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Stephen Walker

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How do you spot a subject matter expert? pt2


Stephen Walker concludes his look at how you find a subject matter expert by examining what is different about their behaviour.


If the expert sounds too academic then be assured that the subject matter expert has hands-on experience of the subject in a practical sense. I do not believe that expertise, in this context, arises solely from academic and research. Until you have tested the academic hypotheses in the real world they are little more than fanciful imaginings. The imaginings are the foundation on which the real world ability is based though.

The wider the experience the more grounded, relevant and reliable the expertise is likely to be.


While the experience needs to be wide the subject needs to be narrow. The time has long passed when someone could understand everything that was known. It is estimated that 90% of all existing data has been produced in the last two years, but that isn’t my area of expertise so I’ll give you that as a blank assertion.

In fact technical content quickly becomes so abstruse to all but the expert. Experts of all sorts delight in the detail, and quite rightly. Try asking a Trekkie how many Tribbles appeared in that delightful episode of Star Trek! A true expert is always interested in their subject to the point of obsession.

Sales skills

Some people are experts in sales. They have the same passionate interest in all matters sales-related.

Experts in other subjects are not usually good salespeople. They are not interested in the sales process. The sales process is a stumbling block between them and what they want to do – which is to tackle the problem you have. That they are an expert is obvious to them so must be to you, surely? It is incredible how many great artists, passionate experts in their medium, struggled to sell any of their work. They are just not interested in selling, they want to deliver on their passion.

You will often find the expert is very busy doing pro bono work. What is important to them is fixing the problem, making things right not earning a living. The penniless artist in a Parisian garret is not pure invention.


The subject matter expert is focused on the problem with a passion. Mere details like time, cost and deliverables are for ordinary mortals. The expert has his or her mind fixed on the issue, that beautiful problem. Michelangelo when asked how he sculpted his Moses said he chiselled away what wasn’t Moses. The expert is focused on his or her passion.

In fact they are focused on the end result: delivering what you want.


A subject matter expert has these characteristics:

  • Passion

  • Eagerness

  • Evidence, content: their thoughts materialised

  • Original research

  • Practical experience

  • Narrow focus, niche expertise

  • Not good at sales

  • Busy with pro bono work

  • Not commercial

  • Focused on the problem

If you are in a training business, how do you measure up? Have you noticed how difficult it is to sell nowadays? There is so much sales spam in every medium that clients are looking for a way to demarcate the offers. The time to sell training has passed. The client wants to buy, not be sold to. There have been scandals, videos of sales hotshots boasting they made a million by selling generic white labelled training packages as branded content. Clients are not fooled twice. Set out your stall. Put your evidence on display. Show your passion and expertise. The clients will come and buy. Won’t they?

To read part one click here

Stephen is a co-founder of Motivation Matters, set up in 2004 to develop organisation behaviour to drive greater performance. He has worked for notable organisations such as Corning, De La Rue and Buhler and has been hired to help Philips, Lloyds TSB and a raft of others.A published author of articles and Conference speaker, Stephen delivers workshops across the country. It is all about “making people more effective” he says.You can follow Stephen on LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and Blog


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