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How to make an effective call to action in a white paper

Any white paper without an effective call to action is wasting a huge opportunity.

A call to action answers the question, “What do we want our ideal prospect to do after they finish reading our white paper?”

call-to-action - How to make an effective call to action in a white paperAn ideal call to action keeps your reader engaged with your company, encourages them to take the next step in the sales cycle, and converts their interest into action.

Knowing how to craft one can make a big difference in your results.

Here are 10 tips on how to write a more effective call to action in your next white paper.

Tip #1: Put it at the end

A call to action is not like a “Buy now” button that you can sprinkle all through an online sales letter.

You use it once, right at the end of your white paper. That means at the end of your concluding summary.

Tip #2: Keep it short, clear, and precise

A call to action doesn’t have to be long and involved. In fact, it can be conveyed in one sentence.

Here’s the simple formula I use to write a call to action: “To find out more about how your business can gain [key benefit explained in white paper] with [product or company name], [do something].”

The rest of these tips focus on the “do something” part of this formula.

Tip #3: Don’t be vague

In a call to action, you want to be as precise as possible.

Think of this like giving directions. Do you say, “Go down here a-ways and after that you’ll need to make a turn?” or do you say, “Keep going on Main Street for three blocks, and then turn right at the stoplight.”

As a rule, the more specific the call to action, the better… and the easier it is to measure the results.

So tell them something specific:

  • Go to this landing page.
  • View a short demo.
  • Take an online survey.
  • Request a free trial of our product.

Tip #4: Don’t send them to your home page

A phrase like, “For more information, visit” is not an effective call to action.

The only exception is a business with quite a simple value proposition and just a few pages on the web.

For example, I wrote a white paper for one client that uses proprietary software to cut corporate wireless costs. The value proposition was easy to see, and their website only had three pages.

For that white paper, I used this call to action:

“To find out how much your business can save on wireless, contact [company name] at [phone number] or visit [website] for a free analysis.”

Tip #5: Don’t ask for the order

Many salespeople think that a call to action means to ask for the order. After all, they’ve been taught, “Always be closing!”

Just like in this notorious speech by Alec Baldwin from the movie version of Glengarry Glenn Ross. (Click to watch, but beware of extreme profanity).

photo of Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glenn Ross movie

There’s nothing wrong with selling, at the right time and in the right place. But a white paper is not the time or place.

Instead of selling, a white paper works best if it helps, teaches, and explains.

There will be time for selling later, after your company has established more trust with the prospect.

Tip #6: Build your white paper into your sales cycle

Most B2B companies that use white papers have a more complex sales cycle than the one I mentioned above.

For best results, build your white paper into the company’s sales cycle.

How? Talk to the sales manager or product manager and explain the plans for the white paper.

Discuss where this paper fits into the sales cycle, and what makes sense for the next step.

This may take some hard thinking and negotiating. But without it, your call to action can never be as powerful.

Tip #7: Consider your purpose and audience

Your call to action should ideally match the purpose and intended audience for your white paper. This is where your white paper planning comes in.

Let’s say your purpose is to generate leads, and your target audience is COOs in mid-range enterprises with problems making good hires.

You probably can’t ask a busy executive to download a demo version of your HR software to test-drive it.

But you could ask them to take a 2-minute survey to see how their company’s hiring process compares to other firms in the same sector.

Be imaginative, and come up with an easy next step.

Tip #8: Deliver prospects to your website

Another good tactic is an ROI calculator, where a prospect can enter numbers into a widget and see how much they could save or profit with your solution.

A ROI calculator can be ideal for a CFO audience.

But keep it believable. Don’t just pull numbers out of thin air. Use real customer experiences or metrics to build your calculations.

Always be looking for ways to get an interested prospect to interact further with the company, most likely through its website.

Tip #9: Get the resources to create the next step

But wait a minute, that 2-minute survey doesn’t exist yet. Neither does that ROI calculator.

So you better get busy.

In other words, if there isn’t already a “next step” in your sales cycle, you need to create one.

And if you can’t do that all by yourself, you may need a researcher, a writer, and a Web developer… and the resources to engage them.

This suggestion goes beyond creating a call to action, but it will help generate much better results.

Tip #10: Think ahead to the NEXT call to action

At the end of the next step, always have another call to action to keep prospects engaged.

Perhaps this is a good time to ask them to watch a short video, or subscribe to your e-newsetter of monthly tips.

Your goal in each step is to engage each prospect more, collect a little more information from them, and draw them deeper into your sales funnel.

In other words, build a cascade of conversions, each drawing them closer and closer to the company.


Do you have any tips on making calls to action? Please leave your comment below.

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About Gordon Graham

Worked on 320+ white papers for clients from Silicon Valley to Switzerland, on everything from choosing enterprise software to designing virtual worlds for kids, for clients from tiny startups to 3M, Google, and Verizon. Wrote White Papers for Dummies which earned 60+ 5-star ratings on Amazon. Won 16 awards from the Society for Technical Communication. Named AWAI 2019 Copywriter of the Year.

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