One great way for software companies to generate leads is to offer relevant, timely and valuable information. A technology white paper fits the bill nicely: it explains a complicated concept simply and clearly, while taking a vendor-agnostic position that supports your software solution.
Let’s say that you need a white paper that covers the kind of problem that your software solves and let’s also say your target customers are Product Development Professionals. In this blog post, we will walk through the process of writing that excellent white paper. Then we’ll go one step further and explore how to promote your white paper to generate those leads.
Reaching your lead generation goals depends on three things, as set out in the graphic below:
#1 How many leads you need
#2 What segments of your market you are targeting
#3 The topic of your technology white paper
How many A-1 leads can you expect?
How many leads can you expect? “As many as possible” may be your first answer, but you probably have a lead goal in mind for your white paper. You might need 400 qualified leads, while secretly hoping for 600. For the purposes of this post, we’ll go with 400.
Now, those 400 leads. Are they all well qualified, validated, bottom-of-funnel sorts of leads? Or are they simply email addresses of people who downloaded your technology white paper because they liked the topic?
Finally, what is your budget for attracting these leads? You will need a budget to create the white paper, and another to distribute and promote it. Let’s say you have $5,000 to write the white paper and $15,000 to promote it.
So here is the hard part. You will have to choose between Quality, Quantity and Budget. If you want excellent quality leads, you will have to pay more per lead, which may force you to accept fewer contacts. If you just need raw numbers, that’s easy, but you will end up sacrificing lead quality.
Let’s suppose that you know where to get an excellent white paper written and produced for $5,000. Let’s also suppose that you know where you can purchase decent leads for $50 each—in other words, 300 leads for $15,000. Sound good?
Surprise! That never actually happens. You will always find that your budget is too small and that you have to sacrifice something, usually either the number or the quality of your leads, to make your budget work.
Choosing the Right Audience for your Technology White Paper
Deciding on the audience you want to attract is really difficult. That’s because you have to choose a segment of your market. One white paper can’t attract every potential prospect.
‘What’s wrong with writing a single generic white paper?’ you might ask. The answer is simple: the more generic any piece of content is, the less compelling it is.
Consider this example:
Is an electronics design engineer with an automotive supplier more likely to read a white paper called Getting Electronics Design Right or one that’s titled A Roadmap for Electronics Design in Autonomous Vehicles? The latter title is obviously more targeted.
You can segment your target audience in the same way that you segment your prospects. For example, consider different white papers for different industries. The challenges faced by design teams in the automotive industry are not the same as those faced by design teams who make washing machines or children’s toys. In certain large industries like automotive, medical devices, machine design and aerospace, the language and challenges are so unique and that you may have to write white papers for each one if they are key targets for your technology.
Certain other smaller industries can often be captured by a more generalized topic, perhaps by addressing a particular problem.
A few ways to choose an audience segment:
» Size of Company
» Job Role
» Type of problem faced
» Some other distinction, like geography
You may decide to target a specific department or level of decision maker. According to Allan Behrens, Principal and Founder of the analyst firm Taxal, “Different types of technology white papers connect with different audiences. It might sound obvious, but readers will want to gain insights that relate directly to their jobs, whether they hold a technical role or a more commercial one.”
For example, a product designer may well have some influence in choosing a specific product, but he or she is not usually the final authority. A white paper targeting a product designer might most effectively focus on how to help that person do their job more easily, or specify the right sort of component for their design. If instead you want to reach the decision maker, your white paper will likely have to make an argument for strategic differentiation such as time-to-market, higher quality or improved profitability. Practitioners of Account Based Marketing may want to create all of these to reach all of the influencers in an account.
But wait! If you were to write a different white paper for every industry and every job role, you would need to write over 100 white papers. And that’s just for one topic! That’s not going to work.
You can see why selecting the right audience for your white paper is such a difficult task. There are so many conflicting goals. You might want decision makers, but since there are fewer of those than there are designers, you might find that you can’t meet your lead quantity target.
If this is your first white paper, it’s probably a good idea to choose the industry where your product does best. If your product is more general, you can try to find another way to differentiate your white paper, perhaps by the size of the product design team – ‘Solving Problem X for Product Teams of Fewer than 10 People’
Selecting a Topic for your Technology White Paper
Once you have settled on a target audience that is large enough to meet your lead generation goals, it’s time to focus on the white paper topic.
Ideally, you will be able to choose a problem that is common to your target audience and that your solution solves particularly well. If you choose to write this style of problem/solution white paper, you need to select a problem that your solution solves very well indeed. The reason is that if your white paper is going to be informative, it will need to explore the alternative solutions. And of course, you want your type of solution to be the one that comes out on top.
Here is a structure that works well for a ‘problem/solution’ style of technology white paper.
#1 Outline the problem
Start with an outline of the problem that your product solves and why it is important and worth solving. In most cases, your product is not competing against other similar products. It is competing against the status quo of doing nothing. In those instances, the person who downloads your white paper will need help to convince others on their product team that the problem is real.
Your white paper needs to support the reader in ‘selling’ his or her team both on the need to solve a problem, and on the best solution to that problem (yours).
#2 Explore alternative solutions
Credible white papers appear to be objective. They need to consider all classes of solution. That’s not to say that your white paper needs to explore every branded solution. But it must explore all possible classes of options, however bad. This is not only a best practice—it aligns with the way that people think. When a prospect is looking for a solution, they may not be thinking only of your company and your competitors. There may be other ways to solve their problem that aren’t even among your class of solution.
For example, let’s say that your company offers cloud-based collaboration for product design teams. Relevant alternatives are not limited to the cloud. Things like email, spreadsheets and team meetings can all provide a forum for collaboration. On the other end of the spectrum are highly advanced product lifecycle management (PLM) solutions that capture all of the product data, including CAD models and simulation results.
If you want to write a credible white paper about product development collaboration, it has to consider all of the solutions that your prospect might want to research.
You may also want to consider the many different people who are involved in a purchase decision, and address as many of their concerns as you can. Behrens points out, “Complex purchases will have some form of formal or semi-formal process such as stage gates. These are designed to ensure that the solution matches the customer’s objectives, strategies and financial or other commercial returns.”
#3 Allow readers to self-select
Not all readers will be the right fit for your product or solution. In the example above, some readers may actually be best off with email and spreadsheets, while others will need the full-scale PLM solution. You need to establish the criteria that will allow your readers to select or reject your solution. This approach saves time and effort all around. Readers will only take the next step of investigating your solution if they believe that your company is suited to solving their problem. This is far more credible than taking a “we fix anything” approach, and will save your sales team from fielding dozens or hundreds of off-base inquiries.
If you aren’t sure what sort of problems your customers faced that led them to select your company’s technology, start by interviewing your salespeople and even your customers. Once you have had a few conversations, circle back to them with your topic ideas and ask for feedback.
3 types of technology white papers
We’ve just taken an in-depth look at the most common type of technology white paper, the problem/solution set-up. There are two other types that have proven very effective.
Another excellent type of white paper involves publishing survey results from the industry that you are targeting. For example, if you want to reach product designers in the aerospace industry, you can start by surveying them about their product design practices. To get respondents for your survey, you can use your own internal mailing lists or run a paid campaign on social media or through a publisher, such as one that publishes an industry magazine.
This sort of white paper can yield a very valuable benefit: helping you to understand certain problems that your company’s technology can solve. If we go back to the collaboration software example, you could survey the target audience to ask what sort of collaboration solutions they use, and then correlate their choice of solution to their success in collaboration. These survey findings can provide you with unique insights for an excellent white paper and give you the collateral benefit of helping you to refine the messaging to your target audience.
The third popular type of technology white paper concerns new trends. Specifically, this sort of white paper demonstrates (and predicts) how new technology trends impact product designs and/or processes.
One current ‘new trend’ topic for white papers is how the Internet of Things (IoT) is impacting product design. These white papers usually quote publicly available sources to show the forecast explosion of growth in this category of product and then follow up with the sorts of challenges that adapting to IoT will create for product design teams. The conclusion then follows the typical problem/solution style as set out above.
Once you have gone through the entire exercise of choosing lead goals, audience and topic, it’s time to do it again. You need to repeat the process until you are sure that you have exhausted every avenue and selected the best combination of topic, audience, and expected leads.
Writing a White Paper for a Product Development Professional
Writing for product development professionals is different than writing for other audiences. If you want the deep dive on how to write for this cynical audience, I recommend an eBook called Five Keys to Writing for Product Development Professionals. Here is the short version of what you need to watch out for when writing your white paper:
Tell them what they’ll learn
Product designers and executives download white papers because they expect to learn something. The best practice, therefore, is to outline your white paper in terms of what the reader will learn rather than in terms of what you want to tell them.
Your target prospects expect that your white paper will be biased. They are willing to cut you some slack for your product prejudices. In fact, they expect such prejudices. After all, they know that your white paper is a sales tool. But if you are too blatantly salesy, your white paper will lack credibility and will fail.
Don’t sell yourself
In a similar vein, be careful not to mention your product/solution too early in the white paper, if at all. If a prospect downloads a white paper with an interesting topic only to find that your product is mentioned three times on the first page, they are unlikely to continue reading. You will have torpedoed the credibility of the entire document. A white paper is not meant to be a brochure. Instead, when you do mention your product, describe it as one of a class of solutions rather than as the only solution. Best not to mention it at all until the ‘outro’; the bit about your company and solutions right at the end of the white paper.
Keep it tight
When it comes to the length of a white paper, most technical readers expect four to eight pages and 2,000 to 4,000 words of text. Longer technology white papers are overwhelming and shorter papers are unsatisfying. You need to include enough content to be informative, but not enough to be boring, nor to demand too much of your reader’s time.
Do your best to be interesting. Include informative facts and solid research. It really helps to illustrate your points with images, charts and diagrams to help convey your meaning. For any statistics that you cite, include links to your references. You can also reference good books, studies or other online content relating to the topic of your white paper. References make your paper more useful, definitely more believable, and therefore more likely to be used as an information resource that your reader returns to time and again.
Choose a killer title
The title of your white paper is, of course, very important. You might want to use an online headline writing tool for some help. It’s a good idea to take that one step further and A/B test your titles as subject lines in your emails.
Your white paper should have a call to action embedded in it somewhere. For the sake of maintaining credibility throughout the document, most companies have adopted the practice of placing the call to action at the very end, in the ‘outro’. That is definitely the high road. One practice that I recommend is to embed links throughout the white paper to your own content resources that are further down the sales funnel, provided that they fit naturally. This allows prospects interested in taking a next step to do so without having to navigate your website.
Who should write your technology white paper?
You may struggle in deciding who is likely to be the best author for your white paper. You might be tempted to choose a sales engineers who is extremely knowledgeable, or an external agency or analyst. If you are a marketer, you almost certainly shouldn’t write it yourself. (See Why Marketers Write the Worst Technical Blogs.)
Most marketers outsource white papers to professional writers at this stage of the process for three reasons:
#1 An external writer can put their own name and company on the cover, which helps to demonstrate objectivity to the reader.
#2 Internal resources don’t know how to write white papers. Your sales engineers won’t want to write a white paper, and even if they do, there is a high risk that it will come out sounding very technical and very dull. And for sure it will be late
#3 Because an external resource costs your company money, those involved are much more likely to take the process seriously, cooperate, and stick to timelines.
That’s not to say that your sales engineer should not be involved in writing the white paper. Their participation is required since they are, after all, your experts. They are subject matter experts upon whom a professional writer will rely for accurate and detailed information.
Whoever you choose as an author, Behrens suggests that they, “put themselves in the situation of the prospect. What would that prospect then want to read/hear about? Also consider the language you use, and avoid using your own industry speak and acronyms.
Promoting your white paper
The first step in promoting your white paper is to make sure that you have created a great website landing page. That landing page should have a compelling image that resonates with the product designers you are targeting (aircraft parts for aircraft industry designers, for example).
The image should be supported by text that concisely spells out exactly what the reader will learn from the white paper, along with any other information regarding what will happen to their contact information if they download. To download the paper, visitors must of course register by inputting their email address (at a minimum).
Once this is in place, you have a number of ways that you can market your white paper to ensure that it is seen:
#1 Put it on your own website, with links from your home page to give it some SEO juice
#2 Send it to your company’s email lists of relevant customers and prospects
#3 Post it in LinkedIn groups that target the relevant prospect pool (provided that this is done by somebody on your team who is already a member of that group)
#4 Use pay-per-lead services like Netline
#5 Enlist publishers such as Digital engineering, Product Design & Development, Design News, Engineering.com, Design World et al.
A rule of thumb is to spend at least 3X what you paid for the white paper to distribute it. So if you paid $5,000 for the white paper, plan to spend at least another $15,000 to promote it.
That’s all for this post. It ran a little longer than planned, but it is a deep topic. I hope you find it useful, and of course, if you need help planning and writing your own technology white paper, you can reach me at [email protected] or download a fee schedule.
Best of luck!