Hi John,

In my line of business we often have an “expert” from the customer sitting in the audience when we conduct our demonstrations or presentations. Even though we conduct very thorough needs analysis and discovery sessions these experts (often lawyers or doctors) frequently raise some very technical, hard-to-understand objections. Given their education and expertise they usually know more about the topic than I do and have way more credibility with the audience than I do. Although we have a few subject matter experts on our staff we cannot possibly take one to every single meeting – so how do I handle this? Most of the time I’m not even sure if they are being egotistical and showing-off their expertise or if they genuinely want an answer!

Fiona , Scotland


Hi Fiona,

Thanks for the question. There are actually a few issues in play here as you are dealing with both the knowledge and with the character of these educated experts in the audience. Here is my time-tested recommended approach to this kind of situation.

  1. During your needs analysis/discovery meetings ask the customer if there are likely to be any of these “experts” in the presentation session. See if you can get a sponsored 10-15 minute interview with the expert. Use the approach of “listen – everyone in the company says you are the absolute expert on this topic. I’d like to pre-brief you on the topics we’d be covering and see what additional information you are likely to need.”
  2. Whether you are successful with #1 or not, the expert is still likely to ask deep-dive questions. The best approach is not to take them on directly and attempt to refute or argue with any of their assertions – even if you are convinced that you are right. This is likely to put everyone else in the room to sleep and will rapidly kill the momentum of the meeting.
  3. Admit that you certainly don’t have the deep level of expertise that the questioner does, but state that these questions have been thought about before and offer to put your experts in touch with him/her. It’s then very tough for the customer expert to continue to pound you with questions once you take this approach as it makes him/her look very unreasonable.
  4. You can however refer to other customer implementations and successes – which you do know more about – and offer those as reassurance (at least to the remainder of the audience) that your solution is safe and proven. Telling a customer story is often a great method to defuse complex deep-dive questions.
  5. Make sure that whatever you promise the expert in terms of further information and contacts you deliver on – promptly. The follow-up personally to establish the connection that you are a trusted advisor. No-one expects you to have all the answers, but you are expected to be able to get them.

Good Luck!

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