This one goes out to all the CDMO marketers struggling to get subject matter experts to help with content.
Marketers already have to get budget approval to create content. Then organize and oversee the content creation process. Then figure out how to distribute the content to the right biopharma readers once it's created. Then track engagements with the content. Then help your sales team follow up with those biopharma companies. Then repeat that cycle over, and over, and over again.
In addition to that already-full plate, there is a critically important part of the content process that many marketers struggle to control: Someone has to provide the expertise needed to create the content.
That someone can derail your content hopes and dreams before the train even leaves the station. And this can quickly happen since most subject matter experts (SMEs) are not marketers. Most of them come from scientific and technical backgrounds. In the process of becoming experts, they have learned much more about molecules than about marketing. What seems easy and intuitive for you can be foreign and uncomfortable for your chief scientific officer.
It's no wonder that getting cooperation and buy-in from SMEs can be tough.
We've seen the good, the bad, and the ugly from SMEs when helping CDMO marketers create and distribute content. Here are some tips on how to get your subject matter experts excited about helping with content.
This can't be done in an email or a meeting, or even in a series of emails and meetings. It takes a cultural and attitudinal change, and that starts with the six tips below.
1 – Develop a persona for subject matter experts.
Put yourselves in an SME's shoes. They are busy. Maybe they are working on a process that will ultimately help pharma companies improve or save lives. They prefer microscopes to Word documents. They are not marketers. Being interviewed for a white paper simply is not high on their priority list. Plus, the way they see it, marketing is your job.
So marketers will need to develop a “content marketing is awesome” campaign to help SMEs understand their role in the process. This is what happens in the "identify" stage of Follow Your Buyer: you are identifying SMEs as someone you want to buy into the content marketing strategy you are selling them. That starts with developing a persona for your SMEs (more on that here). Ask yourself questions like:
- What is a subject matter expert's biggest problem? (Maybe it's that marketing keeps pestering them to help develop content, and they don't have time for that.)
- What are a subject matter expert's challenges to solving those problems? (Maybe it's that they don't understand why helping with content marketing should matter to them.)
- Are there problems that subject matter experts don’t realize they have? (Maybe they don't realize the opportunity that will be lost if they don't cooperate with content creation because they don’t realize outdated marketing tactics are no longer an effective way to reach the pharma companies they want to help.)
2 – Spell out the WIIFT (what’s in it for them).
You don't want your SMEs to view content as just another thing on a long to-do list. A good first step is sharing your vision for the content marketing strategy. Demonstrate how content can truly help pharma companies solve their challenges in a way traditional marketing tactics like banner ads and trade shows can't.
Pitch content as an exciting new opportunity for an SME to help the company meet its growth goals.
Show SMEs the distribution plan you have for content once it's created.
Explain how getting the SME's name and expertise on this content will have a personal benefit, too. This last point could be especially helpful for CDMO marketers. Your SMEs likely appreciate the value of having their research published. And even though a white paper might not carry the same prestige as a peer-reviewed article, it does provide a way for the SME to build up name recognition.
Bonus points if the "WIIFT" pitch comes from outside of marketing, especially if you have the buy-in from the C-suite to go down this path.
3 – Involve your SMEs in the entire content process.
After you get the budget approval to create content, that's when you should start collaborating with SMEs. Time and time again, we see marketers come up with a list of content topics in a vacuum. Then when SMEs are asked to speak on those topics, there is disagreement about whether those are the best topics in the first place.
That tension is absolutely avoidable. SMEs are experts for a reason, and marketers should rely on that expertise for the entire process.
Don't wait until you need to schedule an interview to involve an SME. Share other Follow Your Buyer articles with SMEs like "Advice For Choosing The Best Content Marketing Topics" and "What Not To Write About: 4 Content Marketing Traps To Avoid” so they understand how you’ll develop a content roadmap.
4 – Invest in up-front planning.
The planning process extends beyond working with SMEs to choose content topics. Make sure your SMEs understand what, exactly, will be covered in each piece of content.
It’s especially important for your SMEs to know they aren’t expected to be salespeople, especially if they are working on content for the early or middle stages of the buyer’s journey.
Make sure your SMEs can speak to the topic on a level that pharma companie who lack their specific expertise can understand (and in a way that doesn’t overly promote your CDMO services). Ask your SMEs read, “The Risk Of Confusing Thought Leadership With Selling.”
Before the interview, make sure the SME sees the prepared list of questions. Then, verify the SMEs actually looked at those questions by asking them to jot down a bullet point or two for each and sending you their notes.
5 – Set clear expectations.
Have someone who is not familiar with content marketing take an objective look at how you plan to explain the content creation process to an SME (a good media and/or content creation partner can help you with this, too). Ask them to pick apart your instructions so you can smooth over anything vague. This will ensure that you are communicating expectations in a way that is crystal clear.
Make sure your SME knows the timeline, especially for the editing and approval process. Have the SME run all questions through a single point person so that a piece of content doesn’t get delayed by having too many cooks in the kitchen.
6 – Overcommunicate.
Have a kickoff meeting. Have a follow-up meeting. Send calendar invites and reminders leading up to the interview. Send calendar invites and reminders about when revisions are due. Ask SMEs what organization system they use and then adapt your reminders to fit that system.
If you can, walk over to your subject matter expert's office and talk face-to-face about the upcoming content project. If you're working virtually, pick up the phone and call the SMEs to check in. Copy your SMEs on every email between the marketing team, freelance writer, agency, etc., which will help the SME understand how much effort is involved in creating good content. Make sure the SME is aware of anything the marketing team sends to content writers for background (reference materials, for example) and has the chance to provide additional information.
The point is, you’ll want to overcommunicate until your SMEs get the hang of being involved in content. Once this upfront work is covered, you'll want to ensure your SMEs understand this is not as difficult as they might think.
You shouldn't be asking them to create the content. You're only asking them for a 30-60 minute interview so someone else can create the content. Then they'll just need to give you a few more minutes to provide feedback and edits. That's it: An hour or two of their time and they can go back to the scientific and technical work they prefer.
Content Collaboration Doesn’t Happen Overnight
Getting an SME excited about helping with content can’t be done in a single email or in one meeting. But your “content marketing is awesome” campaign still has to start somewhere, and once it starts, it will never end.
You’ll need to continuously work to communicate the importance of content. And once your content is out there in the world, don’t just share engagement metrics and wins with the sales team – make sure the SMEs responsible for helping create it can see the fruits of their labor. Show them examples of pharma companies that have benefitted from the advice in your content.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your next white paper won’t be perfected in a week. Have realistic expectations for how long it will take to get everyone playing for the same content marketing team. With just a little planning and proactive communication, CDMO marketers can steer the content creation process in a way that is less stressful for everyone involved.
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