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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 generate leads, stand out from the competition, nurture a prospect through a long sales cycle, or help cement sales, you still need one. Here’s why.

photo of spokes connecting balls in intricate shape

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 every company selling industrial robots used many technical papers to help explain the first robots.

photo of toy robot dinosaur for kidsToday, you can buy the toy dinosaur RoboRaptor in any Future Shop.

This is robotic technology repackaged as a B2C product for kids.

Sure, it comes with an instruction manual. But no parent ever reads a white paper about any kid’s toy.


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 B2B 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 cats, who love to chase the red dot around the floor. It cost less than $10.

Is it new? Is it complex? Is it expensive?

If your company can answer “Yes” to 2 or 3 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.


What do you think? Do you have any other way to tell when your company needs a white paper? Please leave your comments below.

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About Gordon Graham

Worked on 300 white papers on everything from choosing enterprise software to designing virtual worlds for kids, for clients from Silicon Valley to Switzerland, from household names like Google and Verizon to tiny startups with big ideas. Wrote White Papers for Dummies which earned more than 50 5-star ratings on Amazon. And named 2019 Copywriter of the Year by AWAI, the world's leading training organization for professional copywriters.

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  1. Penni L. Smith on August 9, 2015 at 8:00 pm

    Hey, I’m a little confused. In another article, you listed 3 strikes against thought leadership as a white paper goal. Yet here, you mention it as one of the uses of a white paper. Contradiction? Evolution in thought? What’s up?

  2. Gordon Graham on August 10, 2015 at 10:51 am

    Thanks for pointing that out, Penni! As you suggest, that’s an evolution in my thinking. I wrote this article seven or eight years ago, and the one about thought leadership two or three years ago. I removed the offending term from this post to be consistent.

    “Thought leadership” is a term often tossed around by marketers, but I do believe that it’s rather meaningless. Thanks again for noticing the contradiction.

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