Generating quality leads is a growing challenge for many marketing professionals. More than ever before, legions of marketing materials are competing for the attention of prospects. How can you be sure to stand out from the crowd?

New research shows that white papers are among the most compelling ways to attract leads. Should white papers be on your marketing radar? If you are focused on business-to-business interactions, the answer is an unequivocal yes.

What Makes White Papers so Attractive?

White papers help people make decisions, especially in the information technology world. Consider recent research that found an astonishing 70% of information technology professionals rely on white papers to make purchasing decisions in the U.S. (ITtoolbox, July 19, 2006).

Because white papers are informative, they are sought after by prospects early in the sales cycle and can generate quality leads. This is supported by a recent KnowledgeStorm and SiriusDecisions study that concluded white papers were more valued by those at an early stage in the sales cycle—more so than free trials, analyst reports and webinars (July 6, 2006).

Are white papers a part of your marketing mix? Because they are pulled into the company by prospects, white papers have the ability to linger and travel around the business, persuading along the way. It's not uncommon for a well-written white paper to travel across the desks of dozens of people in a single company. Well-written white papers are proven prospect magnets.

Using White Papers for Lead Generation

The key to generating leads with white papers is for the content to avoid a hard-sell. This means avoiding the mention of your company or product in the first half of the white paper. When prospects begin to sense they are being sold to, the white paper shifts from being a valuable resource to just another marketing message.

"Successful white paper marketing hinges almost exclusively on the quality of the white paper itself. Still many vendors expect great things from their white paper marketing efforts but give very little thought to the actual development and creation of the white papers used for these efforts," explains Peter Spande, director, and

White papers designed for lead generation must take a soft-sell approach. The approach starts with problems or needs faced by the reader, rather than the product or service offered by the company. This helps build affinity and trust. It also draws the reader into the white paper by discussing issues the reader can relate to.

Another important tip is to take an educational approach to your white papers. For example, talking about how overnight air transit can speed business transactions is much better than discussing the benefits of FedEx next-day services. Other educational content could include key market drivers, how the market has evolved over the last few years and what to look for in an ideal solution.

By guiding prospects in the research stage with a well-crafted white paper, you can gain the respect, trust and attention of key readers. The result is often a qualified lead.

Making White Papers Work for You

"Writing white papers is clearly an emerging marketing medium, yet many marketers continue to struggle with successfully leveraging white papers in the sales and marketing process," according to Heather Foster, KnowledgeStorm's director of marketing.

With an "if you build it, they will come" mentality, companies often put forth an enormous effort to produce a white paper, only to post it on their Web site among other marketing collateral, such as datasheets and case studies.

However, white papers are akin to super-powered magnets that can easily attract leads outside the company Web site. To draw a visual picture, imagine attempting to fish for tuna in only two feet of water. You might actually draw something near the shore, but big fish live in much deeper waters. Your white paper needs to be where the fish are. Rather than posting and hoping, savvy marketing professionals are turning to post-and-promote techniques.

A popular form of white paper lead generation involves promotional targeting of white papers via syndication networks. This type of white paper marketing commonly involves distributing your white paper through a network of specialty Web sites. With syndication services, you pay a service provider to place your white paper across a network of vertically oriented Web sites that are targeted based on your ideal lead.

When seeking a source for white paper syndication, be sure to examine the following:

  • Targeting ability: Seek a vendor that can target both your industry and your ideal reader. The vendor should delineate leads based on titles or job function; for example, a senior IT manager in the health services space or CIOs in mid-sized or larger corporations. Many vendors claim industry targeting but cannot refine leads to the job function level.

  • Breadth of properties: Look for a vendor that has partnerships with a wide range of content sites to increase the penetration of your white paper marketing efforts via multiple channels.

  • Lead support: Seek a solution that provides leads in a user-friendly format, such as a CSV file or an interface to CRM services, such as

  • Analysis: The ideal vendor should provide a comprehensive historical analysis that reveals how your white paper campaigns are performing.

Next Steps

If you want to increase your lead generation campaigns, you need to develop compelling white papers and wrap a marketing plan around the finished results, applying creative marketing tactics.

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image of Michael Stelzner

Michael A. Stelzner is the author of Writing White Papers: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them EngagedFollow Michael on Twitter.