If your business involves selling a complex product or service, you may find that much of the time you spend in your long sales cycle is spent educating prospects on all aspects of your offering.
The problem many companies face is they don’t build enough credibility with their prospects before they begin selling a solution to their prospect’s problem. I find this annoying when people do this to me and wrote about it not long ago on my LinkedIn article page.
No one likes to get the hard sell from someone they’re not even sure understands their business or problem yet. You must earn that right.
In my experience, there are a number of ways to build this credibility among your prospects, including speaking at conferences, writing articles for the trade publications or hosting an industry podcast.
The easiest way to build credibility quickly is with a well written white paper.
In this guide, we’ll tell you why this is true, how to write a paper that will get you more prospects and then how to promote it effectively once you have developed it. Here’s what’s included:
- History of the White Paper
- What makes the white paper a great sales tool
- Uses and misuses of the modern white paper
- Comparing and contrasting white papers and brochures
- Two other mistakes companies make with white papers
- What to write your paper about
- How your white paper should start
- The other sections of a well-written white paper
- Tips for writing better white papers
- Promoting your new white paper
- The RGA White Paper Cascade
- Getting help with your next white paper
Finally, I’ll offer you my proven outline for writing a white paper that sells.
History of the White Paper
White papers came to the business world from early 20th-century government practices.
The term “white paper” originated in the British government, where it was used to refer to official reports issued by the government. These documents were typically bound in white covers, which is believed to be the reason for the name “white paper.”
British Houses of Parliament, home of the White Paper.
White papers were used as policy documents, providing detailed information, analysis, and proposals on various issues to help inform government decisions and public understanding.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, technology companies began developing new tools unlike anything the world had seen before. While some, like the iPod were alien but easy to grasp by most folks, many were very complex.
The IT industry, embraced the white paper as an effective way to explain complex technical concepts, highlight new innovations, and demonstrate thought leadership. It also allowed them to explain why their new offerings solved problems that some people didn’t even know they had.
Technology companies quickly realized that by offering valuable insights and solutions to industry challenges, they could establish their authority, generate leads, and build trust with potential customers.
Today, companies of all kinds use white papers to promote their products and services and gain significant benefits for doing so. Their effectiveness lies in their ability to provide in-depth, data-driven information that helps readers understand complex issues and make informed decisions.
Perhaps chief among the benefits white papers deliver is a shortened sales cycle.
What makes the white paper a great sales tool
White papers are in-depth, authoritative reports that delve into a specific topic or problem relevant to your industry. Here are several reasons why you should consider using white papers as part of your marketing strategy:
White papers allow you to showcase your industry knowledge, expertise, and thought leadership. By providing valuable insights and solutions to complex problems, you position your business as a credible and trustworthy authority in the field.
Builds brand authority:
As your white papers gain recognition and are shared within your industry, they contribute to building your brand’s authority. This can lead to increased respect and recognition within your target market, potentially attracting more customers and business opportunities.
White papers often require readers to provide their contact information before accessing the content. This serves as a lead generation tactic, helping you build a database of potential customers who have shown interest in your expertise.
Nurtures leads and conversions:
By offering valuable information in your white papers, you can nurture leads through the sales funnel. As potential customers engage with your content and see the value you provide, they may be more likely to convert into paying customers.
Addresses customer pain points:
White papers can address specific challenges faced by your target audience and offer solutions. By showcasing how your technology can solve these problems effectively, you can attract potential customers who are actively seeking solutions.
Supports content marketing efforts:
White papers are substantial pieces of content that can be repurposed into various formats. You can create blog posts, infographics, social media snippets, and videos from the information in the white paper, maximizing its reach and impact.
Enhances SEO and organic visibility:
High-quality white papers with valuable content often attract inbound links from other websites, which can boost your website’s domain authority and improve search engine rankings. This increased visibility can lead to more organic traffic and potential customers discovering your business.
Strengthens partnerships and collaborations:
Sharing your white papers with other businesses or industry influencers can lead to collaborative opportunities. This can help expand your network, reach new audiences, and open doors to mutually beneficial partnerships.
Supports product launches:
If you’re introducing a new technology product or service, a white paper can be an effective tool for explaining its benefits, use cases, and unique selling points. This can aid in the product’s adoption and success in the market.
Unlike some other forms of content, white papers have a longer shelf life. They can remain relevant and valuable for an extended period, continuing to attract leads and interest over time.
White papers offer a range of benefits that can help promote your technology business, establish your authority, generate leads, and foster customer trust. By providing valuable insights and solutions to your target audience’s pain points, you can position your business as a go-to resource in your industry, ultimately driving growth and success.
But these powerful tools can also be misused. When that happens, no benefit is achieved and damage to your brand can result.
Uses and misuses of the modern white paper
As content marketing gained traction in the digital age, white papers became an essential component of many businesses’ promotional strategies.
B2B (business-to-business) companies, in various sectors beyond technology, adopted white papers to engage with their audience, generate leads, and support their sales and marketing efforts.
Because smart business buyers value expertise and thought leadership, white papers are likely to remain a valuable tool for business promotion in the foreseeable future. As long as they offer it.
And therein lies the problem.
Over the past two decades, white paper writing has drifted from the information-packed, thought-provoking papers of the 1990s and into a form of glorified brochure.
This negates the power of the white paper and can do more harm than good when prospects download what they hope to be a valuable document and instead get a sales pitch.
Yes, a good white paper will sell — the company, its executives and its solution — but it cannot do that job in the same way a brochure does. It’s important to understand the differences between these important tools.
Comparing and contrasting white papers and brochures
White papers, company brochures, and other marketing tools serve distinct purposes and differ in their content, format, and objectives.
Here’s how they compare:
Purpose: White papers are in-depth, authoritative reports that provide valuable insights and solutions to complex industry problems or topics.
Content: White papers are typically data-driven and research-oriented. They delve into a specific subject, analyze data, present findings, and offer actionable recommendations. They focus on addressing industry challenges.
Audience: White papers target a more specialized and knowledgeable audience. They appeal to industry professionals, decision-makers, and those seeking in-depth information.
Length: White papers are usually several pages long, ranging from 5 to 20 or more pages, depending on the complexity of the topic.
Objective: The main objective of a white paper is to establish a company as a credible authority in its field, generate leads, and provide value to the target audience.
Purpose: Company brochures are promotional materials designed to introduce a company, its products, services, and key features to potential customers.
Content: Brochures are concise and visually appealing. They use images, bullet points, and brief text to highlight the company’s strengths and unique selling propositions.
Audience: Brochures target a broader audience, including potential customers, partners, and investors. They provide an overview of the company’s offerings to create a positive impression.
Length: Brochures are typically one or two pages, although they can be longer if folded or presented in a booklet format.
Objective: The primary goal of a brochure is to entice the reader to take the next step in the customer journey, such as visiting the company’s website, requesting more information, or making a purchase.
Telling a prospect that you’ll deliver a white paper in exchange for the important information that constitutes a sales lead and then offering them a sales brochure is a mistake smart companies don’t make.
Two other mistakes companies make with white papers
In our conversations with clients over the years, we have been asked all manner of questions about these tools. We’ve also addressed some requests that we felt would diminish the effectiveness of a white paper.
One of the most common questions we hear is: Why can’t we add some commentary from some industry leaders in our white paper?
Having your thought leadership endorsed and validated by industry leaders is important. We do that in every white paper by citing industry leaders who have published their thoughts and data elsewhere. This allows us to build on their thought leadership without sharing ours with them.
When we write a paper specifically about what someone else thinks, it becomes their thought leadership in the minds of our prospects. This may work occasionally when we write white papers with our partners, but it’s not generally a best practice.
Besides, it’s very difficult and time consuming to get an industry leader to agree to place their thought leadership in our white paper directly. Even if they can get it through their company’s legal department, they have to be comfortable endorsing your company, its current and future offerings and all of the thought leadership in the paper. Very difficult.
Another question we hear often is: What about endorsements and testimonials? Can we print those in our white papers?
If your goal is to turn your thought leadership (something everyone wants to read) into a brochure (something almost no one wants to read), you could do that. That’s not the best way to capitalize on such an endorsement.
There are plenty of other ideas for getting great mileage out of those opportunities. The white paper is typically not one of them.
What to write your paper about
When most marketing professionals learn a new white paper has been approved, they look first to the company’s offerings to determine its subject. We think that’s a mistake.
People don’t download a white paper to learn about your solution to their problem. They choose a brochure for that.
People download a white paper to gain insight into a problem they are currently facing. New data, a new point of view, something they haven’t already thought of to deal with their current pain point drives readers to your paper. Don’t disappoint them by focusing on your solution.
At least not at first.
Naturally, you want to talk about your solution to the problem. You must if you want them to consider you as an option, which is the goal of this entire process. But you must earn the right to do this, which means you can’t start the paper with you.
You must start the paper with a significant problem your prospect is currently facing that you have the power to solve. This is the subject of your white paper and every white paper you ever write. And that’s where you start
How your white paper should start
Good white papers always start with the problem statement. If you aren’t talking about a compelling problem, you shouldn’t be talking about it in a white paper.
This introductory section looks at why this is an important issue that your target market needs to solve right now. Don’t waste their time; get right to the point and make your argument compelling.
One of the four reasons that business buyers buy is to secure a solution to an immediate source of business pain. Something isn’t working and they need to fix it, now. You may have the perfect solution but just asking them to sign the contract isn’t going to get the job done.
I’ve been in sales training workshops where I was told to get the person across the table from me to start saying “yes.” If you can do that, when you finally ask for their business they’ll be stuck in a yes rut and sign. That has never happened to me.
Christopher Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator, knows why. I wrote about that in my LinkedIn article section.
Voss says that when most people say “you’re right,” they’re trying to get rid of you. But the words “that’s right,” means something totally different. If your prospect listens to something you say and then whispers the words “that’s right,” you’ve just put yourself on the same side of the table.
That’s why every white paper you write should start with a section that clearly and succinctly lays out the exact source and nature of the immediate source of pain your prospect is currently experiencing.
If you don’t do this, there is no reason for them to believe that you have any idea what they’re dealing with and they will have no confidence in you as a solution. Now all you have to do is present the rest of the paper. Here is how you do that.
The other sections of a well-written white paper
There are five additional sections to a well-written white paper. Each of them is designed to provide a certain kind of information to the reader.
We’ve already talked about section 1, in which we let the reader know that we know about their problem. We’ve put ourselves on the same side of the table. But we can’t start selling yet.
In section two, we talk about what our prospect has been doing to work around this problem. If we can’t show them that we know how they have tried to solve this problem in the past, what confidence could they possibly have that any solution we propose would work any better? Our goal is to describe what they’ve been doing so well that they whisper, “that’s right.”
In section three, we talk about how well this is working. If we have identified a real problem, one worth writing a white paper about, then it’s not working at all. And that’s bad. In this section we tell them how bad by delineating the negative impacts of their current efforts. Again, they should nod their heads and agree with us.
It’s at this point that some of my clients begin to push back. They want to know why we would spend half of our white paper talking about something everyone already knows. Because everyone doesn’t know that my clients already know this.
To build credibility with your prospects, we must do this work. We can either go on an industry speaking tour, hitting all of the industry conferences; start writing stories for the trade publications or launch a podcast — or we can spend some time in our white paper building the trust required to propose our solution.
And, for what it’s worth, my clients who do all of those things still use white papers to promote their solutions.
Now, on to section four, in which we explain, at a high level, what a real solution would have to look like. Why don’t we just get to the selling? Because if we just launch into the pitch, how will our prospect know that we’ve considered everything while developing our offering.
No one likes getting sold a partial solution to a painful problem. In this section we let them know why we’re the partner who can provide a complete solution.
Finally, in section 5, we lay out what that solution is, how it works, what benefits it offers and specifically how it solves our prospect’s problem.
I’m not backtracking on my brochure statement. I’m just saying that if they’ve come this far without losing me, annoying me or convincing me that they should find another line of work, then I’d like to see what they’ve put together.
And don’t just tell me about the features, show me the data that convinced you that this solution will actually work. Don’t be stingy. I like data, especially when it relates to something you want me to spend my money on.
Section 6 is very important. It’s where we tell them what we want them to do next. This is our call to action. Fail here and everything we’ve done up to this point will have been wasted time. Your prospect needs to know what to do with the information you served them up in your white paper and you need to tell them.
Tips for writing better white papers
Writing a good white paper requires careful planning, research, and attention to detail. Here are some tips to help you create a compelling and effective white paper:
Understand your audience:
Before you begin writing, identify your target audience and understand their needs, challenges, and interests. Tailor the content to address their specific pain points and provide solutions that resonate with them.
Choose a relevant and specific topic:
Select a topic that is timely, relevant to your industry, and aligns with your business objectives. Avoid being too broad; focus on a specific issue that you can thoroughly explore in the white paper.
Conduct thorough research:
Gather data, statistics, case studies, and expert opinions to support your arguments and provide evidence for your claims. Cite credible sources to add credibility to your white paper.
Use the appropriate structure:
Organize your white paper into sections with clear headings and subheadings. A well-structured paper makes it easier for readers to navigate and find the information they need.
Write with clarity and conciseness:
Use clear and straightforward language to convey your ideas. Avoid jargon and technical terms that might confuse your readers. Be concise and get to the point without unnecessary fluff.
Provide valuable insights:
Offer unique and valuable insights that go beyond what can be easily found elsewhere. Your white paper should demonstrate your expertise and thought leadership in the subject matter.
Use visuals strategically:
Incorporate charts, graphs, and infographics to present data and complex information visually. Visuals can enhance understanding and make your white paper more engaging.
Use a compelling title:
Your white paper’s title should be attention-grabbing and descriptive, giving readers a clear idea of what the paper is about. A well-crafted title can increase the likelihood of people reading your white paper.
Include a strong executive summary:
The executive summary is the first thing readers see, so make it compelling. Summarize the main points and key takeaways, enticing readers to continue reading.
Include a strong call-to-action (CTA):
At the end of your white paper, include a clear and compelling CTA that directs readers on the next steps they can take, such as contacting your company, signing up for a webinar, or downloading additional resources.
Even the best written white paper will fail to deliver results if it’s not promoted effectively.
Promoting your new white paper
A good white paper will get you more sales leads, but you can’t get them if you don’t track the people who download your white paper. That’s why the first step in promoting your paper is creating a landing page.
There is a science to building a good landing page, but for a white paper you can go simple. Just provide a few lines about the problem this paper addresses and you’ll get the attention of anyone who is dealing with that problem now. The more information you request in your form, the fewer will complete it, so only ask for what you need.
Once the landing page is complete, it’s all about driving traffic to that page, which you can do in a number of ways:
Leverage social media:
Share snippets, key insights, and eye-catching visuals from the white paper on your social media channels. Include a link to the landing page to encourage downloads. Consider using paid advertising on social media platforms to reach a broader audience.
Promote the white paper to your existing email subscriber list. Craft an engaging email that highlights the value of the white paper and includes a direct link to the landing page for easy access.
Partner and influencer outreach:
Collaborate with industry influencers, thought leaders, or complementary businesses. They can help promote your white paper to their audiences, giving you access to a wider network of potential readers.
Write articles or blog posts related to the white paper’s topic and submit them to relevant industry publications or blogs. Include a link back to the landing page for interested readers to download the full white paper.
Webinars and events:
Host a webinar or virtual event centered around the white paper’s topic. Use this platform to present key findings and engage with your audience. Encourage attendees to download the white paper for more in-depth information.
Engage with online communities:
Participate in relevant forums, LinkedIn groups, and online communities. Offer valuable insights related to your white paper’s topic and, when appropriate, mention the white paper as a resource.
Consider investing in paid advertising on platforms like Google Ads, social media, or industry-specific websites. Target your ads to reach your ideal audience based on demographics and interests.
Collaborate with your sales team:
Get your sales team involved in promoting the white paper. They can share it with potential leads and prospects during the sales process to provide additional value.
Most, if not all, of these efforts will require additional content to be pulled from the white paper and formatted difference, either as a press release, feature article, blog post or social media status update. Far better to get all of that material at the time the white paper is written.
We have a solution for that.
The RGA White Paper Cascade
When RGA receives approval from a client that a white paper we have written meets their requirements and expectations, the cascading process begins.
When it is finished, the client will receive the following additional pieces of content:
- 2 Feature Articles
- 1 Press Release
- 7 Blog Posts
- 21 Status Updates suitable for LinkedIn or Twitter
All together, we deliver more than 30 individual pieces of content with each white paper. They all tell the same basic story in different formats. They can all be used to drive traffic back to your landing page so you can harvest new sales leads.
The elements of the cascade are designed to act like breadcrumbs that guides a prospect from the first piece of content they see (likely a status update on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook) to a blog post (usually published on the company blog or in the LinkedIn article section for one of its executives) to a feature article.
They might also see the press release, either on the company’s website, on a press release distribution site or picked up by the media. This could lead them back to your website, where you will provide a prominent link to the landing page for your new white paper.
From any of these places, the prospect can learn more by following the breadcrumbs or jump to the landing page for the entire paper. Our goal is to give your readers every opportunity to convert themselves into sales leads.
Because the first feature article is taken from the first half of the paper and does not sell the company’s products or services directly, this article can be pitched to the trades. There are a number of publications that are happy to accept well-written thought leadership stories.
The second feature article is salesy and so it won’t find a home in the trades. The best way to deploy this is to have your design team lay it out as a PDF, slightly different than the White Paper and more like a magazine reprint would look, and give it to your sales team to send to prospects.
If deployed well, the material in the cascade will give you reason to be in your prospect’s field of vision for up to 90 days or more.
Getting help with your next white paper
Consulting with RGA to get your next white paper started is easy. Just schedule a call. We have programs for those who just need a little direction, who need help with the research and drafting and full packages that include promotion.
If you want to start your own white paper now, use the form below to sign up for our newsletter and get our detailed white paper outline, with word counts by section, for free.