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B2B technology marketers have access to lots of evidence when it comes to proving the value of white papers. A few reports include:

  • How to Maximize the Use of White Papers in Your B2B Marketing and Sales Process, released by InformationWeek in February 2009. Its survey of 542 professional buyers found that 93% of IT buyers pass along up to half of the white papers they read/download, and that 54% of those surveyed contacted a vendor for more information after reading a white paper.
  • The 2009-10 Business Technology Marketing Benchmark Guide by MarketingSherpa, which found that “Engineers turn to vendor white papers before analyst reports, newsletters, case studies, social networks and vendor webinars.”
  • TechTarget’s 2009 Media Consumption Report – Mindset of the IT Pro During the Recession, which reported that white papers are one of the top content types used by IT buyers conducting research.

The Eccolo Media 2009 B2B Technology Collateral Survey Report is the latest to offer insight into the role that white papers play in the buying process. Eccolo Media surveyed 501 technology-purchasing decision makers and influencers in its second annual technology collateral survey. Respondents included C-level executives, vice presidents (VPs), managers, directors, developers/programmers, and technicians who worked for U.S.-based companies, and were responsible for either making B2B technology purchases or influencing purchasing decisions. Only respondents who had participated in a technology purchase in the last six months were included in the survey results.

Here are some of the key takeaways:

  • The white paper is still the most influential piece of collateral that technology purchasers consult when making or influencing buying decisions for their companies. In fact, seventy-seven percent of respondents said they’d read at least one white paper in the last six months (compared to 68 percent in the 2008 survey), with 84 percent of them rating white papers as moderately to extremely influential when making technology-purchasing decisions. That means technology marketers had better produce white papers – or risk being left out of the equation as buyers are researching their options.
  • White papers are read by 80 percent of respondents during the pre-sales phase, defined by Eccolo Media as the stage when buyers are considering solutions and vendors (before they send out RFPs or initiate discussions with specific vendors). This is no surprise in light of the fact that prospects know they can access a wealth of information online without interacting with a sales rep. Marketers should pack their papers with the types of information technology buyers are seeking during the pre-sales phase.
  • 89 percent of respondents said they share white papers with others. In fact, when compared to the other collateral types in the survey – case studies, videos, podcasts, and brochures/datasheets – white papers were the most viral, with 32 percent of respondents sharing them with three or more people. But to encourage sharing, vendors need to be aware of what works in a white paper. When asked to rank those factors that would decrease the influence of white papers, respondents most frequently indicated poorly presented information, and too much focus on a product or vendor.

To avoid poorly presented information, marketers should carefully choose a writer. A draft developed by a subject matter expert – such as an engineer or product marketing manager – isn’t necessarily ready for publication. A paper needs to follow a logical flow and be well written. In fact,fifty-one percent of respondents in the Eccolo Media survey said high-quality writing is either very or extremely influential on their purchasing decisions. Another thirty-five percent said well-written collateral was moderately influential. That means 86 percent feel that high-quality writing influences their purchasing decision.

Marketers should also format the paper to increase readability and understanding by:

  • Using headings and subheads to succinctly describe sections and convey the key message.
  • Peppering the paper with call-out boxes and quotes that highlight important points.
  • Inserting graphics – drawings, charts, or photos – that help illustrate critical points.

To avoid a product- or company-focused paper, B2B marketers need to resist the temptation to write the equivalent of thinly veiled brochure. Marketers should put themselves in the prospect’s position and think about what he or she would find useful in dealing with the situation at hand.Developing buyer personas that provide insight into prospects’ pressing concerns and issues is a good place to start.

The Eccolo Media report contains lots more insightful data, including how white paper consumption varies based on the prospect’s company size, the ideal length for a white paper, how frequently tech buyers turn to other collateral types, and where buyers find vendor collateral.