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.”
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:
- Losing sight of the audience and the prospect's place in the buying cycle.
- 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?
Three steps that will help your white papers stand out, by our own Kate Headen.
Michele Linn outlines how to get a clear picture of your ideal reader before crafting a white paper.
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.