White papers don't sell products -- they generate sales leads.
Or at least that's what white papers are supposed to do. Unfortunately, scores of small business owners use white papers like any other marketing tool, shamelessly touting the virtues of their products instead of finessing them into lead generating machines.
Although white paper lead generation is rapidly becoming a lost art, there are some simple steps you can take to maximize your leads and strategically incorporate your white paper into your company's sales cycle.
Say Something Important
Many white papers fail simply because they don't say anything. Sure, they promote the company and mention the product dozens of times, but they offer no real value to the reader. Before you fire up the laptop, make sure you have something meaningful to say in your white paper.
Educate, Don't Sell
White papers frequently fall short in lead generation because they sell to the reader instead of informing him. A white paper is a marketing tool – but the way it markets is by giving the reader solid information about a problem and a solution. That's why white papers are most useful early in the sales cycle, when the reader is considering solutions rather than later on when he is ready to make a buying decision. If your white paper is overly pushy or blatantly sales-oriented, start over.
Qualify Your Audience
One of the most productive ways to generate more leads from your white papers is to get it in the hands of the right people. Your white paper distribution efforts should target readers who have the potential to become satisfied customers.
Timely, personal follow up is essential for flipping white paper readers into qualified sales leads. The purpose of the call isn't to sell them, but to ask them what they thought about the white paper, why they requested it, and whether they would like more information.
Coordinate with Your Sales Team
The follow up call is the selling cycle entry point for your sales team, so it's appropriate to have your sales team initiate contact with white paper readers. However, it's important that everyone on your sales team is familiar with the concepts detailed in the white paper and is prepared to respond to questions with insightful answers and/or additional materials. They should also be ready to approach the phone call as the final step in the lead qualification process – not the first step in a hard sell.