In my former role as Director of Business Intelligence, a hybrid business/IT role, I read many white papers. Business Intelligence is a fairly technology-driven area and we were in growth (purchase) mode.
Arguably, some of the white papers I read were better than others. As a customer, I was reading for a number of reasons, including:
· I wanted to learn about potential solutions
· I wanted assurance the vendor understood my problem
· I needed information to support my business case
· I wanted to be fully-educated on the bigger picture
· I wanted to know if there were anything else I hadn’t considered
Having said that, I can’t tell you how many white papers missed the mark and left me hanging.
If the objective of your white paper is to move a prospect through the sales funnel, then there are some areas you should be addressing.
Problem Section – Aside from a possible short intro paragraph, this should be the first section of your paper. It should articulate the business or technical problem in detail and include the impacts of the problem, such as increased costs, lost revenue opportunity, difficulty meeting regulations, and poor quality. What will help your prospect greatly is to include quantitative measures of the impacts like dollars, number of customers affected, lost time due to rework. The problem statement is even stronger if you can back it up with fact-based statistics that cite credible sources.
History – Typically, this follows the problem section and helps educate the reader about the bigger picture. What led up to this problem? Did this problem always exist or has something changed? You may even be able to show that your competition is behind the times. You can also use this as an opportunity to show what’s been tried in the past and why it hasn’t worked or isn’t working now.
Market Trends – These kinds of trends shape the way we experience the future. Market trends include new technology or inventions, policy changes such as Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA, social changes like social networking or telecommuting, and economic changes including global markets, interest rates, and the economic climate. Your market trends should relate to your industry and not to your solution specifically. Again, use facts and statistics, and quote credible sources such as field experts and industry analysts.
Overall Solution – Now that you’ve set the stage, it’s time to educate your reader about the solution or range of solutions. Talk about the solution at a high level providing the big picture. By starting at this high level, you make the solution easy to understand and can start to guide the reader down the path towards your company’s solution. Be sure to define any common acronyms and add any helpful diagrams. Do not introduce your product here. Wait until the overall solution is thoroughly described.
So many white papers I see are more like glorified brochures. They start and end by touting the product. Nothing turns off a reader more than listening to a bunch of hype. They want real-world answers to the problems they face every day.