White paper SMEs (subject matter experts) play an important role in developing white papers for marketing or educational purposes. That’s because white paper SMEs are the people who have the knowledge needed to develop the white paper. Rarely do white paper writers already have all the information they need on their own (and generally, that’s only when the white paper writers work within an organization).

1. Identifying white paper SMEs

One of the first steps in the white paper planning process is identifying the right SMEs for the white paper. Generally, white paper SMEs fall into one of two categories: internal and external. Internal white paper SMEs are employees of the organization developing the white paper. Most of the time, they’re either company leaders or people whose jobs require specialized knowledge, such as engineers or technical salespeople. External white paper SMEs are, as the name implies, people who work for other organizations (or themselves) who have important knowledge about industry, the products, or the process to be discussed in the white paper.

2. Scheduling with white paper SMEs

Once the white paper SMEs have been identified, the next step is for the white paper writer to interview them. Some people will just try to call SMEs and hope they have time to talk, but I find it’s far more effective to schedule interviews in advance. Not only do SMEs tend to have busy schedules, but setting a time in the future allows them to prepare for the interview, making it less stressful.

Taking time to schedule is also a gesture of courtesy and respect. Interviews can be conducted in in person, or over the phone or video platforms. (If the SME is too busy to schedule a real-time interview, an alternative is to conduct the interview through a series of emails. However, that approach is usually less successful than an actual conversation.)

3. Preparing to interview the white paper SMEs

Whether you conduct your interview with the SMEs in person or via technology, preparing for the interview will help you make the most of the person’s busy time and reduce the chances that you’ll forget to ask something important. Make a list of the questions you plan to ask and write them down in the order you plan to ask them. Of course, you may not have time to ask all your questions, so be sure to prioritize them. Its generally a good idea to prepare extra questions in case the SME is one of those people who gives short answers.

4. Interview the white paper SMEs

Contact the SME as scheduled. I always like to begin interviews by asking the SME if it’s still a convenient time. Sometimes, things come up that make it difficult for the SME to talk when originally scheduled. Plus, it’s a friendly gesture that demonstrates you respect the SME’s schedule. Keep the interview to the scheduled time. If it appears you’ll need more time, ask the SME if they have the time or they would prefer to schedule a second session. It’s better to take the extra time instead of trying to rush too quickly through your questions.

5. Record the interviews with the white paper SMEs

You may just want to take notes from the interviews, but I strongly recommend recording them. That allows you the opportunity to go back and listen again, and it makes it more likely you’ll capture the SME’s words accurately. You can even have the interview recording transcribed. I use a transcription website called Rev.com that provides fast, economical transcriptions. Another advantage of having the interviews transcribed is that you can copy and paste quotes directly from the transcript into your white paper draft.

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