve better outcomes, is that you have informed (and usually hard-won) perspectives and opinions about the industry and the experience of customers in the sector.
Helping Prospects make Better Decisions: Buyers are not experts in what you sell, so they expect you to guide them to make the best decision, and sometimes that may not even go your way. (If you have a 100% conversion rate you need to get out more). Buyers who reject – or disrespect – good advice are sometimes the people you want to qualify out. Buyers who explore your advice with you, you will qualify in.
Wise salespeople have always followed a basic truth: the buyers who decide not to work with you, are your best teachers. That’s why, when you take on the next sales role, it’s essential to talk to enough prospects as early as possible, so that you can more quickly teach yourself how to be useful to your new audience. Aside from talking to colleagues, reading, thinking and observing, the best way to build and strength-test your subject matter expertise, is to prospect, hunt and recover often.