In marketing, differentiation can be a source of huge competitive advantage. In the workplace, it’s more important than ever to be more than just a number. Employees should differentiate themselves in their current positions and job seekers should differentiate themselves for potential employers.
One way you can differentiate yourself in the workplace and in the labour market is to become a Subject Matter Expert (SME). No longer confined to technical roles, Subject Matter Experts are sought after by companies for all types of technical and non-technical roles.
Pick a subject you are passionate about
There’s no point in deciding to become a subject matter expert in a subject you don’t really care about. After all, to become an expert, you will be investing a lot of time, energy and focus. Confucius is attributed with a quote that springs to mind Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life…good advice!
Before you dive straight in, research your chosen subject. Research who are the current subject matter experts and what they are saying. Find out if there are any courses or development opportunities that you can take up. Investigate whether experts in the subject are likely to be in demand and if so in what types of organisations. There’s little point in becoming a Subject Matter Expert on the internal economic policies of Outer Mongolia if you want to work as a Creative Marketing Director for an advertising agency in New York.
It goes without saying that you will need to put some serious effort into learning and understanding all there is to know about your chosen subject. Take a course. Read industry leading authors. Keep up-to-date with new developments. This isn’t a project with an end-date!
Always welcome questions from colleagues and other interested parties. If you don’t know the answer, go away and do the research. The more you engage with others on the subject and the more questions you are asked, the more research you do and therefore the more knowledge you build up.
Join some peer-to-peer groups, attend events and meet people that are also interested in the subject matter. Ask questions and join in discussions. Industry associations are a great way to network with like-minded professionals. LinkedIn has an ever-expanding number of professional and interest groups. If you don’t find the right one for you, why not set up your own group?
Now that you know everything there is to know about your subject, it’s time to share. Once you begin to build a credible reputation as a Subject Matter Expert, opportunities to shine will come to you. Take advantage of any request to write for industry journals, your own company or even a guest blog on a partner website. Contribute to forum and group online discussions. Share information. Start your own blog. Become a guest-speaker at industry events and be the go-to person in your own organisation.
Nothing beats experience. In his bestselling book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell advocates that 10,000 hours is the amount of time it takes to get really good at anything — "the magic number of greatness". Certainly with experience comes a deeper and truer understanding of the subject matter. Work in your chosen area, learn from your colleagues and peers and challenge yourself. It is only with this hands-on experience that you can truly call yourself a Subject Matter Expert.
At Maven TM, each of our ‘Mavens’ has completed over 10,000 hours of telemarketing and over 100,000 cold calls, selling technology solutions. You learn a lot from the experience of those calls – there is no substitute for experience after all. When our clients hire Maven TM, they are using people who are true Subject Matter Experts in selling technology solutions via the phone.