Are You Forging a Connection or Burning a Bridge?

Are You Forging a Connection or Burning a Bridge?
Stephanie Tilton - Mon Jun 15, 2009 @ 02:38AM
Comments: 21

How many white papers have you read that are the equivalent of a glorified brochure? Probably too many. In fact, in a report by InformationWeek Business Technology Network, nearly two‐thirds of respondents said they regard most white papers as marketing/sales‐oriented. In other words, they find them too focused on pitching the solution. And what happens next? Many stop reading the paper. David Meerman Scott said it well: "No one cares about your product except you.” burning bridge

Why do some B2B technology marketers feel the need to discuss their solutions in every white paper? I think it can be tracked back to two main issues:

  1. Losing sight of the audience and the prospect's place in the buying cycle.
  2. Not being committed to building up a relationship with the prospect over time.

To the first point – sure, technical evaluators in the consideration phase seek solution details and want to know how you compare to the competition. And economic buyers in the consideration and decision stages want to understand total cost of ownership and return on investment. But the business stakeholder is looking for very different information (more on that below).

As far as the second point - let's face it: the already lengthy sales cycle for complex offerings is even longer in today's economy. Marketers will have plenty of chances to interact with prospects for some number of months. Doesn't it make more sense to parcel out information over time to align with the prospect's needs throughout the buying cycle?

Let's assume you've written a white paper intended for business buyers early in the buying cycle. What should it look like? First and foremost, it should be focused on delivering something of value to the reader.

In the awareness stage, prospects want you to:

  • Unearth trends and issues they may have overlooked
  • Highlight new insights into the issues and opportunities they're addressing
  • Point them to the third-party experts covering the topic
  • Paint a picture of how their daily life could change if they solved their problem or achieved their objective
  • Suggest what they should consider as they continue their research

If you follow these guidelines, you can prove yourself as a trusted resource by delivering valuable information that the prospect can put to use. And the prospect will probably come back to your company as it moves further along in the buying cycle. After all, people are more likely to recall – and talk about – a company that helped them explore all the options than one that just touts its products and services.

A great example of this principle in action is Enquiro, a company that helps companies with search engine marketing. Enquiro offers great value by conducting market research into issues such as the B2B buying process and how B2B buyers search for information. Its reports are chock-full of valuable information that don't push the company's solutions. Instead Enquiro establishes itself as an expert in B2B search by sharing its insights and deep knowledge of issues and trends.

Now if you're looking to hire a company for search engine marketing, don't you want to go with the expert? And wouldn't it be a relief to get familiar with the company's knowledge and expertise without being inundated with sales information? Sure, at some point you'll need to understand the nuts and bolts of how the solution works, what it takes to implement it, and how it will impact your environment. But you can find all that out in a later white paper.

Granted, the Enquiro solution is likely not as complex a sale as the typical B2B technology product or service. That being said, tech companies can still follow this formula to strengthen connections with prospects early on.

Delivering information that prospects are looking for is a no-brainer. You just need to be aware of what prospects are looking for at each stage of the cycle and make the commitment to deliver it. When it comes to engaging with prospects early in the buying cycle that means resisting the temptation to make the sell in the first white paper they read.

You're probably saying "But I can't control which of my papers they decide to read first." To a certain extent, that's true. But you can lead them in the right direction by aligning your site content with the buying cycle and buyer roles, and by writing titles and executive summaries that clearly spell out the intended audience and what the paper covers. (See related blog posts below.)

Which B2B companies are doing a great job connecting with prospects through informative white papers?

Related posts:

3 Simple Title Tweaks That Can Help White Paper Marketers Drive More Leads

Three steps that will help your white papers stand out, by our own Kate Headen.

You THINK You Know Your Reader . . . But Do You?

Michele Linn outlines how to get a clear picture of your ideal reader before crafting a white paper.

3 Ways to Make Sure Prospects Find Your White Papers

One of my earlier posts, outlining proven steps to maximize the visibility of your white papers (including what should appear in the executive summary).

Read more Savvy B2B posts from Stephanie.

Comments: 21


1. Marty Weil  |  my website   |   Mon Jun 15, 2009 @ 06:16AM

I was about to write a post on the same topic, but perhaps a comment here will suffice. I agree; these days white paper are glorified promotional brochures in the format of what was once considered a white paper.

A decade or more ago, savvy companies with shrewd marketers realized that customers respected white papers and not brochures, so they started calling brochures white papers--making them shorter, less technical, and cheaper to produce.

I gather, finally, the gig is up; prospects have caught on to the rouse. Perhaps the pendulum will swing back the other way. If it does, those of us who have the expertise and skill to create a truly academic white papers will be best positioned to write them.

2. Doug Kessler  |  my website   |   Tue Jun 16, 2009 @ 02:47AM

Great points. Another reason B2B marketers turn white papers into brochures is, I'm afraid, laziness. They already know a lot about their products so they can write about them ad infinitum (and ad tedium).

Learning about your prospects' problems, challenges and opportunities is harder. But worth it.

3. Stephanie Tilton  |  my website   |   Tue Jun 16, 2009 @ 02:48AM

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts, Marty. To your point - marketers have to respect the intelligence of their audience. There's no sense building up expectations in the first half a paper, only to bring them crashing down by jumping into a product pitch in the second half.

While there is certainly a place for papers with an academic tone, marketers can engage their prospects just as successfully (even more so?) through more conversational pieces, such as ebooks. In fact, I'll be posting soon about a B2B company that is seeing great success publishing ebooks in addition to white papers. Stay tuned!

4. Stephanie Tilton  |  my website   |   Tue Jun 16, 2009 @ 02:53AM

Well said Doug. Digging to understand what matters to your prospects is the difference between a paper that engages the reader and one that falls flat. The irony is that many marketers say they don't have the time to find out. Yet how much time is wasted -- and how much money is left on the table -- by producing white papers that are quickly forgotten?

5. Jonathan Kranz  |  my website   |   Tue Jun 16, 2009 @ 05:16AM

I run into the same struggle with some of my clients. Old habits die hard; after decades of product promotion, it's not easy for them to shift focus toward content their audiences WANT to read, rather than messages the company wishes to impose. We frequently need to remind ourselves of our goal: to build credibility that encourages TRUST, the necessary first step in any sales process.

6. Stephanie Tilton  |  my website   |   Tue Jun 16, 2009 @ 08:50AM

Jonathan, I couldn't agree more. It's hard to turn around a ship, but perhaps with enough reminders and prodding, more B2B marketers will get on the right course.

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