Well-targeted and effectively written white papers can be powerful B2B lead conversion tools that move leads further in their buying process. But to be effective, they must be directly relevant to your target audience, address their specific business concerns, and provide the kind of information that helps trigger a transition from one buying stage to the next.
A well-strategized white paper can help facilitate sales. Sadly, most financial services white papers don’t achieve this.
Here’s a list of 12 reasons why your white paper might not be achieving the goals you have for it, and how to fix it.
This is a long post, so if you don’t have time to read it all, skim the titles to find tips for your top issues.
Number 12 is a very common problem — Sales doesn’t know how to follow up and convert the leads generated. That one provides several tips on how to improve your white paper follow-up.
#1: It Doesn’t Address a Compelling Business Need
Many of the FinTech white papers we see are not addressing the target audience’s compelling business needs. Causes for this include:
- Insufficient understanding of the buyer’s business needs and how that connects to a technical solution.
- Incorrect assumptions about needs that have not been validated through qualitative buyer persona research.
- Trying to make the paper sell rather than educate
How to avoid these issues:
- Do your research. Buyer persona research and interviews are essential to understanding and responding to the buyers’ needs.
- Stop trying to make the white paper do your selling. Use it to educate the audience on a key topic that will help them get a clearer sense of their problem or how to address a specific issue.
- The more your paper is focused on key issues that personas commonly face in their decision process, the more it will be to help move them one step closer to a decision.
#2: It’s Not Customer-Centric
Most FinTech marketing departments do not conduct sufficient buyer persona research. As a result the content they’re producing is company-centric instead of customer-centric. A white paper is not a brochure. It’s an educational piece that helps a prospect gain a vision of how they can solve a challenging business or technical problem.
How to avoid this issue:
- Do the necessary qualitative research to really understand your personas. That means interviews, not just online research.
- Find out what questions buyers grappled with internally during their buying process. Write papers to help them work through those themes.
#3: It’s Written by a Content Farm
As content marketing has increased in popularity, a lot of agencies have emerged offering inexpensive (read “cheap”) content. They sell volumes of content that simply adds noise. Generally, the writers who create this content are inexperienced and lack deep industry knowledge. So they’re limited to writing high level fluff or plagiarizing content already on the web. Usually, the content these firms create is of little strategic value to you or your target audience.
How to fix this:
- If you must outsource, allocate enough budget to engage someone knowledgeable about your field and target audience. If the price seems low, it’s probably because the writer doesn’t have the needed expertise. This means that either you’re going to need to do the lion’s share of the research and composition, or the paper will simply rehash what the writer can find online. You get what you pay for.
- Remember, the goal here is to provide value to your audience, not just create content for content’s sake.
- An effective white paper needs to align with your reader’s objectives if it is to be relevant. Anything else is a waste of your audience’s time (and your budget).
#4: The Target Audience Is too Broad
I recently read a paper that tried to address the needs of exchanges, sell-sides, and buy-sides in one 10-page document. Since the target audience was so broad, their examples and key points were confusing and fell short of providing useful insight. Consequently, the paper gave readers the sense that the provider doesn’t really understand their businesses. That paper cost the provider credibility.
How to fix it:
- If you’re targeting multiple niches and types of organizations, don’t assume that their needs are all the same.
- If you target 3 niches, then repurpose your content to create 3 separate white papers specifically targeted to the three niches. Don’t just copy/paste. Make sure your examples, stories, and details are specific to the target audience. The extra effort is worth it to gain the extra credibility.
#5: It’s Not Directed to a Specific Buyer Persona
Heads of trading have very different needs and agendas than heads of compliance. CIOs are interested in different information than CEOs. But I’ve seen extremely technical papers directed at CEOs and high level overviews targeted to technical people. This is not going to move your audience.
How to fix it:
- Decide in advance who should read the document, and plan your content accordingly.
- If you’re writing for traders or CXOs, then avoid using technology jargon. Make a clear business case and address issues that are top of mind for this audience.
- If you’re writing for an IT team, be prepared to clearly spell out how your products or services solve their specific technical problem. But even a technical white paper must address a compelling business need.
#6: It’s Not Promoted Adequately
We often see firms invest great deal of money into developing high quality content only to put it behind a registration wall on their website, send one or two emails promoting it to their house list, and then wonder why it’s not generating leads.
The phrase “If you publish it, they will come” used to be true. But today, there is so much content out there, that your paper is going to be buried under the mass of content piling into your prospects’ inboxes. If you don’t promote it heavily, your target audience probably won’t even know your paper exists. Promotion takes work and budget.
How to fix it:
- Plan to spend at least 1 to 2X the cost of the paper in promotional activities. Make sure the promotions actually reach your specific target audience.
- Plan a continuum of content that will help move readers to the next step when they do download the paper.
- The Buffalo Content Program is designed to address this problem. We use extensive derivative content to help promote a core piece of premium content like a white paper.
#7: It’s Too Technical
Some white papers go deep into the technical weeds. While it may be appropriate for the technology team, this is not going to work for a business audience.
How to fix it:
- Again, consider your target audience and go back to your persona research. If most of the people in this group are not technical, then be very careful about how you incorporate technical information.
- Sometimes, you’ll need to educate a business audience about why a particular type of technology is a better approach for solving their business problem. That’s a perfect use case for a white paper. But be careful to not lose your reader with a lot of technical jargon.
#8: It’s Not Technical Enough
If your target audience is technical, then your white paper should be written from their point of view. For example, if you’re writing to heads of trading technology, then you might need to dig into issues around how your technology reduces latency. If you’re writing about hardware acceleration, you may need to cover the technical aspects around that technology. But use extreme caution. If you go too technical, you may lose your reader; and if you’re not technical enough, you may lose credibility.
How to fix it:
- Again, your buyer persona research is essential to making sure you align with your audience’s needs. For example, a quant wants very technical language and is quite comfortable looking at mathematical formulas when talking about trading strategy development. They’ll dismiss you if your content is too high level.
- Have a trusted subject matter expert in your target audience review the paper and give you unbiased feedback.
#9: It Tries To Cover Too Much Ground
One of the most common issues, particularly with tech companies who sell sophisticated solutions, is trying to “pack 20 pounds of potatoes into a 5 pound bag.” The white paper tries to address too many issues, and ends up not covering any of them in enough depth to make it useful or educational to the reader.
How to fix it:
- Limit the paper to a single thesis with 3 supporting main points.
- If you need to cover a lot of issues, then break them into multiple papers and guide the reader from one paper to the next. Not only will this be more digestible for the reader, but it will also increase their engagement and give you a better sense of their interest.
#10: It’s Too Long
Often a consequence of trying to cover too much ground or trying to go too in depth, white papers can quickly become overly long. Buyer research shows that the ideal length for a white paper is 6-8 pages including graphics. Assume that the reader has about 15-20 minutes to read the asset. If you go much longer, your audience may download and scan, but they probably won’t read it in depth.
How to fix it:
- As I suggested above, we recommend breaking up your content into several shorter documents rather than publishing one 30-page treatise. This gives you more opportunities to nurture your target audience, and also gives you material for a longer term marketing program.
- Better yet, turn your topic into a Buffalo that will provide a year’s worth of content for your campaigns.
#11: It’s Not Supported by Other Content
Often, companies have very unrealistic expectations for the quality and quantity of leads a white paper should generate. A white paper alone will not do all of the work necessary to facilitate the buying process.
How to fix it:
- Make the paper part of a cohesive integrated marketing strategy designed to influence each member of the buying committee through each stage in their decision process.
- Create a continuum of content for the stages before and after the stage you’re targeting with the paper, to help guide readers to the next step.
#12: Sales Doesn’t Follow Up White Paper Leads
A common frustration for marketers is that Sales doesn’t effectively follow up with leads they’re generating or doesn’t convert any of them to opportunities. This is not all Sales’ fault. It’s actually really hard to engage a lead who downloaded a white paper. Many companies abandon the idea of calling those leads at all until they demonstrate more buying signals. However, you then risk missing an opportunity to sell. Marketing needs to help Sales follow up in a way that gets a conversation going.
How to fix it:
- Sales people need tools to help them start a discussion so they don’t just call and ask “did you read the paper?” First of all, it’s unlikely that the paper will be top of mind by the time Sales calls. And if they call immediately, then the lead hasn’t had time to read before the call comes in. So you have to give Sales a different reason for calling.
- Provide them with a brief abstract of what the paper so they know what it’s about (don’t expect Sales to read the whole paper).
- Give them the key information that likely motivated the download (e.g., either the ad copy, key points from the landing page, or the key points and CTA from an email). That way, they can remind the person why they likely downloaded the document, even if he or she hasn’t read it or doesn’t remember downloading it.
- Give them 3-4 key takeaways that they can bring up in conversation and 3-4 questions they can ask the buyer related to the content to start a conversation even if the buyer has not read the paper.
For More Information
To get more information on how to make your white papers perform better, check out the following resources or give me a call. I’ll be happy to discuss.
Content For Nurturing Mid- And Late-Stage Leads
B2B Buyer Personas – No Shortcuts
Facilitating the Buying Process at Financial Institutions
The 4 Stages of the Financial Technology Buying Process
B2B Lead Conversion – Qualification Matters