Here are three simple questions that can tell you the answer:
- Are you selling something new?
- Something complex?
- Something expensive?
Any B2B vendor selling anything relatively new, complex or expensive could benefit from a white paper.
Whether you’re selling a product, a service, a technology, or a methodology, you still need one.
Whether you use that paper to establish thought leadership, gather leads, or cement sales, you still need one. Here’s why.
Question #1: Selling something new?
When something is brand-new, it’s not easy to research.
There are no articles in trade magazines and no books about it. There are no forums or websites to visit; no trade associations to promote it.
Once those exist and the offering becomes well-known, if that happens, the need for white papers is diminished.
For example, when ERP started to supplant MRP-II in the early 1990s, it was considered the cutting edge of technology. A huge flurry of white papers were written to explain how ERP extended MRP-II into new area such as finance, HR, engineering and project management.
Today, magazines don’t even bother defining ERP.
There are lots of resources for finding out about it: articles, books, websites and forums.
Nobody publishes white papers explaining ERP any more; now they talk about how their offerings go beyond ERP.
Question #2: Selling something complex?
When an offering is complex, prospective buyers need help to understand it.
The product, service, technology or methodology is not self-evident just from looking at it.
Over time, if that offering becomes commoditized and repackaged into consumer-level products, the need for white papers about it disappears.
For example, the first industrial robot went online at a GM plant in New Jersey in 1961. It took a big team of experts to install, program, tweak and maintain.
You can bet it was complex and took a lot of explaining. No doubt companies selling industrial robots used many technical papers to help explain the first robots.
Today, you can buy the toy dinosaur RoboRaptor in any Future Shop.
This is robotic technology repackaged for kids.
Sure, it does comes with an instruction manual.
But no parent ever reads a white paper on RoboRaptor: They just watch their kid’s eyes light up when they see it.
Question #3: Selling something expensive?
When something is expensive, it takes a big decision to buy it.
This decision probably involves upper management and maybe a selection committee drawn from various departments. Everyone will have questions.
So a white paper is a great way to deliver a vendor’s “best answers” right into the boardroom.
Over time, if the price for that offering drops to the point that any small business can afford it, the need for white papers is greatly reduced.
For example, when James Bond was menaced by a laser in Goldfinger those were still hugely expensive items found only in super-villain hideouts.
Goldfinger even had to explain, “You are looking at an industrial laser which emits an extraordinary light, not to be found in nature. It can project a spot on the moon… or at closer range, cut through solid metal.”
The first commercial laser was not actually used until five years later, in 1969. At that point, buying an industrial laser was a big deal.
That was a perfect time for vendors to create white papers about this costly new tool.
Today, lasers are routinely used for medical, research, and manufacturing procedures. Any decision to buy one is based on features, vendor reputation and price.
Heck, you can buy a laser pointer at any dollar store. I got one several years ago for my cat, who loves to chase the red dot around. I think it cost $15.
Is it new? Is it complex? Is it expensive?
If your company can answer “Yes” to two or three of these questions, you probably need a white paper.
Your competitors probably have them. And your prospects likely expect them.
So your company should produce one or more white papers to meet those expectations.