How to write valuable white papers to generate leads and increase sales

“The well-written white paper is a super weapon in your marketing arsenal.*

Despite its many benefits, the white paper is still an underused promotional resource for professional businesses here in the UK. This article should throw some light on how to use this powerful form of content to connect with your customers and bring in business.

What is a white paper?

A white paper is a persuasive document that describes a business problem and advises on how to solve it. Smart companies use white papers as marketing tools to create a positive image in the eyes of their customers. Somewhere between a magazine article and a dry academic paper, they contain a mix of useful information and expert opinion, demonstrating your thought leadership along the way.

This is ‘educational marketing’ – a great way for professional businesses to inform and influence by giving customers something they value, for free. In return, they’ll give you their loyalty and often their business; a total ‘win-win’ for both sides.

White papers are a much softer sell than your average marketing send-out or brochure. Michael Stelzner*, a well-known American white paper writer and author, explains:

“White papers usually provide valuable information to their intended audience, yet readers of white papers generally understand that the sponsoring company is marketing to them. The marketing aspect of a white paper is typically a very soft sell. Overt marketing messages are left for other documents.”

The benefits

  • Professional service marketeers Raintoday ( recently surveyed 730 leaders of professional service companies and asked ‘What offers are most effective in generating new leads?’. White papers were among the most effective offers, with 28% of respondents rating them ‘very’ or ‘extremely effective’.
  • Marketing Sherpa finds that 69% of customers who download and like your white paper PDFs will pass it on to a colleague: 36% of those will pass it on to a direct supervisor.
  • 57% of IT purchase decision makers said that a white paper influenced at least one buying decision in the year (Marketing Sherpa)

Why white papers are so useful

What makes white papers so effective is the fact that they provide information to clients that is genuinely useful to them. They give valuable information that clients use to help them make strategic purchasing decisions. Because of their utility (and unlike many other forms of marketing collateral), white papers actually reach the audience they are aimed at:

“White papers are able to fly under the radar and penetrate most organisations’ anti-marketing defences because they are sought after and brought in by decision makers. If they are well written, white papers will not only reach their target, they will influence them.*”

This will help you to establish trust in the eyes of your potential customers. A well-written, relevant white paper that educates your clients about a problem they face can help you to generate leads and close sales in a way that clients really appreciate.

10 top white paper writing tips

Persuaded? Before you add white papers to your marketing mix, here are a few words of advice on how to write and promote your white paper:

1. Pick a subject close to your customer’s heart. Address their problems, challenges and needs, educate them and help by giving a solution.

2. Write for your reader, not your own self-interest. Focus on their issues, not how wonderful you are! Although a white paper can help to drive sales, it’s not an overt sales pitch. Ditch the marketing hype and keep it thoughtful, factual and helpful. It’s a matter of style:

NOT: ‘Company X has done it again! Another great widget to help you overcome your IT security issues…’

BETTER: ‘If you are concerned about IT security, a new class of technical products may be the solution you are looking for…’

3. Benefits, not features. Make sure your white paper passes the ‘so what?’ test. Tell your readers why your approach matters and what’s in it for them if they go down the route you suggest.

4. Include interesting content: interview clients who use this approach, include their comments, case studies, and perhaps a historical overview of how we got to this position in the first place.

5. Back up your approach: Back up your logical argument with hard facts. Use third party evidence, do your research and reference your sources.

6. Write in plain English. Don’t baffle your readers with jargon and industry gobbledygook. Write in language they’ll understand.

7. Invest in professional layout and design. It doesn’t need to be over-designed, but it does need a professional layout that enhances the content.

8. Get the word out there: Post it on your website and make sure your readers can find it by putting a link from the home page to the download. Mail or email it to your clients and prospects. Use it to open doors and start conversations. Include it as a link in your email signature.

9. Use a white paper to help you close a sale: write a white paper on the subject you are looking to solve for a particular customer. This approach will help you to explain your thinking, prove your expertise and win their trust.

10. Drive readership with pay-per-click advertising (see Google Adwords): this will ensure your white papers are read, and drive traffic to your site. This highly targeted approach will help you to intercept potential customers early in their sales cycles, when they are researching potential solutions.

You can browse a huge library of technology white papers at

Further reading:

Michael Stelzner’s book ‘Writing White Papers: How to capture readers and keep them engaged’ is a fantastic resource for anyone looking to add white papers to their marketing mix.

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  1. David Hughes

    Sonja, really useful advice. Have you heard of any other examples of small companies?

  2. sonja

    Dave. Glad it’s of use. Will track down some other examples and send them to you.

  3. Nick Hall

    Hi Sonja

    Thanks for bringing these to my attention – I knew nothing about white papers, and your concise introduction was perfect for me.

    I look forward to learning more from your excellent website.

    Best wishes


  4. Paul Simister

    Nice article Sonja.

    Being steeped in Internet marketing, I can say that Rich Schefren does a great job in the way he uses reports to redefine customer problems in a way that brings you new insight.

    He also delivers convincing proof that as well as being able to join up the dots and make a pattern that makes sense out of the chaos, he shares some answers and makes you believe that he knows the rest.

    I recommend readers check out reports like the Internet Business Manifesto, even if they are not interested in Internet marketing to study the format.



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