White papers: a great B2B marketing and sales tool in 9 points

Collaboration – September 27, 2012

Studies indicate that more than 7 out of 10 prospects contact a vendor after reading a white paper. Nearly 6 out of 10 say that the paper influenced their buying decision.1

The B2B (business to business) sale can often be complex depending on the nature of the products and services offered. This is because so much information needs to be communicated and many stakeholders are involved in the decision-making process, ranging from “how” to “why” we buy a given product or service.

In today’s Internet era, buyers begin as suspects in the “Awareness” phase as look to define their needs. This phase is often short as buyers rapidly move to the next part of the buying process.

From Consideration to Decision to Action

In the “Consideration” phase, suspects qualify themselves as prospects when they come in contact with your company. They visit your website, read your blog, communicate via Twitter or other forms of social media, subscribe to your newsletters, and so on. At this stage, prospects vet or validate their needs as they become closer to making a decision. One of these decisions involves downloading a white paper, thereby bringing prospects closer to the “Decision” phase where salespeople enter the game.

“As a marketing communication and sales tool, B2B white papers are often used to generate sales leads, establish thought leadership, make a business case, or inform and persuade prospective customers, channel partners, journalists, analysts, or investors.”2 This is why, in technology, product or method-based B2B companies, white papers effectively seduce prospects. They provide information otherwise difficult to obtain from a company’s website. It could be useful to have a prospect’s contact information, or if you prefer, to simply keep prospects active through lead nurturing.

Your white paper in 9 points

So without more ado, here is the general structure of a white paper:3

  • Title – Focus on the benefits, not the features. Prospects will read your white paper if you tell them what’s in it for them.
  • Abstract – Make this short and interesting so busy executives understand the scope of your paper and read it to the end.
  • Introduction – Define the subject and provide background information while establishing credibility.
  • Problem – Look at the problem from the prospect’s point of view and clearly identify how your product, service or technology will solve it. Be neutral as the selling part comes later.
  • High-level solution – Talk about how the most important elements of your product or service will respond to your prospect’s needs.
  • Solution details – Focus on relevant details. You can also use more technical jargon depending on your target audience.
  • Business benefits – Enter sales. Here you need to reassure the prospect that your product or service will work for them. Talk about return on investment (ROI), usability, standards, compliance, and ease of implementation. Demonstrate you understand your prospects and that you can offer solutions. Provide client references.
  • Summary – Some readers go directly to the summary and skip the preceding sections of the white paper. Use the summary to express the essence of your paper as it may be your only means to communicate with your prospects.
  • Call to action – Now that the prospect has invested time reading your document, guide him or her through the next steps. What you want the prospect to do… and now!

Looks easy… right? However, our experience tells us that writing white papers is an art and a challenge for most B2B organizations.

If you are considering writing a white paper, remember that it’s important to plan when it will be offered in your sales cycle and to educate your sales force on how to use this valuable marketing tool.

If you are thinking of writing a white paper and integrating it by yourself into your various marketing and sales tools and processes, you may want advice in this area. We are more than happy to discuss your white paper project and assist you along the way.

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