I hate furniture stores. As soon as you walk through the door, salesperson pounces. Then, even if you say you’re just looking, they follow you around, pretending to polish tables or simply lurking behind the potted plants.
As the state of most of my furniture attests, I often leave without buying because they make me so uncomfortable I can’t really enjoy the shopping experience.
So it is with any almost any complex sale – or at least those where the amount to be spent is perceived as a significant portion of the budget. (When I do buy furniture, I buy furniture intended to last!) In the early stages, when the buyer isn’t really certain what he or she is looking for, they want an experience that allows them to self-educate without being hounded by an over-eager sales rep.
For many complex B2B sales, this situation calls for a white paper.
If you’re thinking of creating one, or having someone else (like me) create it for you, here are 6 tips that can help you produce a compelling piece.
1/ White papers don’t have to be white. Scratch that. Perhaps it’s better to say they shouldn’t be white. Gone are the days when you can have your engineers knock one out in Microsoft Word in an afternoon. To stand out, today’s white papers need to be as aesthetically pleasing as they are educational.
2/ Use your messaging as a guide, but leave your product at the door. Your messaging says a lot (or at least it should) about what matters most to your prospects. Like all collateral, the white paper should be guided by your messaging. However, to break in too early with a product message makes you no better than the furniture salesman peering out from behind the potted plant.
This is probably the biggest mistake I see my high-tech clients make. Left to their own devices, the technical staff takes over and they create something that is more akin to a technical brochure. Some even go so far as to include product specs!
At the end of the day, a white paper should read more like a magazine article. If your audience is highly technical, think American Scientist. If more business-oriented, think Forbes.
3/ Title is critical! Journalists know this. That’s why they create titles that draw you in whether you’re perusing search engine results or standing in line at the supermarket. X tips for doing whatever works exceptionally well for pieces that are a bit lighter, like this post, but they also work well for heavier topics. Here’s an example from the solar energy industry written for energy executives.
4/ Your product manager may not be the best author. As a former product manager, I hate to disparage my own kind. However, too many PMs, especially those managing highly technical products, get so lost in the bits and bytes that they forget how to speak to anyone who isn’t an engineer. If your target audience sits in the executive suite, you will want a writer who can bridge the gap between product features and ROI. Notice the ROI message in the title of the last piece I shared.
5/ They don’t have to be long. A lot of my clients come to me with a set number of pages in mind. While that helps with estimating, remember that a white paper can easily be as few as two pages. On the other hand, it may be as many as six or eight if the subject warrants it.
6/ Include plenty of whitespace. While the paper may not be white, you want to include plenty of whitespace to increase readability. You don’t need as much whitespace as the average product brochure, but nor should you cram every little nook and cranny with content.
If you have any questions about creating white papers that resonate, reach out to me either below or via email at Melissa@melissapaulik.com.