How White Papers Boost Sales

I write technical white papers. Every website needs white papers for visitors to print out and read. White papers can support every step of your sales process. Here are some ideas:

The Sales Process

Mostly the B2B sales process moves a contact  into a paying customer: Lots of contacts, many suspects, fewer prospects and some paying customers. As the funnel narrows, your communications becomes more personal.  A 100 year old model is:

  • Attention or Awareness: so your contact at least knows of your existence.
  • Interest: your contact researches your offering.  Maybe he needs what you offer.
  • Desire: Great, your contact wants your offering.
  • Action: Usually the close, i.e, the prospect signs the purchase order.

White Papers That Gain Attention, Generate Awareness and Inspire Interest

Your contacts are busy, difficult to reach by telephone, and don’t know or trust you. They rarely take your phone calls.

These papers start building a relationship with “unaware” contacts. Such contacts won’t read a sales pitch, or anything with fancy adjectives. Attempts to hammer carefully crafted marketing messages into their heads will fail.

Contacts read papers that educate, entertain or inform.  Entertaining white papers are tricky.  So educate and inform, ideally by helping contacts improve their business.  Contacts will be more receptive, as you’ve demonstrated your expertise, industry knowledge and capabilities.  Often such papers make interesting articles in trade magazines.

Say something meaningful. If every reader agrees  with you, your paper only educates and informs complete idiots. It may get downloaded, but won’t get read.  Yet if no one agrees with you, you are either wrong or incredibly far-sighted.  A paper becomes interesting when around 70% of knowledgeable readers agree with you.

Example: Best Practices Questionniare:

This paper helps managers assess if they’ve implemented best practices, processes and procedures. Aim for 10 questions, each asking “do you do …..?”. For each question, there are three answers. The:

  1. First paragraph describes worst practice or technology. Find the answer by asking yourself what was typical in organisations 20 years ago.
  2. Middle paragraph talks about “average” practice/technology, typical of most organisations. Generally this is around 5 to 10 years out of date.
  3. Final paragraph describes best practice, which coincidentally, your offerings enable. Perhaps include phrases like “Today, our leading customers…”

Example: Maturity Model Paper

A maturity model describes how practices and processes in an industry have evolved over the last two decades. The content is similar to a best practices paper, but more entertaining.

Block the last 15 to 20 years into 3 to 5 year periods. For each period, briefly describe, for instance, the economic environment, key business drivers, enabling technology, management fads, and your process improvement.

Present the information as a table, one word per box, and you’ve got an entertaining, conference presentation. Without mentioning your product, you show you take backward, middling and advanced organisations to the next level.

Example: Competency Paper

This type of paper says “it’s tough, you need to improve, we can help”. There are three parts:

  1. First describe the issues and challenges facing a particular industry.
  2. Next recommend strategies for successful participants.
  3. Finally define the competencies and capabilities required to execute these strategies. Coincidentally, you enable your customers to gain these competences and capabilities.

The reader gains an interesting overview of their industry. Executives should gain a better awareness of their industry’s challenges, and potential strategies.

Such papers enhance your credibility in your target industry.  You’ve prove you understand the problems. This is important as senior execs buy from organisation that understand their issues.  Many believe their industry is unique, that they cannot learn from other industries, and so only buy from companies who know their industry.

The trick is to start with the competencies customer’s gain when they buy from you.  The strategy is to acquire these competencies. The difficult part is the desk research, typically using the British Library, to quantify market trends that justifies the strategy.

Example: Client Profile

This is the simplest type of case study. It describes a recent client, their challenges and their reasons for purchasing your offering. Typically, the paper includes client quotes e.g, “We’re delighted …”, and quotes from your managers e.g., “We delivered on time, on budget, ….”.

Web copy should be different from a “client-win” press release. Don’t simply post a “client-win” press-release, verbatim, on your website’s news section. A “client-win” press release aims to get “ink” in the trade press. Since a reader or editor may not know your company, the profile includes boilerplate text describing your offering. However, website visitors have already glanced at your about-us, product and customer pages. Thus when web-site visitors reach a client-profile, they want to read about the client’s problems you solved, not bland boilerplate.

White Papers that Generate Desire

Here contacts have become prospects, and now want to understand what your offering could do for them. Perhaps capture the email address of those who download these papers – prospects who read these papers maybe open to further discussions. However, most people have a junk email account for such purposes.

Evaluation Guide

At some point, prospects commence a formal supplier evaluation. An Evaluation Guide “helps” clarify the buying criteria. The paper comprises around 10 key questions, with answers.

This paper tilts the playing field in your favour. It enables you to highlight the questions your competitors most fear. You can utilise your competitive intelligence, without obviously denigrating particular competitors. Since your answers highlight your advantages, these questions become key selection criteria.

The key is to explain how particular features, which competitors lack, enable a superior ROI. Ideally, each question or selection criterion should have three answers, which describes how poor, average and excellent suppliers should respond:

  • Poor: Most salespeople automatically answer “yes” to tricky questions. It is important to explain that “yes” actually means “we could custom develop it”, or “it might be in the next release”. This section explains how “yes” probably means “erm…, no”.
  • Average: is your competitors’ typical answer. This is your chance to explain where some competitors fail.
  • Good: This is your answer, which proves how your company supports this feature to a far greater extent that your average and poor competitors. The answer is often difficult to write, as it requires measurable facts, rather than better adjectives.

Typically, your salespeople “leave behind” this guide after their initial meeting with a prospect. To reduce the impression of bias, companies often commission “independent” analysts to write the guide.

Example: Implementation or Installation Case Study

A common objection is that the prospect’s organisation has to change (typically their practices and processes) to benefit from your offering.

This report describes the experience of a customer. It shows the gain is worth the implementation pain. The case study should describe the project team, their time commitment, their decision-making process, and the implementation milestones. Ideally, the paper describes the issues surrounding some key decisions, compares the original plan against actual progress, and reviews what worked and what didn’t. The end section might include “lessons learned”. Of course, the customer has final editorial control, as some issues might require a tactful description.

The participating customer shows their customers they can manage large projects successfully, and are willing to invest, suffer and change to improve performance. The document should be career enhancing for the named managers.

White Papers to (mainly) Provoke Action

Once your sponsor desires your offering, the next step is to convince peers and extract funds from the finance department. Beware, the accountants often run a discounted cash-flow analysis, and choose the discount rate – a low-rate for their favoured “low-risk” projects, and a high-rate for projects they dislike. So help your sponsor show the investment is low-risk.

Example: Return on Investment Case Study

An ROI Case Study describes the process, costs and internal effort associated with purchasing, installing and commissioning your offering. It then quantifies every benefit, and calculates a payback period, net present value and internal rate of return.

Persuading a client to participate is tricky. The upside is the case study demonstrates your client is efficient, well-managed, and improving. Career-minded executives gain a third party endorsement of their managerial skills which impresses recruiters. Nevertheless, clients may fear their competitors will glean insights into their operations. Hence clients must get final editorial control.

Example: ROI calculator

This paper explains and quantifies the benefits prospects gain. It shows how to calculate the value of time-savings, cost-savings, better customer service and superior products.

Surprisingly, it may not be advantageous to over-estimate the benefits. Some finance directors reduce your prospect’s annual budget by the projected annual savings your offering delivers. Thus, your prospect has little incentive to risk purchasing your offering. In practice, the projected savings should be sufficient to meet the finance department’s investment criteria. The actual savings must be rather greater, so your prospect wins spare resources for other improvements.