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The Salesperson and The SME

— by Natia Seegars

Business goalsElearningEmployee trainingLearning developmentUncategorized

In the divided world of sales and product expertise, the salesperson typically chats with a customer about a product or service with canned catchphrases and relatable industry jargon while the Subject Matter Expert (SME) cavorts with the C-suite and product engineers. One is on the front lines communicating the information, while the other is in the office creating and disseminating information. And the customer or client, whom they are both intentionally serving, its receiving information from different angles and degrees. Line managers in market-facing roles need a way in which to curate, if you will, a relationship between a salesperson and a SME in order to best serve their clientele with up-to-date information as well as professional relationships.

Customers nowadays, in this hyper-information age, will have typically researched a product or service online before even making contact with a salesperson. They will have read both product specifications and reviews and be well-prepared and informed well before engaging with the company or organization itself. Therefore, the roles of the salesperson and the SME are becoming, at best, more symbiotic and co-dependent. There are two components where can play a part in the sales cycle:

  1. Create a coaching relationship between the salesperson and the SME that helps to support both roles in different ways — the SME would coach the salesperson on product details and specifications, and the salesperson would coach the SME on how to best interact with the customer at each point of the sales cycle. The salesperson would help the SME with customer insight and how to best match the customer and client with the best product and service, and the SME would help the salesperson with the ins and outs of the offering alternatives, solutions, perspectives on the product. This relationship structure empowers both the salesperson and the SME to work most effectively with the customer as both are informed and up-to-date.
  1. Create a tag-team or hierarchical relationship amongst the salesperson, SME, and the client or customer. The salesperson’s role would be to audit, expedite, and help to maintain customer client relationships and the SME would discuss in-depth product services, benefits, and experiences — the salesperson focuses on relationship while the SME reassures the customer that the choice they are making is solid. In an article at “Leading Sales Trends Expected To Drive Success In 2017”, Ian Altman believes that the SME will become the new rainmaker in a company as customers and clients are considering the different roles of the person with a mission to sell them something and the expert with deep product knowledge.

It is important to find the sweet spot amongst the salesperson, SME, and the desires of the customer or client as the overlap and cooperation are critical in determining how to best serve client and customer needs. In the digital social media age where the customer basically defines the brand, it is important to have both the information and sales relationship fully and healthily intact. When SMEs and salespeople work with customers together, in a shared sales process, a skilled consultative salesperson and the SME create powerful sales teams. The cost-benefit analysis of on-the-ground, in-the-trenches salespeople combined with the expertise and support of SME personnel prove to be positive for both the organization and the customer.


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