What Your Whitepaper Is Really Telling Your Prospects


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With over 4,000 solution profiles in our software directories, our research team visits a ton of vendor websites and has evaluated thousands of resources for addition to our Open Resource Library. We are essentially looking to host and showcase some good quality resources from the vendor community along with our own thought leadership and vendor directories. But it turns out you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince among whitepapers.

In fact, it’s so bad that I thought I would spend a few minutes talking about what your whitepaper might actually be telling your prospects, and educating some folks on ways to tweak and improve their approach to get more out of the marketing budget. Marketers spend millions on customer acquisition, brand awareness, and lead generation – it’s penny wise and pound foolish to cut corners on your assets because the quality of the content drives the quality of the leads.

I should also point out that I’m certainly coming from a biased view because a basic tenet of Gleanster Research is to provide credible and unbiased access to our data/market trends via research assets we call Deep Dives. That said, in general it’s like pulling teeth getting solution providers to understand the value of analyst content – and it’s not because it’s too expensive. In fact, I’m a huge advocate of content from any credible source of thought leadership. (Go use our competitors!)

More often than not, senior marketing leaders think they are “stretching dollars further” by substituting thought leadership and developing it internally with their own brand. Some do a fairly good job at this, but by nature it’s impossible to do this in branded assets without looking biased. So here we are at Gleanster reviewing hundreds of so-called “thought leadership whitepapers” and cringing at the results.

You actually need a mix of branded and third-party thought leadership in your sales and marketing efforts. Survey-based research models help validate market trends, challenges, and best practices – they act like an intermediary voice of the market, in a way no branded asset can ever replace. But in our estimate, about 7 out of 10 vendor resources we evaluate are low on value, low on insights, and spend too much time on features. Its offensive to buyers. It’s a waste of marketing dollars to promote and drive campaigns to low-quality whitepapers. So let’s explore what defines a bad whitepaper and maybe help a few marketers take stock of their resource inventory.

Here’s what a poor quality whitepaper is telling your prospect:

  1. You don’t want to purchase reputable data from thought leadership firms. Therefore, as a buyer, you want me to consider investing in your software AND buy expensive analyst reports that tell me why I should consider investing in your software.
  2. You invested $2k two years ago in a whitepaper that hasn’t been updated since, and you forgot about it.
  3. Based on your whitepaper title, it would be wise to grab a triple-shot latte before reading this.
  4. You are a master of the Microsoft Word template library.
  5. You don’t value my time, and your overly long paragraphs don’t have actionable value.
  6. You care more about explaining what your solution does (in features and functions) than explaining how someone in my role will benefit from the investment in your solution.
  7. You have spent considerable time developing thought leadership that will help me justify the investment in your software, but you haven’t done anything to show me market trends about whether my competitors or industry peers are investing in your software category.
  8. You’re just guessing where I am in my buying cycle, and your competitors are doing a better job addressing my needs.

Here’s why whitepapers come across as poor quality:

Excessive focus on product features. If your whitepapers read more like a datasheet or list of features, you’ve got a datasheet with a list of features and not a whitepaper. Buyers need to feel like you understand their industry and their role. That doesn’t mean you have to personalize every single asset by role or industry; it means you need to showcase the “what” more than the “how.” Demonstrate what your offering is really accomplishing, what pains are you addressing, and how can these pains be measured or monetized.

You bid it out to the lowest priced freelance writer or an intern. You know who you are. It shows. You’re better off shaving some of the campaign budget and doing it right the first time. Despite your perception, not all sources of analyst thought leadership are expensive.

Data and insights are self-serving. If you are going to host a customer survey and capture data on your users or your competitors, it’s generally a good idea to find a reputable unbiased partner to co-host the results. This lends credibility to the findings and helps your prospect or customer rest assured you aren’t just spinning the data in your favor. As a general rule, it’s also a good idea to showcase some of the data that isn’t so rosy. This is especially important if there are already common challenges or stigmas that you know the prospect will come across during the buying cycle. Call them out and validate that they exist in the data, then talk about ways you can mitigate these challenges.

The content is too generic. The quality of your whitepaper will drive the quality of your leads. If you have core industries or buyers your solution targets, you should spin up a series of whitepapers exclusively for them. It’s totally okay to re-use some generic content across assets; just take the time to showcase that you understand the buyer by their industry, role, and region. Expecting the same generic asset to resonate equally across all industries and roles is a tall order. Sure, you might trip over the 5% of buyers who find this approach sufficient, but in most cases content that is too generic results in an opportunity lost.

There’s no logical story or takeaway. Before you write any whitepaper you should establish a maximum of three things you want the reader to walk away with. It could be one, but it really shouldn’t be more than three key takeaways. This will force you to write assets that evolve around some core themes and takeaways for the user. If you cram too much into a whitepaper, your prospect gets overwhelmed and it may even turn them off to an investment that you made seem far too complicated.

It avoids or fails to address the “reality” of investing in the solution. In some cases, particularly with Enterprise software, the implementation of the software itself may not be the biggest barrier to adoption. There may be additional costs such as consulting, process re-engineering, change management, etc. The thing is, your sales reps are NEVER going to be motivated to call this out during a deal cycle. Your whitepaper strategy can help control messaging around the common components of change: people, process, and technology. Regardless of whether you offer software and services, if you can showcase reality in early-stage buying resources, it helps establish trust with your buyer and reassure them that you understand the reality of making the investment.

What can you accomplish by dialing in your whitepaper strategy?

Let’s quickly address some of the benefits of tweaking the above, because we can actually measure these.

  1. Our Deep Dive reports tend to drive on average 4x higher response rates on campaigns than branded whitepapers from vendors. So that suggests that the unbiased thought leadership approach should DEFINITELY play a role in your content strategy.  I would be very interested to learn any stats from other analyst firms. I’m guessing you see the same type of results.
  2. The quantity of leads goes down but the quality of the leads goes up. We hear this a lot: “I’ve got plenty of early stage buyers, I need buyers in a deal cycle.” What that really means is you drove a bunch of generic inquiries with your whitepaper strategy, and sales is overwhelmed with qualifying them. If that’s the case, marketing has fallen short and you need to go review the new dynamics of B2B marketing.
  3. A reason for sales to reach out. Whitepapers aren’t just about customer acquisition. They’re about engaging buyers along the entire customer lifecycle. It’s not all that useful for sales reps to deliver generic assets to late-stage opportunities. But it’s extremely useful to deliver research reports, role-specific whitepapers, and case studies. It give sales something to follow up on and potentially a new angle for the conversation. “Remember that research report you read? Here’s how we address the top three challenges…”

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Ian Michiels
Ian Michiels is a Principal & CEO at Gleanster Research, a globally known IT Market Research firm covering marketing, sales, voice of the customer, and BI. Michiels is a seasoned analyst, consultant, and speaker responsible for over 350 published analyst reports. He maintains ongoing relationships with hundreds of software executives each year and surveys tens of thousands of industry professionals to keep a finger on the pulse of the market. Michiels has also worked with some of the world's biggest brands including Nike, Sears Holdings, Wells Fargo, Franklin Templeton, and Ceasars.


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