By Gordon Graham
Freelancers often wonder where to find clients. What kind of companies need white papers written for them, anyway?
Here’s three simple questions that will tell you the answer:
- Are they selling something relatively new?
- Something relatively complex?
- Something relatively expensive?
Any B2B vendor selling anything relatively new, complex, or expensive needs a white paper. Whether they’re selling a product, a service, a technology, or a methodology, they still need one. Whether they use that paper to establish thought leadership, gather leads, or cement sales, they still need one. Here’s why.
Selling something new
When a technology is brand-new, it’s not easy to research. There are no articles in trade magazines and no books written about it. There are no forums or websites to visit. There are no trade associations to promote it. Once those exist and the offering becomes well-understood, if that ever happens, the need for white papers is greatly 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 explaining what ERP is. 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 new offerings go beyond ERP.
Selling something complex
When an offering is complex, prospective buyers need information to help them understand it. The product, service, technology or methodology is not self-evident just by looking at it. Over time, as that offering becomes commoditized and repackaged into consumer-level products, if that ever happens, the need for white papers 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 technical white papers to help explain their offerings.
Today, you can buy the dinosaur robot RoboRaptor in any Future Shop. This is robotic technology repackaged for kids. Sure, it comes with an instruction manual. But no parent ever reads a white paper on RoboRaptor, they just watch their kid’s eyes light up as they rush over to it in the store.
Selling something expensive
When an offering is expensive, it takes a big decision to buy it. This decision probably involves upper management, and perhaps a selection committee with people from various departments. Everyone will have questions. So a white paper is a great way to deliver a vendor’s “best corporate answers” right into the boardroom. Over time, if the price for that offering drops to the point that any small business can afford it, f that ever happens, 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 research labs and super-villain hideouts. The first commercial laser was not used until 1969. At that point, buying an industrial laser was a big deal: a perfect time for a white paper or two.
Today, medical-grade lasers are used for many procedures, and the buying decision is based mainly on competitive features, vendor reputation and price. Heck, you can buy a laser pointer at the dollar store around the corner from my house. I got a nice one for my cat, who loves to chase the red dot around the room. I think it cost $15.
Is it new? Is it complex? Is it expensive?
Any prospect that can answer yes to all three of these questions is a likely candidate for your white paper services. They may not even know it yet… and you may have just turned up a brand-new client.
There are lots of prospects out there
Many other businesses besides computer hardware and software firms could benefit from a good white paper. In fact, I recently did some research into the potential market for white papers. Here are the numbers I turned up:
- Software and information providers: 21,600+
- Equipment manufacturers: 55,500+
- Scientific and technical services: 290,000+
These are for the US alone; add in the other English-speaking countries like Canada, Australia and the UK, and you’re up to well over half a million potential clients for white papers.
So when you’re wondering if anyone out there needs a white paper, the answer is a great big
YES. And now you know how to tell when you’ve come across a company that does.
About the Author: Gordon Graham is a highly respected writer as well as the founder of ThatWhitePaperGuy.com and Editor of SoftwareCEO.
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